Metropolitan United Church at 56 Queen Street east, between Bond and Church Streets, each year attracts thousands of visitors during the “Doors Open” weekend in May. The cathedral is an amazing architectural structure, nestled amidst the modern downtown office buildings of the city. To step inside its doors is to enter Toronto’s past. Although many congregations have dwindled and disappeared in our secular world of today, Metropolitan survives, its bells peeling across McGill Square and the surrounding streets every Sunday morning, as they have for many decades.
The history of this congregation commenced in 1818. I previously placed a post on the this blog about the Bank of Commerce Building on King Street West, now a CBIC building that is a part of Commerce Court. In it I mentioned that the bank’s location was at one time the site of the first Methodist church in Toronto, constructed in 1818. This was the Wesleyan Methodist Church, which eventually became Metropolitan United.
(left) The plaque on the east facade of the old Bank of Commerce building, and a sketch of the 1818 church.
To view the post about the old Bank of Commerce building, follow the link:
The Methodist community in the town of York increased in numbers in the years ahead. In 1833, a year before the town of York was incorporated as the City of Toronto, they constructed their new church at the corner of Adelaide Street (then named Newgate) and Toronto Street.
The Wesleyan Methodist Church that commenced its services in 1833, was a rather austere building. Its unadorned facade contained Romanesque windows on the second floor, and three doorways topped by Greek-style, pediments. Above the second storey was a large pediment with simple decorative trim. The tall chimneys were a necessary in this decade as there was no central heating, and large stoves were required to maintain a comfortable temperature when the building was occupied. Because the congregation continued to expand, the church elders sought a site to construct a larger structure. In 1868, for the sum of $25,000, they purchased property on Queen Street East. It extended as far north as Shuter Street, and was bounded by Church Street on the east and Bond Street on the west. It was known as McGill Square. Henry Langley was hired as the architect.
Henry Langley was only 36 years of age when he received this prestigious commission. However, he was highly qualified, being one of the first architects to receive his education and training in Canada. Born in 1836, his career commenced in 1854 at the young age of 18, as an apprentice to William Hay, a specialist in Gothic architecture. Langley eventually opened his own practice and remained a prominent architect in Toronto until his death in 1907. He was buried in the Necropolis Cemetery on Winchester Street. It was Langley who designed the cemetery’s intimate but magnificent chapel. In total, Langley designed seventy churches throughout Ontario. In Toronto, he created the plans for St. Michael’s Cathedral and Jarvis Street Baptist Church. He was also one of the architects of the vice-regal residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario—”Government House,” on Simcoe Street.
For a link to the post about Government House at King and Simcoe Streets:
The cornerstone of the cathedral on McGill Square (above photo) was laid in August of 1870 by Egerton Ryerson. The first services were held in 1872. In 1922, a 23-bell, 17-ton carillon was added to the tower. This chimes of these bells continue to ring out across the city today. The above photo is from the City of Toronto Archives, and was taken in 1920. The view looks north. Bond Street, on the left, seems almost rural when compared to today. St. Michael’s Cathedral is visible in the background. In the above photo, the tall pinnacles on the four corners of the tower of the Metropolitan Methodist Church can be seen.
The above view is of the interior of the Methodist Cathedral of 1872. It seated 2200 people and possessed a choir of 200 singers. Balconies, which contained richly-carved woodwork, wrapped around the interior on three sides. In 1925, along with other Methodist congregations, the Metropolitan Church amalgamated with several other denominations to form the United Church of Canada, which is today Canada’s largest protestant denomination.
On January 30, 1928, a disastrous fire broke out in the church, only the walls and the tower surviving. In June of 1928, they decided to rebuild on the same location. John Gibb Morton (1876-1949) was hired as the architect. He preserved much of the south facade of the old church, though the front doors on either side of the main entrance were relocated to the east and west sides of the structure. On the tower, the over-size pinnacles were removed. The cornerstone of the new church was laid in December of 1928. Morton also designed the church’s Parish Hall.
The new structure, constructed between the years 1928 and 1929, contained transepts that were 15 feet higher and 8 feet deeper. The balcony was built across the south end of the nave, rather than on three sides. The Globe Furniture Company of Waterloo installed the woodwork, and Robert McCausland the Memorial Window. In the sanctuary was a communion table carved from California oak, depicting Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of “The Last Supper.” The total cost of rebuilding was $400,000. The first services in the new church were in December of 1929. In 1930, a Casavant Organ, manufactured in Quebec, was installed, containing 7852 pipes. Today, the organ has 8300 pipes, and is the largest in Canada. In 1934, a Silver Band was formed, which continues to play for special occasions to this very day.
Note: Sources of information for this post included, “Firm Foundation,” by Judith St. John.
Services on November 4, 2012, for the 194th anniversary of the congregation.
Outdoor service held annually in June, with the blessing of the animals.
The Metropolitan Silver Band performing during the “Doors Open” program in May of 2011.
The annual Kirkin’ O’ the Tartan ceremony at Metropolitan United
Nave and Sanctuary on Thanksgiving Sunday in 2012
Easter service in 2013, with the Metropolitan Silver Band
The interior of the Metropolitan Church today
The Gothic splendour of the church in the spring of 2012. Notice that on the top of the tower there are no over-sized pinnacles. They were removed when it was rebuilt after the fire of 1928.
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