St Andrew’s Church is located at 73 Simcoe St (at King St W on the southeast corner) in the Entertainment District of Toronto.
The First Church of St Andrew
The church was founded in 1830 in association with The Church of Scotland. One of the oldest Presbyterian congregations in the country, St Andrew’s first house of worship was built that same year on the southwest corner of Church St and Adelaide St E. In the early 1850s, St Andrew’s was the first Presbyterian church to have organ music. This was very controversial at the time.
With a growing congregation, the church structure became too small. The decision was made to construct a new one on a small piece of land the church owned at the corner of King St W and Simcoe St.
St Andrew’s Church Architecture
Built in 1874/75, the Romanesque Revival style gem was designed by William George Storm. The first service was held in 1876.
St Andrew’s Church is constructed of Georgetown blue and brown sandstone and trimmed with Queenston red-brown stone. Its polished columns are made from Bay of Fundy red granite. The main entrance on King St W is flanked by two towers. It features richly decorated doorway arches springing from carved capitals with a stunning wheel window above. On the Simcoe St side is a great tower that holds the belfry. Topping the 35 m or 116 ft tower are four circular turrets with crow-stepped gables.
Under the roofline on the west and east sides of the church are the words “ST ANDREWS 1875.” Interspersed between them are faces and Masonic symbols, including a heart, square and compass, Jacob’s ladder, a cable tow and a sheaf of corn.
Interior elements include rich woods, galleries and many stained-glass windows. The church initially had a capacity to seat 1,200 people. While today the south end of the church is the chancel, it was initially a Sunday school and assembly area. In 1885, a new SR Warren & Son organ was purchased for $13,000. The organ loft occupies the north gallery.
St Andrew’s Church became one of the most influential Presbyterian churches in Canada and, in 1890, founded St Andrew’s Institute. The centre was a trailblazing organization for social work in Toronto.
An Extensive Renovation
In 1906, St Andrew’s closed to make updates and reopened the following year. There were no alterations to the exterior. The rounded south end became the chancel with choir pews and a second organ. The chancel was painted in peaceful blue and gold colours.
The 48th Highlanders
St Andrew’s has a long history with the regiment, and in 1934, they gifted the oak memorial Communion Table to the church. Three years later, the 48th Highlanders stained glass window, one of the most unique in Canada, was installed.
The Neighbourhood Through the Years and the Church Today
By the mid-20th century, downtown Toronto was filled with offices and factories, and many people were moving to the suburbs. There was talk of leaving the downtown core, but the congregation always decided to stay. In the 1970s, the area began to transform once again, becoming the Entertainment District. People started moving back into the apartments and new condos in the neighbourhood.
The church continues to minister to the growing City. It’s open for self-directed tours, Monday through Friday. Visit St Andrew’s Church website for details and a virtual tour.
Did You Know?
- St Andrew’s medieval-style is based on the historic St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall in Scotland.
- Architect William Storm, also a Freemason, was known for incorporating Masonic symbols into his designs. Other Toronto treasures he designed include Victoria College at the University of Toronto, portions of Osgoode Hall, the tower at the Cathedral Church of St James and the demolished Great Western Railway Station.
- Church member John Andrew Pearson designed the Communion Table. He was the architect of the Centre Block and The Peace Tower in Ottawa.
- The church received heritage designation from the City in 1979.
- The Flag of Scotland flying above the church is the Saltire. Also known as St Andrew’s flag, the X-shaped cross represents the crucifixion of St Andrew, one of the Apostles.
- On the church’s lower level is the 48th Highlanders of Canada Museum. In its collection is a wooden Vimy Ridge cross.
- 2020 marked the congregation’s 190th anniversary.
- In 1852, the 71st Highland Light Infantry attended services at the original Church of St Andrew (at Adelaide St E and Church St) and played instrumental music. In that decade, a choir was formed, a melodeon and later an organ was purchased. Not everyone was happy with the organ music which sparked a debate. A higher church council ordered the organ removed. While it was never taken out of the church, it also wasn’t played. When organ music became more accepted, the General Assembly in Scotland discussed its use, even citing St Andrew’s in Toronto as an example of successful use in the church.
- The original Church of St Andrew at Adelaide St E and Church St was demolished in 1878.
The Four Corners of King & Simcoe Sts
The four corners of King St W and Simcoe St were once known as Legislation, Education, Damnation and Salvation.
- Legislation: The Lieutenant Governor’s home was once on the southwest corner. Today it’s the site of Roy Thomson Hall.
- Education: Upper Canada College was once located on a large piece of land on the northwest corner. Today the Canadian General Electric Company Building is on a portion of the site.
- Damnation: While the British Hotel once occupied the northeast corner, today it’s home to an office building.
- Salvation: St Andrew’s Church has been on the southeast corner for more than 140 years.
St Andrew’s Church Photos
Four Corners of King St W & Simcoe St Photos
- City of Toronto Heritage Register: 73 Simcoe St
- Ontario Heritage Trust (plaque)
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Apr 21, 1875, pg 4
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jul 11, 1878, pg 2
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: May 2, 1907, pg 4
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Nov 30, 1907, pg 4
- Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 4 by J Ross Robertson (1904), pgs 120-125
- St Andrew’s Church
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library
- Interior Photos: Google Maps