History of St. John's
Courtesy of the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto,
and additional research by parishioner Paul Holliday )
The Parish of St John's was founded in 1909, a little over one hundred year ago. Up until that time the small
brick church ( built in 1892, just a few feet from the present building ) was merely a "mission" extension of
St Joseph's, further west in Leslieville, an area in the east end of Toronto. The church was served until 1909 by
various administrators from the diocesan clergy, and then by Redemptorist Fathers from St. Patrick's.
But we get ahead of ourselves ! The full story of the parish goes back much further than our present building
which was built in 1932.......... way back to 1853. St Michael's Cathedral had been completed only five years
earlier. The Confederation of Canada was still fourteen years away .... John A. Macdonald was still just a
member of the Legislative Assembly of Canada. A 34-year old Queen Victoria had ascended the British
throne just 16 years earlier.
In 1853, a local landowner, Terence O'Neil, donated to the Archdiocese a stretch of his land here in the then-open countryside east of Toronto. At that time Toronto had been re-named from "York" a few years earlier in 1834, and was now a bustling city of over 30,000 people, where Irish-born people were the largest ethnic group in the city. Terence O'Neil wanted to have a church built here, "... where prayers could be said for the repose of his soul". It must have been a tranquil, peaceful area back then, with a fine view of Lake Ontario to the south, from the hillside sloping down to the shores of the lake.
But it wasn't until 1892, some years after Mr. O'Neil's passing, that a small brick church was built here, for a total cost of $2,800. It was built just a few feet off Kingston Road, the old coaching route to Kingston and other points east. This little mission church was consecrated and opened by the then-Archbishop of Toronto, John Walsh. That doesn't make it the oldest Catholic church in Toronto ..... there were already a dozen churches in the city, the oldest being St. Paul's on Power Street (1822).
It was now the latter years of Queen Victoria's reign, the Boardwalk alongside Lake Ontario had been built and was a popular place for promenading, and the Beach area had many small cottages where city dwellers from Toronto could retreat on weekends. Sir John A. Macdonald had died the previous year, the founding Father of the Dominion of Canada. A couple of miles north-east of this new church, Walter Massey and his Boston socialite wife, Susan Denton, were raising prize herds on their rolling, hilly farm ( now the Pharmacy / Danforth Road area ). His young nephew, Raymond Massey, used to get bundled onto a steam train at Union Station for the journey out to Uncle Walter's farm after the horse and buggy ride from the family mansion on Jarvis Street. This, then, was the era of the first church of St. John, a mission extension of St. Joseph's. But finally, in 1909, the Parish of St. John's was founded. The first pastor of this new parish was Rev George A. Williams. By this time, the area was quickly being built up, to the point where one of the parishioners wrote to the Vicar-General, Rev. Whalen, suggesting that it was time to build a bigger church, and commented on the noise of the automobiles and radial streetcars trundling along Kingston Road past the small church.
Various meetings and correspondence went on over the next few years, but eventually, in 1931, construction started on our current church, on the site of the demolished old one. It cost the grand sum of $171,453.18 for the building and furnishings. The grading and sodding alone cost all of $67.50 ! The sidewalks $335.00 ! The marble and terrazzo cost $215.82. It was opened and blessed by the then-Archbishop Neil McNeil, on June 5th, 1932. It was built using Credit Valley sandstone, in the gothic style which you see today, the design being by Mr. Henry Chown who lived close by on Wayland Ave. The church contains some very fine stained glass, by the local firm of McCausland & Co. .The Public Auditor sent a full accounting to the new Pastor, Rev. Denis O'Connor ( later founder of St. Dunstan's parish ).
Today, over a hundred years later, the parishioners of St. John's in our modern multi-cultural society of cellphones, the internet, and iPods, have an appreciation for this lovely old church where we hold our worship. Its roots are long and deep, and reflect just a small part of our city's history and heritage.
Whether you are a new member of our parish community, a web-browser just "surfing by", or have been part of our "family" for many years, we hope you have enjoyed reading this history of St. John's.