This weekend, members of St. John’s Anglican Church, West Toronto, along with those who share its building and many in the neighborhood who enjoy it, are celebrating the centennial of the laying of the cornerstone for its Humberside home. The cornerstone was laid on Saturday, May 5, 1923.
A cornerstone is often referred to as a "foundation-stone", and is symbolic of Christ, whom the Apostle Paul referred to as the "head of the corner" and is the "Chief Cornerstone of the Church" (Ephesians 2:20). In relation to architecture, a cornerstone is traditionally the first stone laid for a building, with all other stones laid in reference. It marks the geographical location by orienting a building in a specific direction. Cornerstones have indicated prosperity and opportunity, showing a sense of pride for what is possible at the time of construction. Some cornerstones include time capsules from, or engravings commemorating, the time a building was built. Cornerstones have also been turned into pieces of memorabilia, marking present buildings, or highlighting previously standing buildings.
St. John’s new cornerstone was laid along with the cornerstone of the parish’s previous church building that stood at Dundas St. West & St. John’s Road (Malta Park today). That cornerstone was laid on May 11, 1889. On June 7, 1981, a Centennial Stone was added to mark the centenary of the official birth of the St. John’s parish when the first church building opened on November 20, 1881.
St. John’s Origin & First Homes, 1879-1923
The origins of the St. John’s parish date from August 1879, when Julia Henry (later Murray) 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 home south of Bloor St, 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 a small cottage on Elizabeth Street (later Runnymede) near Annette Street. In 1880, these efforts inspired the donation of a 2.5-acre parcel of land near the intersection of Louisa Street (later St. John’s Rd) and Dundas St West to provide a site for a church. A name was also chosen, “St. John’s Mission, Runnymede” after St. John the Baptist, although the name was later associated with St. John the Evangelist.
By November 1887, “St. John’s, Runnymede,” operated within its own separate parish (bounded by Davenport, Keele, Dundas, 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. The new church was built next to the original church, which would become St. John’s Church Hall. St. John’s second church officially opened on January 26, 1890.
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 1912 a new Parish Hall was opened that replaced the original church building. The Parish Hall was later sold to the YWCA and used for programs until 1980 when it was demolished
By 1917, 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. In July 1918, St. John’s purchased property on Humberside Ave. between High Park and Quebec Ave. and built a rectory at 206 High Park. Plans for the third St. John’s Church, designed by Toronto architects, Gordon & Helliwell to accommodate 600, were complete as of February 1923.
Moving to Humberside
On Saturday, May 5, 1923, the cornerstone for the new St. John’s was laid by the Bishop of Toronto, along with the cornerstone from the second church. As was reported in The Globe newspaper on May 7, “Under the stone were place a copy of the parish magazine, The Churchman, certain historical documents, and the customary coin of the realm.”
Six months later, on November 4, 1923, the new St. John’s West Toronto Church officially opened and was dedicated by the Bishop of Toronto. Some 1,000 people attended, with many unable to get in, the church’s capacity upgraded from 600 to 900 during construction. As reported in The Globe, the Bishop in his sermon said, “In the new church the congregation would continue without a break the splendid traditions and history of the parish. He also spoke of the Divine expectations of the new church, ‘named after St. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.’”
To learn more about St. John’s rich history, visit: sjwt.ca/100th
Contact Christopher Rutty – firstname.lastname@example.org – with your historical contributions in support of the SJWT-100th, and to volunteer to help out with Doors Open Toronto, as well other special activities and events being planned to celebrate St. John’s 100 years on Humberside.