In the 1850s, Yorkville was a small village to the north of Toronto, surrounded by fields and farmland. Horse-drawn coaches provided a connection to the downtown via Yonge Street. Anglicans who resided in the Yorkville area worshipped at St. Paul’s, located at Bloor Street East and Jarvis Street. The church was a modest wooden structure, its walls covered with stucco. It was designed by John G. Howard, who later donated the land that became High Park. His home, Colbourne Lodge, remains in High Park today, and is an historic site.
When the congregation of St. Paul’s constructed a new stone church in 1861, their old wood building was relocated to a site further west, at Bloor and Yonge Streets, near the Toronto General Burying Ground. It served as a Sunday School and a place of worship for those who were residing west of Yonge Street. Having a site on the west side of Yonge Street was important for parishioners, as in Toronto’s bitter winter weather, it was often difficult to attend church at Bloor and Jarvis Streets amid the snow drifts.
In 1871, the Parish of St. Paul’s was of a sufficient size that it was deemed advisable to split it into two parishes, with Yonge Street as the dividing line. The parishioners of the new parish, to the west of Yonge, chose the name, “The Church of the Redeemer.” However, they continued to worship in the old wooden building, but within a few years, the congregation had grown and the structure was too small to meet their needs.
The above photo is of the old wooden structure, the former building of St. Paul’s, erected in 1871 (Photo, City of Toronto Archives). It is this building that was relocated from Bloor Street East and Jarvis Street, to Yonge and Bloor. In 1878, the congregation of the Church of the Redeemer decided to erect a larger church. At first, they intended to construct it next to the old building. However, they soon realized that having two Anglican Churches, only two blocks apart, was impractical. They decided to locate further west, on the northeast corner of Bloor Street and today’s Avenue Road. The old wooden building was demolished.
The above photo is from the cover of the pamphlet, “A Short History of the Church of the Redeemer,” which the church generously provides to visitors. The view gazes north on Queen’s Park toward Bloor Street. Queen’s Park changes its name to Avenue Road when it crosses over Bloor Street. The south facade of the church is visible in the photo, along with the tower and belfry. Notice that there is only one entrance-door on the south facade. Today, there are three.
The new Church of the Redeemer at Bloor West and Avenue Road was designed by the architectural firm of James Smith and William Gemmell, assisted by Mr. Clark. The first services in the new church were held on June 15, 1879. The above photo was taken c. 1885, and clearly portrays the rural qualities of the surrounding area, even though two years earlier, Yorkville had been annexed to the City of Toronto.
The Church of the Redeemer prior to it being surrounded by modern towers. Photo from “No Mean City,” by Eric Arthur. published 1964.
Church of the Redeemer in 2013
The architects Smith and Gimmell have several other buildings that survive to this day. Two of them are the Noble Block on Queen Street West, near Spadina Avenue (above, left-hand photo) and the old Knox College on Spadina Crescent (right-hand photo).
The Church of the Redeemer at Avenue Rd. and Bloor St. was designed in the High Victorian Gothic style. The walls were covered with rubble stone from the Credit Valley, near Georgetown. The term rubble stone means that the stones were the rubble that remained after stones were cut in the quarry. They were irregular in shape and their sizes varied. However, though rough in texture and inexpensive, they created a pleasing effect when assembled on the church walls. Ohio sandstone was imported for the stone ornamentations and the trim around the windows of the church. The interior walls were of white and red bricks, enhanced by including geometric patterns. The support columns in the interior were constructed of polished granite from the Bay of Fundy area.
The nave originally held seating for 800 parishioners. Those who were able to afford to rent pews attended on Sunday mornings. Others worshipped on Sunday evenings, when the pews were free. This was customary in many churches in the 19th century.
The interior of the church changed throughout the many decades, due to minor renovations and memorial plaques were added to the walls. However, extensive alterations occurred in the 1980s, when the parish hall on the north side of the church was sold. Because of the sale of the parish hall, the church now lacked sufficient space for church offices and meetings. The problem was solved by raising a section of the floor of the church to expand the basement level. Pews were removed from the raised section at the rear of the nave and replaced with chairs. Due to an ever-expanding congregation, more renovations were carried out in 1995, and then, again in 2000-2001 to create further space and improve facilities.
The Church of the Redeemer is today an active church community in the heart of the city, with an outreach program that meets the needs of many Torontonians.
View of the church in 2013, surrounded by tall buildings.
The south facade of the church, the Park Plaza Hotel in the background.
The south facade and the doorways facing Bloor Street.
The east facade with its tall Gothic windows.
Gazing down the nave to the chancel from the section of the floor that was raised, where the pews were replaced with chairs. The geometric brick designs in the walls are evident.
Thanksgiving display in 2013 on a table located on the raised floor.
A stained-glass window in the church.
View of the church from the south side of Bloor Street West in 2013.
Note: Much of the information for this post was derived from the pamphlet “A Short History of The Church of the Redeemer,”provided by the church to visitors.
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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:
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)