St. Philip’s, Spadina

This post picks up the story of St. Philip’s, Spadina, which was located on the south-west corner of what is now Spadina and Dundas.

In 1942, the congregation moved out of the building, and it was sold the following year for $23,000, along with a covenant that it would continue to be used as a church building. (See the post on St. Philip’s, Spadina for more details.) On November 2, 1975, through the kindness of  St. Elizabeth of Hungry Roman Catholic church, the congregation of the new St. Philip’s returned to their first building for a 100th anniversary evensong.

During the period 1940-42, St. Clement’s, Eglinton had begun a mission, named St. Margaret’s Mission (and sometimes also referred to in the archives as St. Andrew’s). This nascent community first met in a tent at the corner of Woodmount and Glencairn, and later in a simple, small building.



In 1943, St. Philip’s assumed occupancy of the building.


In 1946, the Reverend J.A. Robinson, who had been rector of St. Philip’s since 1920 and had overseen its move north, retired, and was succeeded by the Reverend David Clarke, who was to stay at St. Philip’s for thirty-six years and oversee its move to a new, permanent building.

After the war, land in the area was being developed and there was talk of enlarging the building. Instead, a lot was purchased on Caribou Road, just south of Lawrence and east of Bathurst. The new St. Philip’s opened in 1951 and was dedicated on March 25, 1952 by Bishop Beverley. In 1961 transepts and other meeting and office space was added.


IMG_1548I am sorry that there aren’t more photographs of the interior of St. Philip’s in the diocesan archives because it was a unique liturgical space, and very much ahead of its time. (If any readers have photos and care to send them to me, I will gladly add them!) Notably, the altar was free-standing (in a time when Anglican altars were all still against the wall), and located at the centre of what became (after the 1961 additions) a cruciform space. It was described this way: “The altar has been kept free from encumbrances in order that it may appear to be a Table set in the midst of the people and so that people all around it may see.” This arrangement very much anticipated the liturgical reforms of the 1960s and 1970s.

Another notable feature of the space was the reredos behind the altar, seen in this photograph. It was designed by noted Canadian artist Sylvia Hahn and featured autumn coloured leaves. (Note also the red maple leafs in the altar rail.) Above the altar hung a large cross of Christ, robed and crowned.


St. Philip’s came to represent a progressive and experimental approach not only in its architecture, but in its parish life as well. Religion writer Aubrey Wice, writing in the Telegraph in February 1960, noted this: “One of the most interesting things St. Philip’s is doing is their house church. This, literally, means taking the church to the people. What happens is this: Someone in the parish will invite his Anglican neighbors (sic) over for a service of holy Ccommunion. Maybe a dozen will turn up on a dark Friday morning at 6.30. Of course, the rector will be there, and if there are kiddies in the house, they’ll look in, too. The altar is the breakfast table, and after the service, everyone has a bite to eat before scurrying off to work.” In the 1970s, at a time when experiemental liturgies were being employed in the Anglican world, the parish wrote its own eucharistic liturgy (“The Caribou Liturgy”). (St. Philip’s was one of the parishes where I spent a lot of time as an itinerant organist in my late teens and twenties, and I recall quite clearly first being exposed to this rite, which was sharply different than any I had previously experienced.)

At one time, St. Philip’s had three Sunday morning services and a large congregation, but as the neighbourhood demographs changed in the 1960s (becoming a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood), St Philip’s became a smaller, “destination” parish for those attracted to is strongly progressive values and parish life.  The final service was held on May 30, 2010 and the parish was disestablished Among its legacies is a $100,000 gift to Trinity College establishing The David Clarke St. Philip’s Trust Fund for studies in urban ministry.

A new townhouse development is being completed on the site of the former St. Philip’s.






Here is a picture from the diocesan archives of the interior of St. Philip’s, Spadina (blogged about below). A somewhat peculiar feature of the building was that the entrances (from Spadina) were on the east side, meaning that parishioners entered on either side of the altar, as opposed to the more typical arrangement of entering from the west end of the building. When this building was purchased by St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church in the 1940’s, the space was re-oriented so the altar was in the west end and the pews faced the other direction. (I suppose one could say the space was dis-oriented, in that it no longer faced east.)

Before the new St. Philip’s on Caribou Road was built, the transplanted parish worshipped in a tent. Here are pictures from the diocesan archives of the exterior and interior of the tent.

The new St. Philip’s was opened in the early 1950’s; this building was torn down in the last few months.

St. Margaret’s was the second church built on Spadina, the first being St. Philip’s, located a short distance north, on the south-west corner of Spadina and Dundas.

When the site was purchased in 1875, this was the west end of the city. Residential growth (suburbs!) was fuelling church growth. The city was expanding northward and St. Philip’s was an offshoot of St. John’s Church on Portland Street to the south (near King and Bathurst). The congregation initially worshipped in a small cottage that existed on the site. A larger school house was then built and, finally, in 1884, the church building proper was opened.

St. Philip’s was (apparently unlike St. Margaret’s down the street) an establishment parish. It was built on land that was originally part of the Denison family estate (which included the land west of Spadina in what is now Kensington Market). The architect was A.R. Denison, a member of this notable Toronto family, and members of his family were parishioners. Also a parishioner was Sir Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski (1813-1898), an engineer known for his work in developing railways (and ancestor of the journalist Peter Gzowski). It would also seem that St. Philip’s churchmanship was middle-of-the-road, in contrast to St. Margaret’s. The third rector was James Fielding Sweeny, who later became the compromise choice for Bishop of Toronto in 1909, following a protracted electoral stand-off between the Evangelical candidate and the Tractarian candidate.

The congregation moved out of this building in 1942 and the building was sold in 1943. (I’m hoping the diocesan archives will shed light on the events that led to this decision. Certainly, Spadina Avenue by this time was thoroughly commercial.) But the parish lived on, moving to a new location on Caribou Road near the intersection of Bathurst and Lawrence. At first, the transplanted parishioners worshipped in a tent on their new site, eventually building a new church in 1951. St. Philip’s, which became known for its liturgical innovation in the 1960’s, closed in 2010 and the building has now been demolished. (The March 2012 edition of The Anglican (page 10) has a short article about the time capsule that was unearthed when the last St. Philip’s was torn down.)

What happened to the building? It was sold and became St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church. After renovations performed by its new parishioners, the building re-opened and was consecrated in 1944. History repeated itself when this congregation left the site in 1984, moving north to its current location on Sheppard Avenue near Bayview. The building was demolished in the mid-1980’s. Below is a picture taken as it was being readied for demolition. The school house, the first building erected by Anglicans on the site, can be seen at the back of the church. Note the changes to the top of the tower from the historic sketch above. 

Here’s what the corner looks like today (interesting how the glass tower is located where the church tower was):

A postscript about the last St. Philip’s. Many of its furnishings have found new homes. The Sylvia Hahn reredos from its side chapel is now at St. Luke’s, Peterborough. Some of the Sylvia Hahn reredos which was a prominent feature of the 1951 (notable for its autumn leaves) has found its way into the organ casing at Church of the Advent near St. Clair and Jane. (Personal note: I spent quite a bit of time at St. Philip’s deputizing for the organist in my late teens and early 20’s. Last year, after the parish was closed but before it was torn down, I visited again to see if there were any furnishings we might use at St. Mary Magdalene’s. We picked up two candelabra — you can never have enough candles!)