Metropolitan United Church, originally Metropolitan Wesleyan Methodist Church, is located at 56 Queen St E (bordered by Bond St, Shuter St and Church St) in the Garden District of downtown Toronto.
The Church’s Early Beginnings
Metropolitan United Church is a descendant of the first Methodist chapel built in 1818 on the corner of King St W and Jordan St. It was situated where the Canadian Bank of Commerce Building stands today. The one-storey wooden place of worship was built by Elder Ryan, who had to mortgage $300 of his property to pay for its construction. The chapel was known as York Methodist Episcopal Chapel and later King Street Methodist Episcopal.
In 1832, the congregation moved to their new church, once on the southeast corner of Adelaide St E and Toronto St. The church was initially called Newgate Street Methodist Episcopal. When the street name was changed, it became Adelaide Street Methodist Episcopal.
In 1868, the congregation acquired the property known as McGill Square on the north side of Queen St E, between Church St and Bond St.
Metropolitan Wesleyan Methodist Church
Built in 1870/72, architects Henry Langley and his brother Edward designed the church in the High Victorian Gothic style. The structure is clad in buff brick with cut-stone dressings. The main entrance is on the south side, through the 60 m or 190 ft tall tower, which has been elaborately decorated with angel sculptures, traceried windows and octagonal turrets. The ridge of the patterned slate roof was crested with cast iron ornaments.
The interior featured a gallery running around its entirety, beautiful woodwork, stained glass windows and crimson upholstered pews for 1,800 parishioners. The first service was held in April 1872. There were over 3,000 in attendance. Every seat was taken, and the aisles were filled. It was considered one of the finest Methodist churches in the world.
Upon completion, the building, furnishings and grounds were valued at $135,000. Within the 1870s, an iron fence designed by Henry Langley was added around the property.
The inaugural service of the Methodist Church of Canada in 1874 and the World Ecumenical Methodist Conference meetings in 1911 was held at the church.
In 1925, when Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregational churches joined together to establish the United Church of Canada, their first General Council took place at the church, which was renamed Metropolitan United.
The Massey Family
Members of the congregation included Lillian Treble Massey and Chester D Massey, the children of Hart Massey, a wealthy industrialist and the builder of Massey Hall.
In 1905, Lillian donated what was said to be one of the largest organs in the world to the church. About a year later, her brother Chester donated the funds to build the Parsonage. It was built in 1906/07 and is located on the southeast corner of Shuter St and Bond St. The Parsonage is designed in Neo-Gothic style by the architect firm Sproatt & Rolph. In 1922, Chester also gifted the church a 23-bell carillon. Thousands lined the streets to hear its first chimes.
The Fire, Reconstruction & Reopening
In January 1928, a blaze swept through the church. It left a fire-scarred pile of ruins with only the south portions of the church, including the tower and spire, still standing. Just a year prior, the church had undergone redecoration and restoration. The organ and many of the stained-glass windows were also destroyed in the fire.
Rebuilding on the same foundations began almost immediately, and during that time, parishioners attended services at the Elm Street Church, Tivoli Theatre and Massey Hall.
The church was entirely renovated under architect John Gibb Morton. He combined the surviving late 19th-century High Victorian Gothic style portion of the south façade (main entrance, tower and porches on the east and west sides) with the rebuilt portions influenced by early 20th-century Neo-Gothic architecture.
The brickwork was resurfaced, and its interior was just as beautiful, with accommodation for 900 people, a single balcony, a vaulted roof, glasswork and woodwork details all created by skilled craftspeople. The church reopened for worship in December 1929. A 7,200-pipe organ was installed the following year.
Throughout the Years & the Church Today
In the 1960s, there was a decline in attendance. In 1970, it was suggested to sell the church structure and land; however, the congregation voted to save the church from demolition.
Today, the Metropolitan United Church continues to serve the community’s needs and welcomes everyone. Its Sunday services are also live-streamed throughout the world.
Did You Know?
The land the church sits on is a part of 100 acres acquired by Captain John McGill from the Crown in 1809. Before the church’s construction, it was known as McGill Square.
The church’s cornerstone was laid in 1870 by Rev Egerton Ryerson.