St George the Martyr Church Bell Tower – Its Atmosphere of Antiquity

2020 – St George the Martyr Church bell tower at John St and Stephanie St, northeast corner
2020 – St George the Martyr Church bell tower at John St and Stephanie St, northeast corner

The monumental bell tower of St George the Martyr is located on the northeast corner of John St and Stephanie St. It’s part of what’s known today as St George by the Grange Church just east of the tower at 30 Stephanie St (between McCaul St and John St on the north side) in the Grange Park neighbourhood of Toronto.

The Need for a Second Church

Founded in 1797, the only Anglican church in the Town of York was the Church of St James. By the 1830s, the new City of Toronto was growing. There had been discussions about the denomination’s need to build another church. A devastating fire destroyed the Church of St James in 1839 and brought that need to the forefront. St George the Martyr Church was the first offshoot of St James.

St George the Martyr Church

The influential D’Arcy Boulton Jr donated the land for the new church. His family’s home was The Grange, just north of the church and today part of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Construction of St George the Martyr began in 1844. Architect Henry Bowyer Lane designed the Early English Gothic-style structure, and its builder was John Ritchey. Its first service was held in 1845.

The church featured a sanctuary, hand-carved oak arches, two small transept galleries, a marble baptismal font, a chancel with choir seating, magnificent stained glass windows and a spacious gallery across the west end. While many churches charged a pew rental fee, a large amount of St George’s 750 seats were free and unappropriated.

1867 – St George the Martyr Anglican Church
1867 – St George the Martyr Anglican Church (Archives of Ontario I0005287)

The church’s spire towered 46 m or 150 ft high and was so tall that ships in Lake Ontario used it to guide their way into Toronto’s port. The total cost to build St George the Martyr reached $28,000. A ceremony was held in 1853 once the church was free of debt.

In 1857, an organ by Warren of Montreal was installed, and the parish school was built. In 1865, the rectory was added. The church was very well attended, so much that it was sometimes hard to find a seat. By 1888, over 400 children were in Sunday school.

Through the Years

As the 1900s came in, the neighbourhood was changing. Church attendance had dropped, and by 1909, St Margaret’s congregation (once on the east side of Spadina Ave, just south of Queen St W) joined with St George’s.

In 1949, gale force winds caused a lot of damage to the tower and spire. A beacon to so many, the spire was beyond repair and had to be removed.

1955 - Aftermath of the fire at St George the Martyr Church at John St and Stephanie St
1955 – Aftermath of the fire at St George the Martyr Church at John St and Stephanie St (Toronto Public Library R-195)

A Fire and How the Solitary Tower Came to Be

On a cold Sunday morning in February 1955, a fire raged through St George The Martyr Church. It took 100 firefighters six hours to battle the three-alarm blaze. Against the firefighters’ orders, some people rushed to save any pieces they could gather, including a cross, a brass lectern, silver and linens. The roof of the cathedral-like church fell with an earth-shaking crash. Its century-old stained glass windows, some by renowned artist Sir Burne-Jones (England), shattered and fell while its handsome oak doors were scorched.

2020 - St George the Martyr Church bell tower
2020 – St George the Martyr Church bell tower

When the morning’s light shone on St George’s ice-coated iron fence and empty window frames, it created vivid prismatic effects. Young men climbed over the remnants of the church to get to the sanctuary after the fire was extinguished. They found the altar covered in an icy blanket and brought it out of the debris.

The evening of the fire, parishioners squeezed into St George’s rectory as a makeshift place of worship. Offers were received from other churches, including St Stephen’s and The Church of the Holy Trinity, to share their buildings. 

The cause of the fire that destroyed the church, hall and Sunday school was never determined. Its ruins remained for months until a gentleman named Mr Badali and his team of Italian workers cleaned the bricks later used in the parish hall’s restoration.

Until 1957, the two front rooms of the rectory, furnished with pews recovered from the burnt church, were used for worship. Also, during those two years, the parish hall was being renovated to be the church’s new permanent place of worship. A pretty garden surrounded the church tower, and cherry trees marked where the former church’s columns once stood.

In 1973, the tower, hall and rectory were part of Heritage Toronto’s initial induction list.

Over 175 Years of Worship

The church has welcomed and served the community for more than 175 years. It was renamed St George by the Grange in 2018. As a testament to the past, the historic bell tower remains.

St George the Martyr Church Bell Tower Photos

2020 – St George the Martyr Church bell tower at John St and Stephanie St, northeast corner
2020 – St George the Martyr Church bell tower at John St and Stephanie St, northeast corner
1909 - St George the Martyr Church on John St looking north
1909 – St George the Martyr Church on John St looking north (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2161)
2020 – Looking northeast towards St George the Martyr Church bell tower at John St and Stephanie St
2020 – Looking northeast towards St George the Martyr Church bell tower at John St and Stephanie St
1970 - St George the Martyr Church bell tower at John St and Stephanie St, northeast corner
1970 – St George the Martyr Church bell tower at John St and Stephanie St, northeast corner (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, ID 79)
1955 - Aftermath of the fire at St George the Martyr Church at John St and Stephanie St
1955 – Aftermath of the fire at St George the Martyr Church at John St and Stephanie St (Toronto Public Library R-195)
1955 - St George the Martyr Church fire, looking west from Stephanie St
1955 – St George the Martyr Church fire, looking west from Stephanie St (Toronto Public Library R-193)
2022 - St George by the Grange (the Martyr) at 30 Stephanie St
2022 – St George by the Grange (the Martyr) at 30 Stephanie St
2020 - St George by the Grange (the Martyr) at 30 Stephanie St
2020 – St George by the Grange (the Martyr) at 30 Stephanie St
1956 - St George's Parish Hall, today's St George by the Grange (the Martyr) at 30 Stephanie St
1956 – St George’s Parish Hall, today’s St George by the Grange (the Martyr) at 30 Stephanie St (Toronto Public Library R-183)
2020 – Looking northwest towards the top of St George the Martyr Church bell tower at John St and Stephanie St
2020 – Looking northwest towards the top of St George the Martyr Church bell tower at John St and Stephanie St
2020 - St George the Martyr Church bell tower
2020 – St George the Martyr Church bell tower
2020 - St George the Martyr Church door at the bell tower
2020 – St George the Martyr Church door at the bell tower
1972 – Looking southeast from Beverley St and Sullivan St towards St George the Martyr Church bell tower
1972 – Looking southeast from Beverley St and Sullivan St towards St George the Martyr Church bell tower (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 41, Item 34)
1982 – Looking west at St George the Martyr Church bell tower
1982 – Looking west at St George the Martyr Church bell tower (Toronto Public Library LOCHIST-SA-015)
1956 – St George the Martyr Anglican Church bell tower on the northeast corner of John St and Stephanie St
1956 – St George the Martyr Anglican Church bell tower on the northeast corner of John St and Stephanie St (Toronto Public Library R-186)
Sketch of St George the Martyr Anglican Church
Sketch of St George the Martyr Anglican Church (Landmarks of Toronto Volume 4 by J Ross Robertson – 1904)
Sketch of St George the Martyr Anglican Church interior
Sketch of St George the Martyr Anglican Church interior (Landmarks of Toronto Volume 4 by J Ross Robertson – 1904)
1867 – St George the Martyr Anglican Church
1867 – St George the Martyr Anglican Church (Archives of Ontario I0005287)
1845 – Looking north towards the first St Patrick's Market with St George the Martyr Anglican Church in the background
1845 – Looking north towards the first St Patrick’s Market with St George the Martyr Anglican Church in the background (Toronto Public Library R-5352)
SOURCE