Little Trinity Church – The Oldest Surviving Church in Toronto

2021 - Looking southwest towards Little Trinity Church at 425 King St E and Trinity St in Toronto's Corktown neighbourhood. The church held its first service in 1844
2021 – Looking southwest towards Little Trinity Church at 425 King St E and Trinity St in Toronto’s Corktown neighbourhood. The church held its first service in 1844

Little Trinity Anglican Church is located at ‪425 King St E (at Trinity St on the southwest corner) in the Corktown neighbourhood of Toronto.

How Little Trinity Church Began

In 1842, the residents of the rapidly growing area requested from Bishop John Strachan that a school and Anglican church be built. At the time, the nearest church was St James Cathedral. It was over a kilometre away, and the working-class Irish Protestants could not afford the pew fee. So, they decided to build their own church for all people.

Sir John Beverley Robinson donated land for the church, while a group of residents and businesspeople raised funds. Originally known as the Church of the Holy Trinity in the Park, some of the church’s wealthy benefactors included Harriet and William Gooderham, Sarah and James Worts, Lucie and Thornton Blackburn and Enoch Turner.

Between 1900 and 1920 – Little Trinity Church at 425 King St E was designed by architect Henry Bowyer Lane in the Gothic Revival style
Between 1900 and 1920 – Little Trinity Church at 425 King St E was designed by architect Henry Bowyer Lane in the Gothic Revival style (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 281)

The Architecture

Architect Henry Bowyer Lane designed the 400-seat, Gothic Revival-style church. Construction began in 1843, and the cost was £1,800. Clad with Don Valley red brick donated and built by local craftsmen, Little Trinity features tan brick side foundations and buttresses. The tower rises 24 m or 80 ft and has pinnacles on its corners. The church has three entry doors peaked with stone trim and shield stops. The main entryway was through the centre tower door. The two doors that flank the main entrance each had interior stairways leading to a gallery on the church’s north side.

Services Began in 1844

Brothers-in-law William Gooderham and James Worts, prominent Toronto citizens, were early church leaders. Attended mainly by industrial workers and their families, the house of worship became known as “The Poor Man’s Church.” It was said that while the congregation may not have been wealthy, they were loyal.

Even though it was built just before the larger Church of the Holy Trinity (behind the CF Eaton Centre), it was renamed Trinity East to distinguish between the two. But, by the late 1800s, it was affectionately known as “Little Trinity Church,” and the name stuck.

The Church Bell

Little Trinity’s bronze church bell was cast in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1844. Supported by the original wooden frame in the belfry tower, the bell weighs approximately 228 kg or 504 lbs, is 71 cm or 28 inches in diameter and is 56 cm or 22 inches in height.

The bell rings to signal the beginning of a Sunday service and the completion of a wedding or funeral. For regular church services and weddings, the bellringers pull the rope with a lot of energy, making the clapper hit the bell’s sound bow twice in rapid succession, counting 12 pairs of rings. For funeral services, the bell’s rope is “braked.” In doing so, the clapper only strikes one side of the sound bow and fades after each ring.

2021 – Little Trinity Rectory is located next to the church, on the west side, at 417 King St E. The two-storey red and buff brick building was given heritage status in 2002
2021 – Little Trinity Rectory is located next to the church, on the west side, at 417 King St E. The two-storey red and buff brick building was given heritage status in 2002

The Rectory

In 1854, architects Cumberland & Storm designed the Little Trinity Rectory. It is located at 417 King St E, next to the church’s west side. Architectural elements of the two-storey red brick structure include decorative buff-brick chimneys, quoining, and window surrounds, while the door, sills and roof trim are wood. Near the peak on the front gable is a trefoil window opening. The rectory received heritage status in 2002.

Throughout the Decades

In 1889, the church was enlarged with plans by architects Darling & Curry. Updates to the interior included an increased seating capacity to 600, pews for the choir and a spacious chamber for a new organ. During the renovation, the gallery was removed.

By 1918, it took fifty classes to hold the 900 children attending Sunday school. They met in the church sanctuary and at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, located directly behind the church at 106 Trinity St.

After World War I, attendance decreased. Factories were leaving the area, plus blocks of homes were being demolished for highways. By the late 1940s, the Diocese was going to close the church; however, faithful parishioners and a new minister kept the church going.

A Fire

Little Trinity Church was gutted by fire in 1961. It took 80 firefighters, some of whom were baptized or married there, over two hours to extinguish the early morning blaze. The fire destroyed stained glass windows, the choir pews, the organ and more. There was $160,000 in damage, of which $60,000 was covered by insurance. The gem was restored with the assistance of its parishioner’s funds and skills. Seating was reduced to 400 to make room for church activities.

2022 - The pews, communion table and stained glass windows inside Little Trinity Church
2022 – The pews, communion table and stained glass windows inside Little Trinity Church

The Church Today

Now over 175 years old, Little Trinity Church is a vibrant and growing Christian community with members from across the city. The picturesque old church, the rectory, and Enoch Turner Schoolhouse are a beautiful collection of buildings from Toronto’s past.

Did You Know?

  • The church was supposed to have a spire; however, due to funding issues, it never transpired.
  • Trinity St, originally a lane, was named after the church.
  • Little Trinity Church is Toronto’s oldest surviving church.
  • Many of the church pews date from the 1850s.

Little Trinity Church Photos

Between 1900 and 1920 – Little Trinity Church at 425 King St E was designed by architect Henry Bowyer Lane in the Gothic Revival style
Between 1900 and 1920 – Little Trinity Church at 425 King St E was designed by architect Henry Bowyer Lane in the Gothic Revival style (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 281)
2021 - Looking southwest towards Little Trinity Church at 425 King St E and Trinity St in Toronto's Corktown neighbourhood. The church held its first service in 1844
2021 – Looking southwest towards Little Trinity Church at 425 King St E and Trinity St in Toronto’s Corktown neighbourhood. The church held its first service in 1844
1972 – Looking southwest towards Little Trinity Church at King St E and Trinity St. Even though it was built just before the larger Church of the Holy Trinity (behind the CF Eaton Centre), it was renamed Trinity East to distinguish between the two. But, by the late 1800s, it was affectionately known as “Little Trinity Church"
1972 – Looking southwest towards Little Trinity Church at King St E and Trinity St. Even though it was built just before the larger Church of the Holy Trinity (behind the CF Eaton Centre), it was renamed Trinity East to distinguish between the two. But, by the late 1800s, it was affectionately known as “Little Trinity Church” (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 11, Item 16)
2022 - The pews, communion table and stained glass windows inside Little Trinity Church
2022 – The pews, communion table and stained glass windows inside Little Trinity Church
2022 - The main stained glass window at Little Trinity Church
2022 – The main stained glass window at Little Trinity Church
2020 – Little Trinity Church at 425 King St E in the Corktown neighbourhood is clad with Don Valley red brick donated and built by local craftsmen. The church also features a bell tower along with tan brick side foundations and buttresses
2020 – Little Trinity Church at 425 King St E in the Corktown neighbourhood is clad with Don Valley red brick donated and built by local craftsmen. The church also features a bell tower along with tan brick side foundations and buttresses
1950 – Looking southeast towards Little Trinity Church from King St E and Erin St (when the two streets intersected) in the Corktown neighbourhood
1950 – Looking southeast towards Little Trinity Church from King St E and Erin St (when the two streets intersected) in the Corktown neighbourhood (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 156)
2020 – The tower at Little Trinity Church rises 24 m or 80 ft and has pinnacles on its corners
2020 – The tower at Little Trinity Church rises 24 m or 80 ft and has pinnacles on its corners
2022 - A wooden pew on the balcony and a stained glass window at Little Trinity Church
2022 – A wooden pew on the balcony and a stained glass window at Little Trinity Church
2022 - Looking up into the bell tower of Little Trinity Church. The bronze bell, made in Boston in 1844, is pictured in the centre, behind the ladder
2022 – Looking up into the bell tower of Little Trinity Church. The bronze bell, made in Boston in 1844, is pictured in the centre, behind the ladder
2022 - Little Trinity Church bell inside the belfry
2022 – Little Trinity Church bell inside the belfry (photo taken of a display board at Little Trinity Church during 2022 Doors Open Toronto)
2022 - A view of the interior of Little Trinity Church from the balcony
2022 – A view of the interior of Little Trinity Church from the balcony
2022 - Plaques commemorating Harriet and William Gooderham, who were wealthy patrons and longtime parishioners of Little Trinity Church
2022 – Plaques commemorating Harriet and William Gooderham, who were wealthy patrons and longtime parishioners of Little Trinity Church
2022 - Plaques commemorating Sarah and James G Worts, who were longtime parishioners and wealthy patrons of Little Trinity Church
2022 – Plaques commemorating Sarah and James G Worts, who were longtime parishioners and wealthy patrons of Little Trinity Church
2020 – A lancet-headed panelled wood door at Little Trinity Church. It's peaked with stone trim and shield stops
2020 – A lancet-headed panelled wood door at Little Trinity Church. It’s peaked with stone trim and shield stops
1990s – The 150th Anniversary of Little Trinity Church at 425 King St E. The church has three entry doors on its north facade. The main entryway is through the centre tower door
1990s – The 150th Anniversary of Little Trinity Church at 425 King St E. The church has three entry doors on its north facade. The main entryway is through the centre tower door (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 676, Item 15)
1952 – Looking southeast across King St W from Power St towards Little Trinity Church. The church was supposed to have a spire; however, it never transpired due to funding issues
1952 – Looking southeast across King St W from Power St towards Little Trinity Church. The church was supposed to have a spire; however, it never transpired due to funding issues (Toronto Public Library R-2791)
1975 – Looking southwest towards Little Trinity Church at King St E and Trinity St in Toronto's Corktown neighbourhood. Trinity St, originally a lane, was named after the church
1975 – Looking southwest towards Little Trinity Church at King St E and Trinity St in Toronto’s Corktown neighbourhood. Trinity St, originally a lane, was named after the church (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, Series File 3, Item
1978 - Corktown's Little Trinity Anglican Church is Toronto’s oldest surviving church. Construction began in 1843, and the first service was held in 1844
1978 – Corktown’s Little Trinity Anglican Church is Toronto’s oldest surviving church. Construction began in 1843, and the first service was held in 1844 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 25, Item 2)
2021 – The north facade and main entrance of Little Trinity Church at King St E and Trinity St. Many of the church's pews date to the 1850s
2021 – The north facade and main entrance of Little Trinity Church at King St E and Trinity St. Many of the church’s pews date to the 1850s
A sketch of Little Trinity Church
A sketch of Little Trinity Church (Landmarks of Toronto Volume 4 by J Ross Robertson – 1904)
2020 - The heritage plaque reads: 

Little Trinity Church “Founded in 1842, this is the oldest surviving church in the city of Toronto. Under the patronage of the Right Reverend John Strachan, first Anglican Bishop of Toronto, funds were raised to start construction in 1843. Its first rector was the Rev. W.H. Ripley, and regular services commenced on February 18, 1844. Attended largely by industrial workers, it was known as "The Poor Man's Church", although such prominent citizens as William Gooderham, James Worts, Joseph Shuter, William Cawthra and Alexander Dixon were associated with the church in its early days. Gutted by fire in 1961, it has been restored to its early proportions and is a good example of early Gothic Revival architecture.” 

Archaeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario
2020 – The heritage plaque reads:

Little Trinity Church “Founded in 1842, this is the oldest surviving church in the city of Toronto. Under the patronage of the Right Reverend John Strachan, first Anglican Bishop of Toronto, funds were raised to start construction in 1843. Its first rector was the Rev. W.H. Ripley, and regular services commenced on February 18, 1844. Attended largely by industrial workers, it was known as “The Poor Man’s Church”, although such prominent citizens as William Gooderham, James Worts, Joseph Shuter, William Cawthra and Alexander Dixon were associated with the church in its early days. Gutted by fire in 1961, it has been restored to its early proportions and is a good example of early Gothic Revival architecture.”

Archaeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario
2021 – Little Trinity Rectory is located next to the church, on the west side, at 417 King St E. The two-storey red and buff brick building was given heritage status in 2002
2021 – Little Trinity Rectory is located next to the church, on the west side, at 417 King St E. The two-storey red and buff brick building was given heritage status in 2002
2019 – Heritage Toronto plaque crediting architects Cumberland and Storm for the Little Trinity Rectory dated 1854
2019 – Heritage Toronto plaque crediting architects Cumberland and Storm for the Little Trinity Rectory dated 1854
1953 - Looking southwest towards the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse at 106 Trinity St. The school opened in 1849 and was in use until 1959, when the Palace Street School, at the southeast corner of Front St E and Cherry St, opened
1953 – Looking southwest towards the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse at 106 Trinity St. The school opened in 1849 and was in use until 1959, when the Palace Street School, at the southeast corner of Front St E and Cherry St, opened (Toronto Public Library R-2817)
2022 – The heritage plaque reads:
Enoch Turner Schoolhouse  
"In 1849, this building opened as Ward Street School, Toronto's first free school. Enoch Turner, a wealthy local brewer, financed the construction and operation of this school on land donated by Little Trinity Church. 
Its students were neighbourhood children of poor immigrant families, many of whom were Irish. The Toronto Board of Education assumed responsibility in 1851 when municipally funded education was adopted, and renamed Trinity Street School. In 1859, the school moved to a new location and this structure and property were returned to Little Trinity Church. Following the addition of the west wing in 1869, the building served as a Sunday school and community hall. Threatened with demolition in the late 1960s, the Gothic Revival schoolhouse was saved and restored by concerned citizens including architect Eric Arthur. It re-opened as a museum in 1972 and remains the oldest school structure in Toronto."
Ontario Heritage Trust, an agency of the Government of Ontario
2022 – The heritage plaque reads:

Enoch Turner Schoolhouse

“In 1849, this building opened as Ward Street School, Toronto’s first free school. Enoch Turner, a wealthy local brewer, financed the construction and operation of this school on land donated by Little Trinity Church. Its students were neighbourhood children of poor immigrant families, many of whom were Irish. The Toronto Board of Education assumed responsibility in 1851 when municipally funded education was adopted, and renamed Trinity Street School. In 1859, the school moved to a new location and this structure and property were returned to Little Trinity Church. Following the addition of the west wing in 1869, the building served as a Sunday school and community hall. Threatened with demolition in the late 1960s, the Gothic Revival schoolhouse was saved and restored by concerned citizens including architect Eric Arthur. It re-opened as a museum in 1972 and remains the oldest school structure in Toronto.”

Ontario Heritage Trust, an agency of the Government of Ontario
2021 - Enoch Turner Schoolhouse is located at 106 Trinity St, behind Little Trinity Church. It's the oldest school building in the city and today operates as a museum and special events venue
2021 – Enoch Turner Schoolhouse is located at 106 Trinity St, behind Little Trinity Church. It’s the oldest school building in the city and today operates as a museum and special events venue
SOURCE
  • Ontario Heritage Trust: 417 King St E
  • Ontario Heritage Trust: Little Trinity Church & Enoch Turner Schoolhouse plaques
  • The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jul 6, 1888, pg 5
  • The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Mar 6, 1962, pg 25
  • Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 4 by J Ross Robertson (1904), pgs 2-6
  • Little Trinity Anglican Church information sheet (received at 2022 Doors Open Toronto)
  • Little Trinity: Who We Are
  • Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
  • Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library