Toronto “The Good” had more churches per capita than any other city in the world in the 19th century. St. James Anglican dominated the social life of Toronto in that period, and it set the standard for its Roman Catholic and Methodist rivals nearby.
St. James Anglican Cathedral is the oldest of the great cathedrals in downtown Toronto. It is the fourth Anglican Church on this site, dating back to the first wooden church built in 1807. That church was used as a hospital during the War of 1812 and was damaged and robbed by American soldiers. In 1833, the wooden church was taken down and a Neo-classical stone church was built. It burned down in 1839 and was rebuilt as a cathedral, which was destroyed by fire in 1849. The present Gothic Revival building was then constructed, though its spire–the highest in Canada and second highest in North America–was not completed until 1875.
If you were an Anglican in Toronto, this was the premier parish. Here the venerable Bishop John Strachan held court. The Royal family has worshipped here, as have lieutenant-governors. The memorial plaques on its walls remember parishioners who were the who’s who of the city, and in many cases, of the country.
Best of all, perhaps, the beautiful stained glass windows tell the story of the development of the English Christian church, ending with Strachan holding a model of St. James Cathedral.
By James Marsh