The Church of the Holy Trinity, located in Trinity Square in downtown Toronto, is located on the west side of today’s busy Eaton Centre.  When the church was built in 1847, Henry Scadding, author of “Toronto of Old” (published in 1873), stated that just ten years prior to its consecration, the land to the south of the church was “fields,” and to the north of the church were swamps and dense forest. The area where the church was eventually erected was referred to as Macaulay’s Fields, as it is where the Macaulay family had built their home.

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 to build and maintain a church in Toronto. Conditions were attached to the funds—it was to be named the Church of the Holy Trinity, the seats were to be forever free and not designated for the use of a specific person. The terms also stipulated that 3000 pounds were to be spent on the building and 2000 pounds on an investment for the incumbent clergyman that would be appointed. The land for the church was donated by James Simcoe Macaulay. His house was relocated a short distance to the north to accommodate the site for the church.

Henry Scadding wrote in 1873 in “Toronto of Old” page 290: “The church with its twin towers, now seen in the middle space of Trinity Square, was a gift of benevolence to Canada West in 1846 from two ladies, sisters. The personal character of Bishop Strachan was the attraction that drew the boon to Toronto.” Note: Scadding did not identify the names of the sisters.

Eric Arthur states in, “Toronto—No Mean City,” (page 84): “It was not until 1898 that the donor was known to be Mrs. Mary Lambert Swale of Settle, near Ripon, in Yorkshire.” It was said that she attended a talk given by Bishop Strachan, when he visited England. Strachan spoke about his work in the frontier province, and that he had written letters that were being circulated. Apparently Mary Swale was dismayed at the exclusive pew-holding system at St. James Cathedral. Eric Arthur states that she arranged for the money to be sent to the city to build the Church of the Holy Trinity.

However, there appears to be some doubt about Arthur’s assertion. A reader of this  blog, who has a personal connection to the church, emailed me to provide a different version of events. He states that his research indicated that Mrs. Swale died in childbirth in 1845, and that it was her husband who informed Bishop Strachan that he had funds, “from a friend who wished to remain anonymous.” However, Mary had a sister, Ellen Elizabeth. Henry Scadding stated that it was two sisters who donated the money. Thus, part of the credit for funding Holy Trinity belongs to Mrs. Swale’s sister, Ellen Elizabeth. 

During the years ahead, money from the Swale family continued to support the church. The following is another quote from Eric Arthur’s book, “Toronto—No Mean City.”  “Money 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.” (page 84)

Bishop Strachan hired Henry Bower Lane as the architect for 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 in London.

The Church of the Holy Trinity was constructed in the Gothic style, its interior in the form of a cruciform, the altar visible regardless of where parishioners were seated. The structure’s facades were of yellow bricks from the Don Valley brickyards, and timbers that were cut from the nearby forests. Its main entrance faced west, with an impressive Gothic doorway with a large window above it. Two towers were built on the northwest and southwest corners of the west facade. The slate tiles for the roof arrived in Canada as ballast in sailing ships.

Because the seating in Holy Trinity was free, the church received no funds pew rentals and was reliant on the endowment provided by the Swale family. 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 clergyman. Scadding remained its rector until 1875. He died in 1901.

When Holy Trinity was consecrated on October 27, 1847, Bishop Strachan 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 Anglican 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 decent income.

In 1849, a fire swept along King Street that severely damaged the church of St. James. While it was being rebuilt, many of the parishioners from St. James worshipped at Holy Trinity, including Lord Elgin, Governor General of the Province of Canada. This ended in 1850, when the new St. James was consecrated.

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, a commitment that 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 million Eaton Centre was originally planned, it encompassed 15 acres, which included the land where the church was located. The developers wished to demolish the church and include the land within the Centre. The congregation refused to sell, and the Eaton Centre was forced to build around the structure, thus preserving this historic church and two other building (Scadding House and the church rectory).

The Church of the Holy Trinity 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.



Map of 1845 depicts what is today Trinity Square. In that era, it was a section of the estate of The Hon. John Simcoe Macaulay, part of Park Lot #9, granted to him by Lieu. Governor Simcoe in 1797. The property was referred to as Macaulay’s Fields. The map shows the large house that he named Teraulay, a grand residence, even though he referred to it as his “country cottage.” The map shows the  gardens (that included an orchard), a poultry house, stables and wood shed. The map also reveals that a carriageway connected the house with Yonge Street, to the east. Jeremy Street was later renamed Louisa Street, which has disappeared from the city scene. The eastern part of it was absorbed into the Eaton Centre. Teraulay Street became Bay Street. Macaulay Fields became Trinity Square after the Church of the Holy Trinity was erected.

Teraulay Town, on the southwest corner of the map, eventually became essentially slums. They were demolished to allow the construction of the City Hall (today referred to as the Old City Hall) that opened in 1899. The map is from the collection of the Toronto Public Library, r-5646.


Sketch of the interior of Holy Trinity in 1850. Toronto Public Library, r-538.


Nave and sanctuary of the Church of the Holy Trinity in 1868. Toronto Public Library, r- 505.


The camera is pointed west toward Trinity Square from near Yonge Street, in 1875. The street was formerly the carriageway that connected Macaulay’s house (Teraulay) with Yonge Street. Church of the Holy Trinity is in Trinity Square, and on the right-hand side of the photo is the parsonage, residence of the minister of the church. Toronto Public Library, r- 469.


The Church of the Holy Trinity in 1884. Toronto Public Library, r- 504.


View of the south facade of Holy Trinity in 1908. In the foreground workers are beginning construction of an Eaton’s warehouse. Toronto Public Library r 1461.


            Holy Trinity in 1913. Toronto Public Library r 536.


View looking east in 1936 at the carriageway that connects Trinity Square with Yonge Street. The building in the foreground is the rectory. To the east of it is Scadding House, the home of Dr. Henry Scadding, when it was on its original location. To build the Eaton Centre, Scadding House was moved 150 feet to the west. Toronto Archives r 5724.


View of Trinity Square in 1972, before construction of the Eaton Centre. The view looks east towards Yonge Street, where the marquee of the Imperial Theatre (now the Ed Mirvish Theatre) is visible. Behind the church is the Parochial Building (now demolished) and the Rectory. The large Eaton warehouse is to the south (right-hand) side of the image. Toronto Public Library, tspa 0110944.

tspa_0109997 relocating Scadding House, 1974 [1]

Relocating Scadding House in 1974. Toronto Public Library, tspa 0109997.


This dramatic watercolour was painted in 1975, the view looking northwest from Queen Street West, near Louisa Street. It depicts the construction site for the Eaton Centre. Scadding House is on its present-day site, having been relocated 150 feet west from its original location. To the right of the church is the rectory. Eaton’s warehouses are in the background. Toronto Public Library, 977-51-1.


Trinity Square in 1987, the Eaton Centre having been completed in 1979. Behind the church the roof of Scadding House is visible. To the left of the church is the rectory. On the far left (west) of the church is the immense parking garage of the Eaton Centre. Toronto Public Library, tspa 0110945.

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(left)The restored Scadding House in 1987, the rectory visible in the background. The Eaton Centre is to the immediate east of the house. Toronto Public Library, tspa 0110949. (right) Scadding House in 2013.

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Facade of the Church, with its Gothic facade and twin towers in 2013.

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The Gothic doorway on the west side (left), and the stained-glass window above it (right).

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            Gothic windows, view from the interior of the church.


                                  Ceiling of the church in 2013.


              Interior view of the Church of the Holy Trinity in 2013.



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

Sources of Information: 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.


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One thought on “Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto (history)

  1. Mary Lambert Swale died in childbirth in 1845. It seems obvious that she could not possibly have continued an interest in the church after it was built. What was Eric Arthur thinking.?
    Unbelievably, Arthur quotes Henry Scadding declaring that the church was “the gift of two ladies, sisters..” how can he the go on the credit the deceased Mary Lambert as the sole donor?
    It was Mary Lambert Swale’s priest husband/widower who informed his bishop that he had money from “from a friend who wishes to remain anonymous”.
    Mary Lambert had a sister, Ellen Eliza. So, IF it istrue that Mary Lambert Swale was actually one of the “two sisters”, then Ellen Eliza would have been the other, in fact the surviving, sister. If that’s the case, then SHE should get the credit, as the “friend who wished to remain anonymous” for this gift that built the church.
    I hope this document can be amended to reflect this..

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