St. James Cathedral at 65 Church Street, on the northeast corner of Church and King Street East, is one of Toronto’s most historic churches. It was the first congregation established in Toronto, after Governor John Graves Simcoe laid out the plans for the town of York in 1793, and provided a land grant for an Anglican Church. Until it was built, church services were held at Fort York. In 1807, a wooden building was finally constructed.

During the War of 1812, the church was employed as a hospital to attend to the wounded and dying. In 1831, it was decided to replace the wooden structure with a larger stone church. It was consecrated in 1832. Unfortunately, this building burnt in 1839, but was replaced by another structure, constructed on the same site. This church was destroyed by the Great Fire that swept King Street in April of 1849, which destroyed much of Toronto’s downtown.

Following the fire, there was considerable discussion concerning the rebuilding of the church. Some members preferred to sell the frontage that the church owned on King St. or rent it for commercial purposes, and construct new cathedral on Adelaide St. Others wanted to augment the insurance money and rebuild on the original location. Most of the congregation voted for the Adelaide Street site. However, City Hall intervened and disallowed the proposal. By June 1850, it was confirmed and the church would be rebuilt on its former site. The positioning of the church was to break with tradition, as it was to be aligned on a north-south axis.

A national competition for the design was held. John G. Howard was requested to decide on the terms of the competition. Awards were  to be granted to the winner, as well as the second and third-place entries. The amounts were to be 75, 50, and 25 pounds, respectively. After seven weeks, Col. Frank William Cumberland  and Thomas Ridout won the competition, with Mr. Ortelo in second place and Mr. Kivas Tully in third. Fifteen months after the fire, on July 1, 1850, construction commenced. The cornerstone was laid on November 20, 1850. Only 5000 pounds remained of the insurance money, but an extra 5000 was raised through selling pew subscriptions and other fund-raising activities. Cumberland agreed to design a serviceable church, but with the amount of funds available, he was unable to complete the tower.

The previous church had been built closer to Church St., but the new church was constructed in the centre of the property.  It was built in the Gothic Revival style, with yellow bricks from the local brickyards, and trimmed with Ohio stone quarried from near Queenston, Ontario. The interior columns of red granite were from the Bay of Fundy area. The canopied pew of the Lieu. Governor was placed at the front of the nave. 

Services of consecration occurred on June 19, 1853, and it is this church that remains on the site today.  In 1873-74, the spire on the tower and the transepts were finally added, designed by Henry Langley. The clock was placed in the tower the following year, a gift of the citizens of Toronto, representing all denominations. The clock is still maintained by the city. When completed, the spire was the tallest in Canada and served for many years as a beacon for ships entering Toronto harbour.

Dr. John Strachan, Toronto’s first bishop, appointed in 1839, was buried under the chancel in 1867. Today, the brass plaque over his resting place reflects the light from the chancel windows. When the churchyard beside the church was closed, gravestones in the cemetery were cemented into the walls of the entranceway. Included is the stone of John Ridout, who died in the last pistol duel fought in the town of York, fought near Yonge and Grosvenor on July 12, 1817.  Another interesting stone cemented into the entranceway is that of 27-year-old William Butcher of Walpole in Sussex. On October 31, 1839, he fell from a height of seventy feet, while labouring on the spire of the tower of the church that was on the site before the fire that occurred later in the year in which he perished. Today, in the interior of St. James are many commemorative brass plaques, including one to Col. Sir Casimir Gzowski (1818-98), aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria. It is on the east wall of the nave, and was donated by officers of the Toronto Garrison.

Visiting the church today is a memorable experience, particularly the St. George’s Chapel. To enter the cathedral is to experience Toronto’s early-day history, and to worship in a structure that has been sacred to many for over 160 years.


“Toronto No Mean City,” Eric Arthur, University of Toronto Press, 1964.

Canadian Encyclopaedia’s web site

1850, Arthur Eric Book

St. James in the 1850s, before the spire was completed. Photo from the book, “Toronto No Mean City,” Eric Arthur, University of Toronto Press, 1964.

s0376_fl0001_it0068[1]   1890s

The streets of Toronto surrounding St. James Cathedral in the 1890s, the spite of the church dominating the area. City of Toronto Archives, Series 376, File 0001, It.0068

                   f1568_it0278[1]  1903

Southwest view of the tower and spire of St. James in 1903. Photo from the City of Toronto Archives, File 1568, It. 0278 (1)

DSCN6538   DSCN0400

                  Spire of St. James Cathedral in the spring of 2013.


The interior of St. James, gazing north toward the chancel where Bishop Strachan is buried. Photo taken in 2013.


               The magnificent stained-glass windows above the chancel.


                         Windows in the St. George’s Chapel.

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Close-up view of the windows in the St. George’s Chapel, depicting King George V and Queen Mary


St. James Cathedral, gazing west from St. James Park in the spring of 2013.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.com/

To view links to other posts placed on this blog about the history of Toronto and its buildings:


To view the links to posts that rediscover Toronto’s old movie houses:


Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It also relates anecdotes and stories from those who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


                 To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), thePhotodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)

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