St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church is located at 130 Bathurst St (between Adelaide St W and Portugal Sq on the west side) in the Niagara neighbourhood of Toronto.
Its Early History
The church’s history dates to 1835, when the first bishop of Upper Canada, Alexander Macdonell, requested a piece of land for Toronto’s Roman Catholic population. Lieutenant-Governor Sir Francis Bond Head granted a lot in the northeast corner of the Garrison reserve on the condition the seats would be free for military personnel. The land had previously served as an emergency cemetery for cholera victims during the 1832 and 1834 epidemics; however, this only became known when many unmarked graves were discovered while digging the church’s foundation.
The First Two St Mary’s Churches
In 1852, the first church was built. It was a small white brick structure measuring 30 x 13 m or 100 x 42 ft. While St Mary’s was the third Roman Catholic parish in Toronto, it was the only one on the west side. The two existing Catholic churches on the east side were St Paul’s and St Michael’s.
In 1858, when the foundations of the first St Mary’s began sinking, it was taken down.
In 1860, St Mary’s school was constructed on the property and the second church was consecrated. The church, however, was built on those same unstable foundations. Even though iron girders were installed to prop it up, the second church also experienced structural issues over time.
Its congregation was growing rapidly, so in 1883, prominent architect Joseph Connolly was selected to design the present-day church. He designed many Roman Catholic churches throughout Ontario. The building of the third St Mary’s Church began in 1885 and, at the time, cost $70,000. The congregation attended its first service in 1889.
St Mary’s Beautiful Architecture
The French Gothic Revival-style church is a cruciform shape. It’s made of white brick and Ohio sandstone dressings, while the vaulted roof is made of white pine. St Mary’s great tower is flanked by supporting wings. Other exterior architectural elements of the facade include three entrances, polished granite pillars of various colours, rose windows with tracery and the building as a whole, is finished with finials and crosses.
Inside the magnificent church, the soaring nave seats 600 people. It features warm-toned wooden pews, pointed Gothic arches springing from richly decorated blue granite pillars, carved angel corbels, stained-glass windows depicting religious images, frescoes and a groined chancel ceiling.
Due to a shortage of funds, the church tower’s belfry and octagonal spire were not added until 1904/05. They were designed by Arthur Holmes, who was Joseph Connolly’s protégé.
The Complex of Buildings at the Historic Church
Through the years, a few buildings have been added at St Mary’s Church, including:
In 1873, architect Henry Langley designed the rectory. It’s located near the southwest corner of the property.
The Nuns Chapel and “Old” St Mary’s Separate School
What is known today as 9 Portugal Sq was built in 1877. The structure was designed by architect GH Lalor, and it once extended to Bathurst St. Now linked directly to the church structure, today it serves as church facilities and the rehearsal hall for the Santo Cristo Brass Band.
St Mary’s Separate School
At 11 Portugal Sq is the 1889-built St Mary’s Separate School. Designed by architects Kennedy & Holland, today, the building is the Parish Hall. This building should not be confused with the present-day, 1918-built St Mary’s Catholic Elementary School across the street at 20 Portugal Sq.
St Mary’s Catholic Literary and Athletic Association, Today’s Factory Theatre
Across the street, on the northeast corner of Adelaide St W and Bathurst St was St Mary’s Catholic Literary and Athletic Association. It’s a combination of two buildings. The first that fronts Bathurst St was constructed in 1869 and known as the John Mulvey House. The second is the large extension that faces Adelaide St W. Designed by architect JM Cowan the building cost $50,000 to build and was formally opened in 1911. The clubhouse featured a bowling alley, a large pool room, gym and showers on the ground floor, while the top floor housed a 700-seat assembly hall, a library and more.
Today, no longer owned by St Mary’s Church, this structure is the Factory Theatre. The heritage building still has many original elements, including the maple bowling alley floor in the Studio Theatre as well as the proscenium arch and balcony in the Main Space Theatre.
Welcoming Worshippers for Over 165 Years
St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church has been home to many immigrants. First, the Irish who were fleeing the potato famine, then Ukrainian and Polish and, in the 1960s, Portuguese parishioners. Activities for the annual Portuguese Santo Cristo Festival centre around the church.
St Mary’s tower, one of the most beautiful in the City, and the east facade completed a restoration this past decade. Masses are available in English and Portuguese.
Did You Know?
- When travelling west along Adelaide St near Bathurst St, in the distance, notice the street ends with a beautiful view of St Mary’s Church.
- For decades, what we know today as Portugal Square, was called McDonnell Square. It was named in honour of Bishop Alexander McDonnell (Macdonell).
- In 1973, St Mary’s Church was part of Heritage Toronto’s initial induction list. In 1983, the rectory and school buildings received heritage designation.
St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church Photos
- Special thanks to Rev. Msgr. Fernando Couto
- City of Toronto Heritage Register: 130 Bathurst St
- Ontario Heritage Trust: 130 Bathurst St
- Heritage Toronto (plaque)
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jul 27, 1888, pg 1
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Oct 20, 1911, pg 8
- Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 4 by J Ross Robertson (1904), pgs 320-323
- St. Mary’s, Bathurst: History of St. Mary’s Church
- Factory Theatre: About Us: Our Building
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library