In 1873, two years before St. Philip’s, Spadina was established, the parish of St. Matthias, Bellwoods was founded, located on Bellwoods Avenue, just north of Queen Street, west of Bathurst. Expanding to the west, the city came to meet the town of Brockton (an area delineated by what is now Dufferin, Queen, High Park and Bloor). The Anglican parish in Brockton was St. Anne’s, founded in 1862 and located on what today is Dufferin Avenue. (This parish is known now as St Anne’s, Gladstone, and renowned for its Group of Seven murals and distinctive Byzantine architecture in its current 1908 building.)

With the establishment of new suburbs came the need for new parishes to be carved out of old parish boundaries. Thus, in 1885, with the full agreement of the clergy and congregations, a new parish was established out of the western portion of St. Matthias parish and the eastern portion of St. Anne’s. This is what became known as St. Barnabas, Halton, located at Halton and Givins Streets (just south-east of Dundas and Ossington). 

The congregation initially met in a building on Grove Avenue. The Sunday School soon rented space from a nearby Reformed Episcopal Church. The first St. Barnabas building was opened in 1887. The list of those who contributed to the building fund speaks of the prominent place of the Anglican Church in late ninteenth century society. Donors included Oliver Mowat (Premier of Ontario), and members of prominent Toronto families including George Gooderham and Joseph Cawthra. Also contributing was John Charles Roper, professor at Trinity College and later vicar of St. Thomas’s, Huron Street and Bishop of Ottawa. It would seem that at its founding, St. Barnabas was of the high church tradition. The new building was opened on St. Barnabas Day, 1887 by Bishop Sweatman and the service was “intoned in the Gregorian style”.


By 1910 the building no longer was large enough and an addition was undertaken to add a chancel, trancepts, a tower and basement. The addition was designed by architect A. R. Denison, who also designed St. Philip’s, Spadina. Upon completion, the church could now seat 700. (Picture to come.)

In its early years, St. Barnabas was a middle-class suburban parish with a Sunday School of upwards of two hundred students. John Ross Robertson offers a commentary on the church-going norms of the time: “The church is fairly filled at the morning service, but the evening service is largely attended. In this respect St. Barnabas follows the general church custom of this city. There is probably no church in the city that is, strictly speaking, filled in the morning, and there are comparatively few that are not filled in the evening. In the Roman Catholic churches the rule is reversed: all the morning masses are attended by crowded congregations, while the vesper service is not so largely attended.”

By the middle of the twentieth century the neighbourhood around St. Barnabas was very different, populated by groups who had immigrated from other countries and who were not Anglican. By the late 1960’s the building was in significant disrepair and the congregation numbered roughly 150. They were working class people, many from the West Indies, who became aware that sinking money into keeping “this big ship” going did not make sense. At the same time, the parish was deeply involved in ministry in its community, particularly with the nearby mental health hospital on Queen Street. In the 1960’s St. Barnabas was cooperating with nearby Wesley United Church to establish programs to support people in need in the neighbourhood. Reports at the time indicate that about ninety percent of the parishioners lived in the parish. This was somewhat atypical for parishes in a similar situation. In many if not most cases, parishes whose surrounding demographics had shifted were populated by people who no longer lived in the parish, but still commuted back to their home or family church. I suspect that the fact that St. Barnabas was so engaged in its community was a result of most of its parishioners still living within the parish boundaries.

In 1969, Fr. Jack Roberts (the priest-in-charge of St. Matthias’) was asked by Bishop George Snell to add St. Barnabas to his responsibilities. (St. Barnabas was Bishop Snell’s childhood parish. He had been a Sunday school pupil, teacher, chorister, president of the Anglican Young People’s Association, and had also assisted the rector in liturgical duties.) Because of the deteriorating state of the building, and enabled by the cooperation already established with Wesley United Church, the decision was taken to sell the building, and for St. Barnabas to rent space at Wesley United Church. In June of 1970, the final service was held in the St. Barnabas building and a procession then made its way to Wesley United, on the north-west corner of Dundas and Ossington.  The archdeacon of York commended the parish for “the adventurous and responsible way in which they have accepted this challenge to St. Barnabas’ history. The parish is standing with its feet in two worlds — living in the past with its great history of fellowship and service; but also standing in ‘another world’ of future service, ministry, fellowship and hope.” Bishop Snell, who had been unsure whether he’d make it to the last service, walked in the procession and was reported to have been moved by the occasion. For him, the decision to share space with the local United congregation had even more significance; one of his grandfathers had been a member of the first Wesley Methodist Church.

Under the new arrangement, the Anglican and United congregations held separate Sunday services, but often came together for joint services and continued to work together cooperatively in outreach. The building they occupied together had been built in 1960 after the old Wesley United burned down. Two changes were made to the premises to accommodate the new tenants– the name of St. Barnabas Anglican Church was added to the sign, and kneelers were added to the worship space! 

In the end, St. Barnabas survived for only another year. After Fr. Roberts left in 1971, the parish was disestablished and its parishioners dispersed to other places. The original St. Barnabas building, which had been sold to the Church of God, has since been torn down and replaced by housing. 

As for Wesley United Church, in 1983 it merged with Grace-Carmen United Church to form Wesley-Grace-Carmen United Church. In 1988, it merged with Westmoreland United Church and Centennial United Church to form Westennial United Church. That congregation survived until 1997 and today the building is St. Christopher House, at Dundas and Ossington, a non-sectarian social service agency serving the west end of Toronto.

(A personal postscript: Research on St. Barnabas put me back in touch with Jack Roberts, now retired. Jack and Mary attended St. Thomas’, Brooklin for a time. We first met them when he was, in his retirement, priest-in-charge of the Anglican Church in Buckhorn, where we sometimes go to church in the summer. Jack has fond and vibrant memories of these few years at St. Barnabas, and speaks warmly of the people and their commitment to the community.)

The archives of the Diocese of Toronto has very little about the short-lived parish of St. Margaret’s Spadina (1890-1909 –see post below). In his charge to synod in 1890, the bishop of Toronto said it had been his pleasure to be part of the opening of three new churches that year — St. Margaret’s, St. Judes’ (my first parish) and St. Matthew’s, First Avenue.

Vestry records indicate that St. Margaret’s never grew, remaining a small parish. Average Sunday attendance throughout its nineteen year history was consistently small, well under 100 adults being present, and this in a building that could seat 600 comfortably. In 1909 it merged with St. George the Martyr to the east. St. George’s, founded in 1845, was the third parish established in the city of Toronto (after St. James’ Cathedral and Trinity East — now known as Little Trinity). St. Philip’s rector, R. J. Moore, had been a curate at St. George’s before coming to St. Margaret’s in 1890. With the merger, Moore became the vicar of St. George’s, and became its fifth rector in 1911. 

It may just be that St. Margaret’s was in the wrong location at the wrong time, and was not viable with another parish up the road and the change in its environs around the turn of the century from residential to factories and commerce.

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!)

Here’s a link to a condo project in downtown Toronto:

The building is actually the former St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, located on the east side of Spadina just south of Queen. I’ve walked and driven by it countless times and never knew. At the moment the building is used for retail and doesn’t look like it does in this brushed-up photo. You can see the shape of the church building in behind the facade, and the feature photos of the condos show the shape of the windows.

The first service at St. Margaret’s was held in March 1890. Only nineteen years later, in 1909, the parish closed. Why such a short history? I haven’t yet been to the diocesan archives to see what might be unearthed there, but my guess is that, first, there was a second Anglican Church just north of it on Spadina (St. Philip’s, on the west side, just south of Dundas) and, second, Spadina was being quickly commercialized in the early twentieth century and the natural residential parish disappeared.

Seems St. Margaret’s was a pretty high church sort of place. The rector, Robert James Moore, was a graduate of Trinity College, previously serving as curate at St. George’s, St. Catharines and St. George’s, Toronto. Here’s how John Ross Robertson described the liturgy: “The services at St. Margaret’s are on the model of an English cathedral, there being a surpliced choir of both men and boys.” Holy Communion was celebrated twice a Sunday and on festivals and Wednesdays.

After it closed, the congregation merged with St. George the Martyr and the property was sold. It was converted into a factory and the Art Deco facade added.


This picture, from the City of Toronto Archives, shows St. Margaret’s on the left. The stairs in the middle of Spadina led to underground washrooms.

This photo, also from the City of Toronto Archives, shows the building c. 1920, after it had been converted into a factory. Notice how the great west door has been closed up. Unfortunately, because of the overlaid caption on the original, we can’t tell whether the cross has been removed.

This sketch, from John Ross Robertson’s classic Landmarks of Toronto, shows St. Margaret’s while it was still in use as a parish church.

Next I’ll post what I know about St. Philip’s, Spadina, which moved up to North York, and closed in the last year or so.

Here goes. Entering the blogosphere for the first time as blogger.

What’s this project about? Researching Anglican churches in the City of Toronto that are now closed. Many (but not all) of the buildings still exist, most converted to churches of different denominations, and some retrofitted in interesting ways.

Why this project? On one level, I was looking for a new focus for my personal sabbath time. Doesn’t sound like sabbath? Well, in a way, it isn’t, except I enjoy new projects and this takes me back to my days as a graduate history student, pouring through archives.

On a different level, there are four things which coalesced to bring this project into focus. First, the church in which I was baptized, St. Judes’ on Roncesvalles. My grandfather, Fr. Warren Turner, was the rector of St. Judes’, which closed in 1977. For many years it was used by other denominations.For awhile it sat derelict, and at one point many years ago I contacted the real estate agent who had it for sale and got a tour. For awhile the parish hall was used as a rehearsal studio for Mirvish Productions and, at another time, as a food market. A couple of years ago it was demolished.

Second, I received for Christmas a book published in 1985 about Spadina Avenue, not far from where we live, and in it I discovered that there used to be two Anglican churches on Spadina (St. Margaret’s and St. Philip’s) and that one of the buildings (St. Margaret’s) still exists as a retail centre.

Third, in my last parish (St. Thomas’, Brooklin) we built a new church and incorporated furnishings from the former St. Clement’s, Riverdale.(In similar fashion, furnishings from St. Judes’, including the font in which I was baptized, found a new home at St. Judes’, Bramalea.)

Finally, the parish I now serve (St. Mary Magdalene’s) itself was carved out of our mother parish, St. Matthias’, Bellwoods. In fact, this was what was happening in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s in Toronto: an explosion of church planting. SMM survives, but another carved out of St. Matthias’ (St. Barnabas on Halton Street) is long gone.

Where’s this going? Not sure, but this blog is a start. I want to write about all of these churches, and then to look at the explosion and eventual retraction of parishes in light of growth and change in the city itself. (I’ll probably limit the project to parishes which were built before about 1925; tackling the suburbs is another project.)

Why the blog? A post on facebook about one discovery engendered quite a few comments, so I thought it would be useful to have a place to begin to share information and to invite leads, comments, recollections. (Tip of the hat to Mary Lou, my wife, who suggested to me, as I was beginning the project, that I should reach out to people who may have attended some of these places.I was dismissive of the idea. She, as usual, was right!)

More to come…