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Weddings at St. John’s Anglican Church, West Toronto, 1920s to 1970s

The Marriage at Cana was Jesus’s first miracle, as narrated in John’s gospel (2: 1-11). Jesus was a guest at the wedding, along with his mother and disciples. When there was no more wine, Jesus commanded that stone jugs be filled with water, which was then transformed into excellent wine. The disciples saw this miracle as a sign, but it also solved a practical problem. The Marriage at Cana shows how Christ cares for us, including when we come together to celebrate loving relationships.

Newspaper accounts of weddings from the 1920s to the 1970s at St. John’s Anglican Church, West Toronto, published in the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail, allow us to imagine attending these celebrations. The detailed descriptions of clothing and flowers present these occasions in all their colour.

Newspaper announcement of wedding for Alberta (Berta) Gilbert and Arthur C. Cleverly
Alberta (Berta) Gilbert and Arthur C. Cleverly Wedding - Toronto Star September 26th, 1925

Let’s begin with a wedding that took place when our 1923 church building was less than two years old. “St. John’s Church, West Toronto, was the scene of a very pretty wedding,” reports the Toronto Star on Saturday, September 26, 1925. Rev. R. MacNamara, the rector, joined Alberta (Berta) Gilbert and Arthur C. Cleverly in marriage. The bride wore a white georgette gown, and orange blossoms adorned her veil. Berta was given in marriage by her father, and her sole bridesmaid was her cousin Helen Smith from California. Following a usual pattern, this wedding had more male attendants than female, including the groomsman Harry Gilbert—the bride’s brother—and four ushers. Mr. Percy MacDonald played the organ and Miss Doris Ashton sang “O Promise Me.” After a reception at the home of Berta’s parents, the couple left to enjoy a honeymoon in Muskoka. Their new home was 6 Valleyview Gardens in Baby Point.

Weddings, large and small, showed patterns and exceptions. Almost every account says that the bride was “given away,” usually by her father. However, Beatrice Olga Cook was given away by her uncle, Mr. Alex Bagsley, on July 15, 1926; Mary Evelyn Fraser, whose father was deceased, was given away by her brother Errol on September 4, 1937. Wedding parties ranged from the simplicity of just two attendants, up to a maximum of eight.

Newspaper clipping for wedding of Hilda Huestis and Ken MacDuffee
Huestis-MacDuffee Wedding - Toronto Star, July 9th, 1932

When my Aunt Hilda (Hilda Marguerite Huestis) married Kenneth Gordon MacDuffee at St. John’s on July 9, 1932, she had a maid of honour, two bridesmaids, and a flower girl. At the wartime wedding of Jean Mary Douglas and Robert Leo Carey, R.C.A.F. on May 25, 1943, “the ushers were Aircraftman 2 Kenneth Douglas, brother of the groom, and Leading Aircraftman Jack Hickey.”

Newspaper accounts usually mention the officiant. This is helpful when we wish to determine whether the “St. John’s Church” in the article is our St. John’s Anglican Church, West Toronto, or another church such as St. John’s Norway or St. John’s York Mills. Among the clergy named are the Revs. R. MacNamara, C.W. Good, H.R. Hunt, and Maurice P. Poole.

White was traditional for the bridal gown. As a good example, Joan Marian Stammers’s gown at her June 1950 marriage to John Jolley Pye had “white satin and lace” “a petal neckline,” and “a flared skirt…and a long train.” But some brides chose other colours. When Eileen Emily Davis married William Harold Thomas at St. John’s on August 1, 1936, she “looked charming in a gown of yellow flowered silk marquisette with a brown taffeta picture hat and brown accessories.” Honoria Frederica (Nora) Sears also made a fresh and striking choices when she married Thomas Lloyd Bottomley on November 9, 1949. Perhaps to continue the autumn theme of the “tall standards of chrysanthemums” that adorned the church, Nora “wore a dress of mist gray with long pointed sleeves.” May Webster, for her September 27, 1975, marriage to John Webster, made her own dress and veil. “The dress was beige, with a flounced hem which became a small train.”

Apparel for the bridesmaids was usually colourful, as in the summer 1928 wedding of Ruth Rawling and William John Shortt. Ruth’s older siter Elsie Rawling, as bridesmaid, wore a peach gown trimmed with green, plus a green mohair hat to match. The two flower girls, Gladys Davison, niece of the bride, and Beth Shortt, niece of the groom, had blue and mauve georgette dresses. And why not green? At the marriage of Lynne Margaret Clayton and Kenneth Lea Lyons in the fall of 1960, the maid of honour, Patricia Lyons, and the three bridesmaids, Norma Hargrove, Johanne Marsh, and Marguerite Munroe, all wore “moss green peau de soie with matching headdresses and baskets of yellow and bronze baby mums.”

Flowers included not only the bouquets carried by the bride and her attendants, but also the bride’s headdress, the baskets of flowers carried by flower girls, corsages worn by the bride’s and groom’s mothers, and the decoration of the church. Roses of many varieties were popular; in 1928 bride Ruth Rawling carried “a shower bouquet of Ophelia roses”—a pale pink, hybrid rose. For the bride’s headdress, orange blossoms were a favourite. A wedding might have multicoloured seasonal flowers to decorate the church, as at the Huestis-MacDuffee wedding in July 1932: “blue delphinium, pink snapdragon, pink carnations, baby’s breath and cornflowers.” In contrast, at May and John Webster’s 1975 wedding, “the colours of all the flowers were blue and white.”

The organist, and sometimes a singer, is often mentioned by name in the newspaper. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century compositions were favoured. While wedding marches were popular, organist Mr. MacDonald branched out in 1926 to play “selections from ‘Blossom Time.’” Singers performed “All Joy Be Thine” at the Talbot-Cook wedding in 1926, and “Calm as the Night” at the Huestis-MacDuffee wedding in 1932.

The wedding reception was often held at the bride’s family home, where both the bride’s mother and the groom’s mother, beautifully attired, received their guests. The happy couple then set off on honeymoon, with favourite destinations including Muskoka, The Laurentians, Algonquin Park, Windsor, New York City, and Bermuda. Some of the newlyweds planned to make their home in Toronto, while others would live in Dundas, Ontario; Chatham, Ontario; Montreal; or Shawinigan Falls, QC.

We cannot be certain that every couple who married at St. John’s Anglican Church, West Toronto, lived happily ever after. But each brought their own touches to the ceremony, and each experienced the support, prayers, and sincere best wishes of family and friends.

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