Toronto’s architectural gems—Church of the Holy Trinity beside Eaton Centre

16 Sep


The Church of the Holy Trinity, located in Trinity Square in downtown Toronto, is located on the west side of the busy Eaton Centre.  However, when it was built in 1847, Henry Scadding, author of “Toronto of Old” (published in 1873), stated that just ten years prior to the opening of the church, the land to the south of the church was “fields,” and to the north of the church were swamps and dense forest. It was referred to as Macaulay’s Fields. In those years, Louisa Street, to the south of the church, was called Jeremy Street, a Macaulay family name.

The history of the Church of the Holy Trinity commenced when Bishop Strachan, who is today buried in St. James  Cathedral on King Street East, received a donation of 5000 pounds sterling for the building and maintenance of a church.  Conditions were attached to the funds—it was to be named the Church of the Holy Trinity, the pews were to be  forever free, and the pews not designated to a specific person. The terms also stipulated that 3000 pounds were to be spent on the building and 2000 pounds on investments.

In 1898, it was revealed that the donor was Mrs. Lambert Swale of Settle, in Yorkshire. It was said that she donated the money after visiting Toronto, and being dismayed at exclusive pew-holding system at St. James. On her return to England, she arranged for the money to be sent to build the Church of the Holy Trinity. During the years ahead, Mrs. Swale continued to support the church. The following is a quote is from Eric Arthur’s book, “Toronto—No mean City.”  “She provided silver sacramental plate for public use and smaller service for private ministrations, a large supply of fair linen, a covering of Genoa velvet for the altar, and surplice for the clergy.”

Bishop Strachan hired Henry Bower Lane as the architect of Holy Trinity. He had designed a section of Osgoode Hall, as well as Little Trinity Church on King Street East. Henry Bower Lane had been a pupil of Sir. Charles Barry, the designer of the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. When Holy Trinity was consecrated on 27 October 1847, the Bishop invited poor families of the Church of England faith to make the new church their spiritual home. This was not an attempt to restrict the parishioners to those of humble means, but rather to fulfill the terms attached to the donation. It was the first church in Toronto to have free pews. At the time, most churches charged pew rental fees. The cost of a pew at St. James Cathedral was prohibitive for those lacking a sizeable income.

However, in 1849 a fire swept along King Street, which severely damaged the church of St. James. As a result, many of the parishioners from Holy Trinity and St. James worshipped together at Holy Trinity, including Lord Elgin. This ended in 1850, when the new St. James was consecrated.

Because the pews in Holy Trinity were free, the church had no reliable source of income. Bishop Strachan appointed his young chaplain, Henry Scadding, who was employed as a classics master at Upper Canada College, to be the church’s “Incumbent,” with no salary. He remained its rector until 1875. He died in 1901.

The land to build the church was donated by John Simcoe Macaulay. It was constructed in the Gothic style, the interior of the church in the cruciform plan, the altar visible regardless of where parishioners were seated. The structure was built of yellow bricks from the Don Valley brickyards, and timbers were cut from the nearby forests. Its main entrance faced west, with an impressive Gothic doorway and a large window above it. Two towers were built on the northwest and southwest corners of the west facade. The slates for the roof arrived in Canada as ballast in sailing ships.

From the mid 1800s, Holy Trinity was known as a church associated with the “Catholic Revival” in the Church of England, which sought inspiration from the Medieval days. It was viewed by some as a purer faith, as it applied more formality to the services than other churches. However, this was coupled with a  keen sense of social responsibility. This approach was intensified when the Rev. John Frank became rector in the 1930s.  It was he who introduced the pageant of the “Christmas Story,” a tradition that continues to this day. When the $200,000,000 Eaton Centre was built it encompassed 15 acres. An attempt was made to demolish the church and include the land within the Centre. The congregation fought back and the Eaton Centre was forced to build around the structure, thus preserving this historic church and two other building.

The church is today well recognized for its outreach program, which ministers to the needs of people in the inner city. It is a unique congregation with roots in Toronto’s past, but well aware of the people’s needs today.


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Facade of the Church, with its Gothic facade and twin towers.

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The Gothic doorway on the west, and the stained-glass window above it.

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                        Gothic window from the interior.


              Interior view of the Church of the Holy Trinity


The church today remains a quiet sanctuary in the heart of downtown Toronto.

Sources of In formation:

Pamphlet provided to visitors to the Church of the Holy Trinity

Eric Arthur’s book, “Toronto—No Mean City,” University of Toronto press, published 1964.

Henry Scadding, “Toronto of Old.” Oxford University Press, published 1873

Frederick H. Armstrong, “Toronto,” Produced in cooperation with the Toronto Historical Society, 1983

To view the Home Page for this blog:

To view other posts about the history of Toronto and its buildings:

The building on the corner of Duncan and Adelaide streets, built in 1833, that was once the residence for students of Upper Canada College.

The 1860s houses at 7-9 Elm Street that today house Barbarian’s Steak House.

The building on the northwest corner of Dundas and Yonge that was a branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia

The Ellis Building on Adelaide Street near Spadina Ave.

The Heintzman Building on Yonge Street, next to the Elgin Theatre

The tall narrow building at 242 Yonge Street, south of Dundas

Toronto’s first Reference Library at College and St. George Streets.

The Commodore Building at 315-317 Adelaide St. West

The Graphic Arts Building (condo) on Richmond Street

The Art Deco Victory Building on Richmond Street

The Concourse Building on Adelaide Street

The old Bank of Commerce at 197 Yonge Street

The Traders Bank on Yonge Street—the city’s second skyscraper

Toronto’s old Union Station on Front Street, built in 1884

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church at King and Simcoe Streets.

The row houses on Glasgow Street, near Spadina and College Streets

The bank at Queen and Simcoe that resembles a Greek temple

The cenotaph at Toronto’s Old City Hall

The magnificent Metropolitan Cathedral at King East and Church Streets

St. Stanislaus Koska RC Church on Denison Avenue, north of Queen West

The historical St. Mary’s Church at Adelaide and Bathurst Streets

The Bishop’s (St, Michael’s) Palace on Church Street, Toronto

The Union Building at Simcoe and King Street West

The Ed Mirvish (Pantages, Imperial, Canon) Theatre, a true architectural gem on Toronto’s Yonge Street

The Waverly Hotel on Spadina near College Street.

The Art Deco Bank of Commerce building on King Street West.

The Postal Delivery Building, now the Air Canada Centre (ACC)

The Bellevue Fire Station on College Street

The Bank of Nova Scotia at King and Bay Streets

Toronto’s old Sunnyside Beach

Toronto’s architectural gems—the Runnymede Library

Spadina Avenue – sinful, spicy and diverse

The Reading Building, a warehouse loft on Spadina Avenue

The Darling Building on Spadina Avenue

The amazing Fashion Building on Spadina Avenue

Toronto’s architectural gems – the Tower Building at Spadina and Adelaide Street

The Balfour Building at 119 Spadina Avenue

The Robertson Building at 215 Spadina that houses the Dark Horse Espresso Bar

An architectural gem – Grossman’s Tavern at Spadina and Cecil Streets

History of the house that contains the Paul Magder Fur Shop at 202 Spadina

An important historic building that disappeared from the northeast corner of Spadina and College

Historic bank building on northeast corner of Spadina and Queen West

History of the Backpackers’ Hotel at King and Spadina

Hamburger corner – Spadina and Queen Streets

Lord Lansdowne Public School on Spadina Crescent

The Victory Burlesque Theatre at Dundas and Spadina

The Dragon City Mall on the southwest corner of Dundas and Spadina

Buildings on the west side of Spadina a short distance north of Queen Street.

History of the site of the Mcdonalds on northwest corner of Queen and Spadina

A former mansion at 235 Spadina that is now almost hidden from view.


Military hero of the War of 1812 lived near corner of Spadina and Queen West.

The Art Deco bus terminal at Bay and Dundas Streets.

Photos of the surroundings of the CN Tower and and the St. Lawrence Market in 1977

The old Dominion Bank Building at King and Yonge Street

The Canada Life Building on University and Queen Street West.

Campbell House at the corner of Queen Street West and University Avenue

A study of Osgoode Hall

Toronto’s first City Hall, now a part of the St. Lawrence Market

Toronto’s Draper Street, a time-tunnel into the 19th century

The Black Bull Tavern at Queen and Soho Streets, established in 1822

History of the 1867 fence around Osgoode Hall on Queen Street West at York Street

Gathering around the radio as a child in the 1940s

The opening of the University Theatre on Bloor Street, west of Bay St.

122 persons perish in the Noronic Disaster on Toronto’s waterfront in 1949

Historic Victoria Memorial Square where Toronto’s first cemetery was located, now hidden amid the Entertainment District

Visiting one of Toronto’s best preserved 19th-century streets-Willcocks Avenue

The 1930s Water Maintenance Building on Brant Street, north of St. Andrew’s Park

Toronto’s architectural gems-photos of the Old City from a book published by the city in 1912

Toronto’s architectural gems in 1912

Toronto’s architectural gems – the bank on the northeast corner of Queen West and Spadina

Photos of the surroundings of the CN Tower and and the St. Lawrence Market in 1977

The St. Lawrence Hall on King Street

Toronto’s streetcars through the past decades

History of Trinity Bellwoods Park

A history of Toronto’s famous ferry boats to the Toronto Islands

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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Toronto


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