St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica – One of Toronto’s Oldest Churches

Between 1900 to 1920 - Looking northeast towards St Michael's Cathedral Basilica at Shuter St and Bond St
Between 1900 to 1920 – Looking northeast towards St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica at Shuter St and Bond St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 219)

St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica is located at ‪65 Bond St‬ (at Shuter St on the northeast corner) in the Garden District of Toronto.

Bishop Power & the Early Years of St Michael’s

In 1842, Michael Power, Toronto’s first Catholic Bishop, noticed the need for another Catholic church. At the time, St Paul’s Basilica was the only church in the municipality, and it served 3,000 parishioners.

To start the funding campaign for the new church, Bishop Power began a penny collection. He bought the land St Michael’s resides on from Captain John McGill for £1,800. Of those funds, £1,300 came from collections, and the remaining £500 was Bishop Power’s own money.

At the time, the land was on the city’s northern edge in the “wild, unbroken forests.” It was dubbed “Power’s Folly” and criticized because it was so far away from the city’s centre, then King St E and Front St E.

The 14th century English Gothic Revival style church was designed by a prominent Toronto architect, William Thomas. Bishop Power laid its cornerstone in 1845 in front of 4,000 people. Two years later, Bishop Power left for Europe to search for priests for the city’s growing diocese and raise more funds.

2021 - Ireland Park on Toronto's waterfront at Eireann Quay, on the south side of the Canada Malting silos
2021 – Ireland Park on Toronto’s waterfront at Eireann Quay, on the south side of the Canada Malting silos

Irish Famine Migrants

While in Ireland, Bishop Power saw first-hand the Great Famine. Before he returned, he sent a letter back to Canada that was read at the Catholic churches in and around the area, saying to be ready for famine victims emigrating to the city.

From May to October 1847, over 38,500 Irish famine victims arrived in Toronto when Toronto’s population was only 20,000. It was a challenge for the young city because of the number of people and the typhus epidemic.

Bishop Power returned to Canada, and while helping the sick, he contracted typhus and died in October 1847. He didn’t see the 1848 completion of the cruciform-shaped, 1,000 seat cathedral under which he is buried.

The Impressive Windows, Spire & Fence

In 1858, the great chancel windows were added to St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica. They were designed by Etienne Thévenot, created in Munich and donated by Bishop de Charbonnel, Toronto’s second Catholic Bishop.

In 1867, construction began on the sacristy, tower and spire. Created by architects Gundry & Langley, the elegant spire stands 84 m or 275 ft tall.

In 1876/77, architect George Lalor designed the elaborate fence and lanterns surrounding the cathedral.

The Complex of Buildings at St Michael’s

Through the years, a few buildings have been added around the property of the historic cathedral, including:

Bishop’s Palace
The rectory, also designed by William Thomas, was constructed at the same time as the cathedral. It’s located to the northwest of the cathedral at 200 Church St. The Bishop’s Palace, originally a two-storey structure had a few additions. In 1852, a three-storey north wing was added and designed by Joseph Sheard. In 1889, architect FC Law designed the third storey added to the original building.

Today, the Bishop’s Palace is home to the parish office.

St John’s Chapel
In 1890/91, the chapel was added. It faces Church St and is located between the cathedral and Bishop’s Palace. St John’s Chapel was used for daily Mass during the winter months since the large cathedral was not easy to heat.

Designed by Joseph Connolly, the chapel addition was done at the same time as interior alterations in the cathedral. So many stained glass windows had been added to the cathedral that it darkened the interior. Clerestory windows were added on the cathedral roof’s north and south sides, bringing in more light.

2020 - St Michael's Cathedral Basilica at 65 Bond St
2020 – St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica at 65 Bond St

St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica Today

The church received heritage designation in 1973 and was one of the 490 buildings on Heritage Toronto’s initial induction list.

In 2011, a five-year $125+ million restoration began. Some updates included a new balcony, a crypt chapel, new washrooms, foundation reinforcement, restoration of the celestial blue ceiling with gold-leaf stars, a new 4,100+ pipe organ, and conservation of the cream brick exterior, tower and spire.

Did You Know?

  • When Bishop Power laid the cornerstone in 1845, he placed a box in it with articles, fragments of a stone pillar and pieces of oak from the old Norman York Minster Cathedral in England and a silver trowel.
  • Pope John Paul II visited St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in 1984.
  • St Michael’s is the oldest Catholic church in Toronto.
  • Nearby institutions include St Michael’s: school, choir school and hospital.
  • Ireland Park, a memorial dedicated the Irish famine migrants is located on Toronto’s waterfront.

St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica Photos

Between 1900 to 1920 - Looking northeast towards St Michael's Cathedral Basilica at Shuter St and Bond St
Between 1900 to 1920 – Looking northeast towards St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica at Shuter St and Bond St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 219)
2020 - The west facade of St Michael's Cathedral Basilica at Bond St and Shuter St
2020 – The west facade of St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica at Bond St and Shuter St
1935 - Interior of St Michael's Cathedral
1935 – Interior of St Michael’s Cathedral (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, File, Item 10777)
2020 - Altar and stained glass windows of St Michael's Cathedral Basilica
2020 – Altar and stained glass windows of St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica (Google Maps)
2020 - Organ and rear interior of St Michael's Cathedral Basilica
2020 – Organ and rear interior of St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica (Google Maps)
1925 - Man on a sling working on the spire of St Michael's Cathedral Basilica - the tower and spire were added in 1867
1925 – Man on a sling working on the spire of St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica – the tower and spire were added in 1867 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 6314)
2020 - Tower and spire at St Michael's Cathedral Basilica
2020 – Tower and spire at St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica
Between 1909 to 1919 - Looking northwest towards the back of St Michael's Cathedral Basilica from Church St and Shuter St
Between 1909 to 1919 – Looking northwest towards the back of St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica from Church St and Shuter St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1488, Series 1230, Item 1744)
2020 - St Michael's Cathedral Basilica from Shuter St and Church St, looking northwest
2020 – St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica from Shuter St and Church St, looking northwest
2021 - The richly decorative details of St Michael's Cathedral Basilica
2021 – The richly decorative details of St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica
2021 - The south side of St Michael's Cathedral Basilica, looking west
2021 – The south side of St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica, looking west
1925 - Elevated view of St Michael's Cathedral Basilica at Shuter St and Bond St, looking northeast
1925 – Elevated view of St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica at Shuter St and Bond St, looking northeast (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 88)
2020 – Looking east from Bond St towards St Michael's Cathedral Basilica
2020 – Looking east from Bond St towards St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica
1950 - Looking northeast towards St Michael's Cathedral Basilica from Shuter St and Bond St
1950 – Looking northeast towards St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica from Shuter St and Bond St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 121)
2020 – Looking northeast from Shuter St and Bond St towards St Michael's Cathedral Basilica
2020 – Looking northeast from Shuter St and Bond St towards St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica
2020 - St Michael's Cathedral Basilica at 65 Bond St
2020 – St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica at 65 Bond St
2020 - St Michael's Cathedral plaque
2020 – St Michael’s Cathedral plaque
1972 - St Michael's Cathedral Basilica at the northeast corner of Shuter St and Bond St
1972 – St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica at the northeast corner of Shuter St and Bond St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 13, Item 27)
1967 - Inscribed in pencil by Mary Schneider of St Michael's Cathedral Basilica
1967 – Inscribed in pencil by Mary Schneider of St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica (Toronto Public Library 982-9-6)
1920 - Looking northwest from the grounds of Metropolitan United Church towards St Michael's Cathedral Basilica
1920 – Looking northwest from the grounds of Metropolitan United Church towards St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2410)
1907 – Postcard of St Michael's Cathedral Basilica
1907 – Postcard of St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica (Toronto Public Library PC245)
1907 – Looking north up Bond St from Shuter St with St Michael's Cathedral Basilica on the right
1907 – Looking north up Bond St from Shuter St with St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica on the right (Toronto Public Library R-646)
1901 - Sketch of St Michael's Roman Catholic Cathedral
1901 – Sketch of St Michael’s Roman Catholic Cathedral (Landmarks of Toronto Volume 4 by J Ross Robertson – 1904)
1870 - Sketch of St Michael's Roman Catholic Cathedral
1870 – Sketch of St Michael’s Roman Catholic Cathedral (Landmarks of Toronto Volume 4 by J Ross Robertson – 1904)
2022 - Looking southwest towards St John's Chapel at St Michael's Cathedral Basilica from Church St, just north of Shuter St
2022 – Looking southwest towards St John’s Chapel at St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica from Church St, just north of Shuter St
2022 - Looking southwest towards St Michael's Cathedral Rectory from Church St, just north of Shuter St
2022 – Looking southwest towards St Michael’s Cathedral Rectory from Church St, just north of Shuter St
2022 - St Michael's Cathedral Rectory historical plaque
2022 – St Michael’s Cathedral Rectory historical plaque
2021 - Ireland Park on Toronto's waterfront at Eireann Quay, on the south side of the Canada Malting silos
2021 – Ireland Park on Toronto’s waterfront at Eireann Quay, on the south side of the Canada Malting silos
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