Church growth in the post-World War II period was neither haphazard nor ecumenically uninformed. Rather, careful planning went into the location of parishes to serve new neighbourhoods. “Many hours of careful planning were needed in order to avoid, on one hand, damaging an established congregation or the social ministry of another denomination, and on the other hand, over-supplying the area with new churches. In short order the principle was developed of siting parish churches no closer than 1.5 miles from each other, to serve a church population of around 2,000. A tacit agreement in practical ecumenism was reached so that new churches of other denominations were also set at least a half-mile away, depending on the availability of land.” (The Diocese of Toronto since 1939: A Chronological Overview. )
St. Wilfrid’s, Etobicoke and its neighbouring parish to the north, St. Richard of Chichester, demonstrate this intention, begin situated 1.7 miles (2.8 kilometres) apart, and being established within three years of each other. (And, we will see, their histories almost came together some forty years later.)
St Wilfrid’s first service was held in a portable on Kipling Avenue, south of the Kingway, in September 1955. (Photograph from online Toronto Public Library collection.)
The Church School quickly expanded beyond the capacity of the portable and began to meet at nearby St. George’s School.
A permanent building was dedicated on October 16, 1958 by Bishop Frederick Wilkinson. Situated on a two acre lot which backed onto a forest, the architectural design of the new building was striking and not the “norm” of post-World War II church buildings.
The plans called for a Christian education wing to the north, and a chapel and bell tower to the south. When the building was dedicated, optimism abounded: “With such expansion in so brief a period we should look forward, even at this time, to the day when we will need the additional facilities for which plans were laid at the outset.”.
In the 1970s an adjoining rectory was added. (As St. Wilfrid’s was my ‘parish’ church (in the geographical sense) and my father was the organist at St. Luke’s United to the north, I recall watching the rectory be built.)
No sooner had St. Wilfrid’s and the other “1950s” parishes been built than Anglican attendance in Canada began to fall. St. Wilfrid’s attendance peaked in the period 1961-1963 (an average of 394 weekly). As it happens, 1961 was the very year that the percentage of the Canadian population identified as Anglican peaked. By 1970, average weekly attendance was 192; by 1980 it was 115.
In the mid-1990s, St. Richard’s (to the north) approached St. Wilfrid’s to engage in a discussion of the possibility of amalgamation. The vision was of one facility (St Wilfrid’s) with two clergy and a deacon. In the end, while the vestry of St. Wilfrid’s approved the proposal, St. Richard’s vestry did not. Latterly, there were discussions involving St. Philip’s, Weston Road, and St. Matthias (on Royal York) but, again, no plan came to fruition.
The last service of the parish of St. Wilfrid’s was held on April 11, 2010. The building is now occupied by the Church of South India, a parish which is part of the Anglican Communion and associated with the Diocese of Toronto.