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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
- Heritage Toronto (plaque)
- Ontario Heritage Trust: 417 King St E & Little Trinity Church plaque
- Ontario Heritage Trust: Enoch Turner Schoolhouse plaque
- 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