For over a century, when gazing westward along Adelaide Street toward Bathurst Street, the magnificent Gothic spire of St. Mary’s has dominated the vista. Although the tower on St. James Cathedral on King Street is often reputed to be the finest in the city, I personally feel that St. Mary’s is the most attractive.
After the City of Toronto was incorporated in 1834, the city ordered a survey of the land to the west of Peter Street, as far as Garrison Creek (Niagara Street). During this survey, they created several public squares, reserving one of them for the Catholic Church. It was bounded by Adelaide Street West on the south, Bathurst Street on the east, and McDonnell Square (a street) on the north. They named the square itself McDonnell Square, after Alexander McDonnell, who owned Park Lot #32, one of the original land grants from the 1790s. When the parish of St. Mary’s was established in 1852, it took possession of the square. The parish was to serve the needs of the Irish Catholics immigrants living in the western part of the city. The same year, they founded St. Mary’s School to provide education for the children of the immigrants.
The Toronto Directory reveals that in 1856, the priest of St. Mary’s was Father J. O’Neil. The same year, other than the church, the only other structure on the west side of Bathurst, between King and Adelaide Streets, was the home of Robert Cathcart. To the south of the church, on the southwest corner of King and Bathurst was the Wheat Sheaf Tavern.
This 1858 map shows St. Mary’s Church and the other buildings of the parish on square. The church is shown as the “RC Chapel.” The street on the right-hand side of the map is Bathurst Street, and the roadway at the bottom of the map is King Street. To the south of the church is the Cathcart home, which actually faces on Adelaide Street. The building at the southwest corner of King and Bathurst Streets is the Wheat Sheaf Tavern.
In 1862, the Toronto Directory states that the parish priest was the Very Reverent John V. G. Walsh, and the chaplain to the troops at Fort York was Reverend J. B. Proulx.
In 1885 construction commenced on a new church. Joseph Connelly was selected as the architect, the spire to be designed by A. W. Holmes. They chose the Gothic Revival style. The new church was dedicated on 17 February 1889, and it remains today as one of the finest churches in the city. The tower was not completed until 1905. A new St. Mary’s School was built in 1918 on the north side of the square. The school was expanded in 1972.
By the 1960s, the demographics of the area had changed, the Irish having mostly relocated to other districts of the city. Many Portuguese immigrants had arrived, and McDonnell Square was renamed Portugal Square. It remains today as a church serving the Portuguese Community, even though many of the parishioners do not reside in the immediate area.
These pictures were taken in August of 2012. The church is surrounded by scaffolding as it is being restored.
The Gothic tower with the scaffolding surrounding it.
This photo reveals how the church dominates the vista when looking west along Adelaide Street.
The interior of the church is spacious and full of light. The pillars are of polished granite, the bases of the pillars of Queenston granite and the capitals of Ohio sandstone.
The polished granite columns, with the ornate capitals at the top of them, carved from Ohio sandstone. The timber roof rises 65 feet from the floor.
Looking west on Adelaide Street toward St. Mary’s on 2 July 1930. The men are laying streetcar tracks on Adelaide Street. Photo is from the Toronto Archives.
St. Mary’s during the early 1960s.
Interior of St. Mary’s during the 1960s.
I have spent much of my adult life researching Toronto. Despite the traffic jams and daily congestion, I find Toronto an exciting and vibrant city in which to live. However, I lament the destruction of the city’s architectural heritage. We have very few remaining houses from the 1870s. Because the setting of the houses has now disappeared, I have realized for quite a while that the houses were doomed. It is a pity that they could not have been included in the new development that will be constructed on the site. Condo developers that preserve buildings find that their properties command higher prices and are eagerly sought by purchasers.
I enjoy exploring the city’s past through my writing. One of the books, “The Villages Within”, was nominated for the Toronto Heritage Awards. If interested in novels with a Toronto setting, descriptions of the books are available by following the link: https://tayloronhistory.com/2012/03/22/toronto-author-publishes-seventh-novel/
They can be purchased in soft cover or electronic editions. All books are available at Chapters/Indigo and on Amazon.com. The electronic editions are less that $4 on Kobo and Kindle. Follow the links:
There Never Was a Better Time: http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000056586/THERE-NEVER-WAS-A-BETTER-TIME.aspx
Arse Over Teakettle: http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000132634/Arse-Over-Teakettle.aspx
The Reluctant Virgin; http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000188306/The-Reluctant-Virgin.aspx
The Villages Within: http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000175211/The-Villages-Within.aspx
Author’s Home Page: https://tayloronhistory.com/
Authors can be contacted at: [email protected]