Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

Sunday, December 5, 2021

This is the story of a cathedral that was almost built, but not completely. Until less than a hundred years ago, St. James Church the tallest structure in early Toronto. It represented the Church of England in the early city. When John Strachan was appointed the first bishop of Toronto’s Anglican Diocese in 1839, he was allowed to use St. James Church, but there was a problem. Parishioners had funded the church and were reluctant to hand it over to the bishop for his use. The bishop’s home church is known as a cathedral and is the most powerful church in the diocese. From the Middle Ages, cathedrals have been magnificently designed and were intended to reflect the majesty of God. In 1843, the Strachan Cathedral Establishment Fund opened with the intention of giving Toronto one of these magnificent buildings.

Neither Strachan nor his successor would see the building start, it would have to wait until 1883. Arthur Sweatman was the third bishop of Toronto, and he oversaw the purchase of 4.5 acres of land in the newly developed Seaton Village area just west of the expanding city. The plot was made available by a syndicate that was developing a prestigious housing development in the area. They put up $ 5,244, half the purchase price, and promised an additional $ 2,000 if the choir and chancel were completed in 1886. The archive image below shows the construction of the east end of the cathedral during 1886.

The chart below is from Wikipedia and shows the most common parts of Christian cathedrals. The basic decor has been in place since Roman times, and the intention is to create the most spectacular building in the region. When St Alban the Martyr Cathedral was planned, Toronto was supposed to have such a building.

A sod was cut on August 20, 1885, but the cornerstone was not laid until the following year. The financing of the building would not be consistent and the work went slowly. When Canada went into a depression in the 1890s, money was diverted to build local parishes, which were badly needed by the expanding city. That part of the cathedral in the picture below, taken on July 14, 2021, was completed in 1891, and it was about as far as they reached.

The archive sketch below shows the cathedral as it stood in 1898. By this time, they had consecrated the chancel and crypt below it. They moved their worship services into the crypt while waiting a few years, or so they thought, for the rest of the cathedral to be completed. This turned out to be the end of the original design.

The diocesan synod renewed its obligation to complete the cathedral in 1910. The new plans called for the abolition of the two western towers, which were to be replaced by a single central tower. This would have been located on the south side in the corner where the transept met the aisle. Twenty-five years after the cornerstone was laid, the same trowel was used to initiate the new construction. Problems arose immediately when tenders came back $ 200,000 over budget. World War I broke out before there was a solution and the project was once again put on hold. Construction would not begin again until 1956, when the western end of the building was closed in with a short brick construction. The idea of ​​a cathedral at St. The Alban Martyr had been gone since 1935.

The aerial photo below from the Toronto Archives shows the corendent of the cathedral with the foundation of the transept and the nave forming the outline of a cross. The bishop’s house can be seen circling just above the cathedral, and three of Toronto’s bishops would live here before 1935.

The original plans for the cathedral included a 135-foot (41-meter) tower on the southwest corner, while a shorter one adorned the northwest corner. This image below is taken from The West Annex News and gives you a good idea of ​​what the other three quarters of the building would have looked like if they had been completed as designed.

From 1918, St. James Church downtown to lobby to be the cathedral of the Toronto Diocese, though that would not happen until the middle of the Great Depression. In 1935, St. James Church confirmed as the cathedral, and St. Alban was downgraded to a local parish. The bishop moved to the center, and the church continued until 1964. That was when St. George College rented the property and they continue to occupy it today. They built their school buildings on the old foundation of the proposed cathedral.

Their rather typical educational building sits on top of some rather impressive stone lining that was intended to support a much larger building.

The feet at the western end of the building have not been built on, but it does not appear that there are any large towers in their near future.

Much has changed since the original idea with its two large towers. These were downgraded to a single tower in 1910 and finally, in 1956, they settled for one of the most unimaginative spiers in Christendom.

Between 1885 and 1886, the church also built a home for the bishop of Toronto’s Anglican Diocese. The diocese went by the short name “See”, and this was the bishop’s home from 1885 to 1935.

We close with a view to the west end of the proposed cathedral. Here parish children would have entered the services.

Some of the great cathedrals in Europe took centuries to complete, but in Toronto we lost the will to complete our cathedral almost as soon as it was planned.

Google Maps Link: St. Alban the Martyr

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