“Our Buildings: The Road to 288 Humberside”
During 2023, St. John’s Anglican Church, West Toronto, is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its home on Humberside Ave., the third church in the history of the parish.
The origins of the St. John’s parish date from August 1879, when Julia Henry hitched her horse to a buggy and drove it through the bush of Runnymede and Swansea, stopping at the scattered homes along the way. The children became passengers to Julia’s modest home south of Bloor Street, where she began the first Sunday School of the area. A month later, other members of the community, inspired by Julia’s efforts, arranged to hold religious services in Mrs. McGregor’s small cottage on Elizabeth Street near Annette Street. In 1909, Elizabeth Street became Runnymede Rd.
The First Church, 1881-1889
In 1880, these efforts inspired the donation of a 2.5-acre parcel of land by John Fisken and Thomas Wadsworth, near the intersection of Louisa Street and Dundas Street West, and the sanction of the Diocese, to provide a site for a church. Further funds were raised and a building committee chosen, as was a name, “St. John’s Mission, Runnymede” after St. John the Baptist. Originally established as a Mission Church (affiliated with St. Mark’s, Carelton), St. John’s first home would be a modest wooden frame structure, the cost of which was not to exceed $700. In 1909, Louisa Street was renamed “St. John’s Road” after the church.
This first St. John’s Church was officially dedicated on November 20, 1881. By November 1887, “St. John’s, Runnymede,” operated within its own separate parish (bounded by Davenport Rd., Keele St., Dundas St. West, and Lake Ontario) and soon as “St. John’s Parish, West Toronto Junction.” By this time, however, it was also clear St. John’s needed a more substantial building. In April 1887, plans for a new brick building were drawn up to accommodate 330 people at a cost of no more than $2,500, although the limit was soon raised to $8,000. The new church, designed by Toronto architects, Strickland & Symons, was built next to the original wooden church, which would become St. John’s Church Hall.
The Second Church, 1889-1923
On May 11, 1889, a cornerstone was laid, and by the time St. John’s second church building opened on January 26, 1890, the total cost was $8,737. The turn of the 20th century brought an influx of British immigrants to the parish, drawn by the railway industry and Toronto’s annexation of the Junction in 1909. In 1904 the church was enlarged and in May 1912 a new Parish Hall was opened that replaced the original wooden church building (the Parish Hall was later sold to the YMCA and used for programs until 1980 when it was demolished).
In spite of the enlarged quarters, the needs of the expanding parish could not be met from one location, and mission churches were set up as St. Paul's [on Willard, now St. Paul's Runnymede] on Dec. 5, 1909, and as the Church of the Advent [on Pritchard Ave.] on Feb. 26, 1912 (St. Mary and St. Martha’s today).
By 1917, the growth of the mission churches, changing demographics in the Junction, and a new residential area to the south and west of Dundas St. and north of Bloor St. West, pointed to the need to for St. John’s make a bold move to what would be the geographic centre of the parish. There was also the general sense that the Church was now in the wrong place for the most advantageous work it could accomplish. The first step, taken in July 1918, was for St. John’s to purchase a property on Humberside Ave. between High Park and Quebec Ave. and build a rectory at 206 High Park. The next step was deciding to abandon St. John’s original home for 40 years and preparing to move into a new one. Reflective of the draw to the new neighbourhood, in September 1921, the TTC launched its first bus route, “#1 Humberside/Annette”, which ran from Humberside Ave. and Dundas St. to High Park and Quebec Ave., right past where the new St. John’s home would soon be built.
The Third Church, 1923 to Today.
By February 1923, plans for the third St. John’s Church, designed by Toronto architects, Gordon & Helliwell to accommodate 600, were complete. The cornerstone for the new church was laid on May 5, 1923, by the Bishop of Toronto, along with the cornerstone from the second church. To save money, much of the building materials and furnishings from the second church were integrated into the new church. Indeed, the intention was to make the transition to the new church home on Humberside as smooth as possible and designing it to be as familiar to the congregation. They did not want to find themselves in strange surroundings, but made to feel at home.
On November 4, 1923, just six months after the laying of the cornerstone, the new St. John’s West Toronto Church was officially opened and dedicated by the Bishop of Toronto. Some 1,000 attended, with many unable to get in, its capacity upgraded from 600 to 900 during construction. The cost of the new building was $80,000, but it would increase to $90,000 once the organ was installed. The building was described as a fine piece of ecclesiastical architecture, its lower portion constructed of Credit Valley stone. The interior was particularly beautiful, with special attention paid to the lighting, which made it extremely bright. Another distinctive feature was a large Advent stained-glass window on the north wall above the Altar, dedicated to the memory of the many members of St. John’s congregation who made the supreme sacrifice during World War I.
Much of the energy of St. John’s during its first 18 years on Humberside was directed to paying for the new church, the total cost of which had grown to some $100,000, and $28,000 was still owning. Thus, three years later, on November 19, 1944, there was a special service and a formal consecration of the church and property when the mortgage on the church was finally discharged.
A significant renovation of the church was completed in 1953, which included a new Holy Table and reredos, a mid-week chapel in the North Transept, a Baptistry in the South Transept, redecoration of the Nave, and completion of the Narthex, including a balcony for additional seating. In 1959, an extension of St. John’s space, especially to accommodate a very active Sunday School and various church groups and activities, was enabled by the purchase of a building next door at 204 High Park Ave., next to the Rectory, which became known as the Parish or Church House.
By the early 1980s, maintenance and financial challenges, along with progressive liturgical changes, and a new Rector who did not need to live In the Rectory, catalyzed a series of bold changes. After renting out the Rectory and parts of the Parish House, in 1985, the Order of the Holy Cross purchased the Parish House, the proceeds placed in Trust and the interest supporting much needed maintenance and upgrades in the church. By this time there were also progressive changes in the liturgy, based on a shift to the Book of Alternative Services and reflected by the addition of a platform in the nave to accommodate a new altar closer to the congregation, facilitating more lay involvement in services. St. John’s finances were further improved in 1986 by the sale of the Rectory and the resulting trust fund that could be accessed for capital expenses.
With strengthened finances, in 1988-89, St. John’s proceeded with its most substantive renovation since the early 1950s, which involved the renovation of the church basement into a Daycare operation which opened in September 1989 and operates today as Early Enrichment Day Care Centre. The other major renovation was the installation of an elevator in the church bell tower, which greatly improved accessibility for the disabled and others, including the elderly with mobility issues, and children in strollers. The new elevator also ushered in St. John’s support and network with families with members who have special needs.
There were a number of further improvements in St. John’s Humberside home during the 1990s, including upgrades of the church’s organ. In the early 2000s there was a bold initiative of renewal driven by transforming the colours of the St. John’s interior walls, drawn from the colours of its rich collection of stained-glass windows. There was also a process of congregational discernment about what the colours said about the church, its membership, its spiritual mission, its place in the community, and its future. St. John’s would no longer be a beige church, but rather the Easter, or “technicolour church.”