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SJWT-100th: “Why We Are Where We Are”

By Christopher Rutty, SJWT-100th Team Lead

The history of St. John’s West Toronto church, like that of the West Toronto Junction neighbourhood, has been very much shaped by its development as a distinctive transportation hub. The Junction began as a hub of confluent trails for the Indigenous community, this legacy reflected in the street names of Indian Road, Indian Road Crescent, Indian Trail, and Indian Grove (where I live), just west of Keele and north/south of Bloor; new street-names are being considered with local First Nations. In 1889, West Toronto Junction was incorporated as its own village, beginning as a station for several railways and soon serving as home to numerous freight yards and repair shops.

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St. John’s 3rd church is on this 1923 map at the corner of Humberside and Quebec, as are Indian Road, Indian Road Crescent, and Indian Grove.

In 1881, St. John’s parish began in a small triangular property (donated by two parishioners) where Dundas Street West crossed St. John’s Road, amidst a network of railway and streetcar tracks and nearby industries. 

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St. John’s 2nd church is visible on the map where St. John’s Road meets Dundas St.

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Street railway tracks on Dundas West at Clendenan, Nov. 23, 1923; behind the billboard is St. John’s former home.

Then a century ago, St. John’s parish built its third church on the residential and increasingly busy thoroughfare of Humberside Ave., just as the new Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) launched its first bus route to help resolve the city’s traffic problems and provide a convenient feeder for commuters into streetcars. Featuring double-decker buses for a few years, the #1 “Dundas/Humberside” route ran from Humberside and Dundas St. West, along Humberside to High Park Ave and Quebec Ave, past the church site and north to Annette and west to Runnymede, and soon extending to Jane.

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Commuters waiting in line to board the Humberside-Annette bus at Dundas West and Humberside, May 7, 1923.

On September 20, 1921, when the “Dundas/Humberside” buses started running, St. John’s congregation had owned the property at Humberside and Quebec for three years, first building a Rectory adjacent to it at 206 High Park Ave. and preparing for a bold move to what would become the geographic centre of the parish. The move would mean the abandonment of the original church site and removal of its materials, including bricks, pews, and several stained-glass windows.

After the City of Toronto annexed West Toronto Junction in 1909, and especially after World War I, it was clear that St. John’s initial life on Dundas St. had reached its limit, with population growth shifting south, along with two new Anglican parishes, St. Paul’s Runnymede, and Church of the Advent, building congregations nearby, both started by St. John’s as mission churches. In the meantime, as the street rail system extended to High Park and West Toronto Junction and Bloor West Village became new Toronto suburbs, the high school now known as Humberside Collegiate Institute was built at the end of Humberside Ave. The “castle on the hill” officially opened in 1894, but with vacant land all around it, although not for long. 

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Aerial view c.1920 above Humberside Collegiate and site where St. John’s 3rd church was soon to be built

Between 1921 and 1931, when St. John’s celebrated the parish’s 50th anniversary, now well established at its Humberside home, Toronto’s population had grown from 522,000 to 627,000, with much of that growth based in west Toronto. St. John’s had clearly evolved from a suburban congregation into a busy city church.

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Article in The Globe, Nov. 5, 1923, reporting on the official opening of St. John’s new Humberside home

The SJWT-100th Team had a productive meeting via Zoom on Monday, Jan. 9. Notes from the meeting and a video recording of the discussion are available, along with notes and videos from the previous meetings, at:

100th Team Meeting Notes and Recordings

Contact Christopher Rutty – hhrs@healthheritageresearch.com – with any ideas, contributions, questions.

Originally published in the St. John's Newsletter on January 14th, 2023

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