The Church of the Holy Trinity is located at 19 Trinity Sq (behind the CF Toronto Eaton Centre, on the west side) in downtown Toronto. It’s situated west of Yonge St, north of Queen St W and east of Bay St in Trinity Square.
Holy Trinity’s Early History
Now veiled by the country’s busiest shopping centre, this historic church sits on land once owned by Dr James Macaulay. A former army surgeon for the Queen’s Rangers, the Crown granted Dr Macaulay several acres of land in the area west of Yonge St and north of Queen St W in 1797. His residence was known as Teraulay Cottage and while “the fields” around his home were cleared, the surrounding approach was swampy and tangled with forests.
In 1845, Bishop John Strachan received £5,000 from an anonymous donor in England to build a church in the Diocese of Toronto. The benevolent woman, whose name did not become known to all for over a half-century, had two stipulations. First, the place of worship was to be named the “Church of the Holy Trinity” and second, “the seats of which were to be free and unappropriated forever.” £3,000 was to go towards the building, and the remaining £2,000 was for an endowment fund.
The land was donated to the church by the son of Dr Macaulay, and Bishop Strachan also thought the site to be locally beneficial. It was on the outskirts of Toronto and in an area then known as Macaulay Town.
In 1847, the church was built. Architect Henry Bowyer Lane designed the cruciform-shaped, modified Gothic-style Anglican place of worship. Using timber from the surrounding forest and brick from the Don Valley, the structure features a west main entrance flanked by soaring towers topped with battlements. Inside each tower is a spiral staircase leading to a gallery. The slate roof once served as ballast in ships from Britain.
The Growing Church & Changing Landscape
Holy Trinity has many beautiful stained-glass windows. In 1856/57, architect William Hay designed the windows in the chancel behind the altar. Made by Ballantyne & Allen of Edinburgh (Scotland), the life-size figures on the upper portion represent the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John while the figures on the lower portion are the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. Other painted-glass windows are thought to be made by McCausland & Bullock of the Toronto Stained Glass Works.
Also during that time, Mr Hay drew-up plans for the two-storey annex on the southeast corner of the church. Originally used as a parochial school, the first floor of the addition was for boys, while the second floor was sectioned into a school for girls along with a small chapel.
In 1860, Mr Hay designed the church rectory. It’s a separate structure mere metres from the church’s northeast corner.
In 1868/69, the architect firm of Gundry & Langley, along with alterations, also created the plans for the church’s reredos. The stunning ornamental panel behind the altar is still in the church to this day.
By the 1870s, the landscape around the church had changed drastically. Holy Trinity quickly became concealed amongst the commercial buildings of busy Yonge St and Queen St W. In 1887, the architect team of Darling & Curry designed the Trinity School House. It was once located near the southeast corner of the church at what was known as 15 Trinity Sq.
A historian wrote:
“Macauley’s fields are fields no more;
The trowel supersedes the plough;
Huge inundated swamps of yore,
Are changed to civic villas now.”
Reverend Henry Scadding
From 1847 until 1875, Henry Scadding was the church’s reverend. His former residence, which is now known as the Scadding House, is located 7.6 m or 25 ft from the church’s east side. It was moved several metres to its current location in the mid-1970s to make way for the Eaton Centre. Reverend Scadding was a noted historian, and the Scadding family were early settlers of the Town of York. The family’s historic home, the Scadding Cabin, is located on Exhibition Place grounds.
Mary Lambert Swale’s Gift
The church’s Jubilee year in 1897, was a time of celebration. The benefactress who made The Church of the Holy Trinity possible 60 years before was honoured. Her name was Mary Lambert Swale. The wealthy young woman was from Settle, England, and she married Hogarth Swale, an Anglican priest. She learned of Bishop Strachan through articles he wrote for an Anglican journal. Upon her passing in 1845 at the age of 25, her bequest was given to Bishop Strachan. Mrs Swale also gave a similar gift to establish a church in Australia for convicts.
Social Gospel & The Christmas Story
In the 1930s, the church became home to the Social Gospel movement under Reverend John Frank. The crusade addressed social issues such as homelessness and unemployment.
In 1937, the wife of the church’s then-rector, Patricia Frank, produced a play called The Christmas Story using a script from her previous home parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, England. The tradition carries on to this day.
The Strength of Holy Trinity’s Congregation
From 1962 until 1976, Reverend James Fisk was the rector at Holy Trinity. During his time at the church, he, the 180-member congregation and community supporters fought to save the church from demolition for the Eaton Centre. In 1972, after two years of negotiation, the church and Fairview Corp Ltd came to an agreement regarding land exchanges (which included moving the Scadding House 46 m or 150 ft to the southwest), street closures and sunlight issues.
In 1977 and after fighting so hard to stay, there was a near-disastrous fire. The fire began just 100 feet to the south of the church, in a former Eaton’s warehouse that was in the process of demolition. Deemed arson, the fire caused $300,000 damage to Holy Trinity, especially to its south side. Three stained-glass windows were destroyed, and the slate roof needed repair. Inside, the original ceiling with its edges inscribed with irreplaceable Beatitudes, the walls (painted in the 19th century) along with the floor and organ were water damaged. It took several years for them to be restored.
The fire damaged the brand-new Eaton Centre, courts in Old City Hall, Salvation Army Headquarters, Yonge Street Arcade and the Bank of Nova Scotia at King St W and Bay St. Sparks were being carried on 48 km winds, so fire engines were positioned along Bay St to Front St W to deal with any issues.
Working with the Community & Holy Trinity Today
Since the early 1970s, the church has been supporters of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. Today, Holy Trinity ministers to the urban core by continuing its mission to welcome and care for all marginalized members of our society. The church is involved in many areas, from homelessness to lunch for refugees to music, all in an atmosphere that links the Christian faith to the issues of today.
While The Church of the Holy Trinity is an Anglican parish, since 2007 it’s also been home to the parish of San Esteban, a Spanish-speaking community.
Did You Know?
- In its early years, the Church of the Holy Trinity was also called the Free Church because, at the time, it was common for Anglican churches to rent the pews for a fee.
- James St was named after Dr James Macaulay.
- Bay St north of Queen St W was once known as Terauley St. It was named after Dr Macaulay’s residence – Teraulay Cottage.
- From the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, St John’s Ward, also known as “The Ward,” played a part in Toronto’s diversity. Immigrants to Canada, including African American slaves fleeing the US, refugees of the Irish Potato Famine, Jewish, Russians, Chinese, Italians and more, made the crammed Ward their home. It was the area bound by Yonge St, Queen St W, University Ave and College St, and The Church of the Holy Trinity was in its midst.
- The church’s organ, considered one of the finest in Toronto, was built by Edward Lye & Sons. The Toronto pipe organ company was in operation from 1864 until the early 1990s.
- The Trinity School House at 15 Trinity later became home to CKEY Radio Theatre. The building has since been demolished.
- In 2000, Holy Trinity began working with the Toronto Community Labyrinth Network and the City. They constructed a temporary grass labyrinth in Trinity Square. Five years later, it was replaced with a permanent labyrinth. Located directly south of the church, it provides a sense of balance and calm in the heart of busy downtown Toronto.
- Henry Bowyer Lane, the church’s architect, also designed Little Trinity Church and St George the Martyr.
The Church of the Holy Trinity Photos
- City of Toronto Heritage Register: 19 Trinity Sq & 10 Trinity Sq
- Ontario Heritage Trust: 19 Trinity Sq & 10 Trinity Sq
- Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 4 by J Ross Robertson
- The Handbook of Toronto by GP Ure
- Toronto, No Mean City by Eric Arthur, revised by Stephen A Otto
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Nov 5, 1849, pg 1
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Mar 25, 1869, pg 1
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Oct 16, 1972, pg 1
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: May 10, 1977, pg 5
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: May 20, 1977, pg 5
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Oct 12, 1977, pg 4
- Archaeological and Historic Sites Board
- York U: The Church of the Holy Trinity – The Stained Glass Windows
- Archeion: Edward Lye & Sons Organ Company
- Labyrinth Community Network of Ontario
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library & Archives of Ontario & Library and Archives Canada & Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 4 by J Ross Robertson & Toronto: Past and Present by C Pelham Mulvany & The Handbook of Toronto by GP Ure
- Vintage Map: Atlas of the City of Toronto 1910 by Chas E Goad from the Toronto Public Library