St. Christopher’s, Delhi Avenue

In the explosion of new parishes in the post-World War II era, the typical “story” involved canvassing new housing developments to “find the Anglicans”, temporary quarters while the community formed, and then (in fairly short order) the erection of a simple building. The story of St. Christopher’s, Delhi Avenue (also known as St. Christopher on the Heights) follows this pattern. The diocesan archives, fortunately, turns up some valuable photographs and materials which illustrate the story as it played out in the case of St Christopher’s (which was located just west of Avenue Road and north of Wilson, in a community known as Armour Heights.

In 1952, a group of young people from St. Cuthbert’s in Leaside were commissioned by the bishop to canvass the Wilson Heights area. Their work led to the establishment of two Sunday school groups which met in private homes. Responsibility was then taken over by the Church of the Apostles, located a short distance north and west on Sheppard Avenue. Its rector, the Reverend W. Ivan D. Smith, distributed the letter below, addressed “To All Members of the Church of England, in the Wilson Avenue, Avenue Road, Bathurst Street, and Wilson Heights Area.”  A deaconess named Evelyn Jay was commissioned to undertake a canvass of the area. The letter indicates that the diocesan Church Extension Committee had purchased a site for a building, and that it was hoped that construction could begin in the near future. In the meantime, the emphasis was on establishing Church Schools in the neighbourhood. (Click on the photograph to enlarge.)

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Shortly after, a second letter was distributed to households, inviting them to an organizational meeting to be held on Thursday February 12th, 1953 at the home of Dr. & Mrs. G.A. Harris. The encouragement to participate was strong: You will realize, I am sure, just how important it is that each family be represented at this meeting. Both men and women are asked to attend. The time has come when we must proceed with our plans as quickly as possible

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Forty-seven people attended the meeting, and approved an appeal to the bishop to form a congregation. Services then began to be held in the basement of the house where the organization meeting was held. Below is a photograph of the home as it appeared at the time and as it appears today.

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The Sunday morning service was held in the Harris’s basement, with Sunday School being held in the homes of other parishioners. This series of photographs show these early days of “house church’ gatherings. One source reports 110 people gathered in the basement, the congregation overflowing into the laundry room and other rooms in the house.

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Later, services were moved to Armour Heights School. By the end of 1953, the congregation included three hundred families. The original building site had been sold and an alternate site purchased on Delhi Avenue, where sod for the new building was turned in December. Bishop Beverley laid the cornerstone in April 1954, and the new building was opened on September 8, 1954. The architect was Harold Savage, who happened to be a member of the parish and who was responsible for the design of several other Anglican parishes in the city. (Indeed, St. Christopher’s was very much a typical 1950s building, simple and straight-forward in design, including bare cider-block walls in the worship space.) In just two years, this new community had a new parish church.

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Whereas the diocesan archives contain excellent information about the quick formation of this new community, there is a paucity of information about the parish after it was established. One interesting piece of information relates to the origin of the church bell. A parishioner named Archie Chisholm, who worked for the CPR, suggested the parish ask the rail company for a bell discarded from a steam locomotive. One was provided — taken from a Royal Hudson type steam locomotive that had been used on George VI’s royal train when he toured Canada in the early 1950s.

In 1989, the parish celebrated its 25th anniversary.

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Two year later, St. Christopher’s building was given over to a Chinese-speaking congregation being formed out of St. John’s Church. In 2009, this congregation purchased the former St. Gabriel’s in Richmond Hill. The name moved with the congregation to Richmond Hill and the building (which now sits literally in the shadow of Highway 401) was sold. It has recently become a Buddhist temple.

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