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.
Bishop Power began a penny collection to start the new church’s funding campaign. He bought the land St Michael’s resides on from Captain John McGill for £1,800. Of those funds, £1,300 came from collections; the remaining £500 was Bishop Power’s money.
The land was on the city’s northern edge at the time 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.
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:
The rectory, also designed by William Thomas, was constructed at the same time as the cathedral. It’s located 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 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.
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.
- To the immediate south of St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica is Metropolitan United Church, and a few blocks southeast is The Cathedral Church of St James.
- Ireland Park, a memorial dedicated to the Irish famine migrants, is located on Toronto’s waterfront.
- The word “basilica” originally referred to an architectural plan of a great long building, and on the interior, colonnades separate the hall from side aisles. Today, we use basilica in connection to churches that the pope has given special privileges.
St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica Photos
- City of Toronto Heritage Register: 65 Bond St
- City of Toronto Heritage Register: 200 Church St
- Ontario Heritage Trust: 65 Bond St
- Ontario Heritage Trust
- Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto (plaque)
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Feb 26, 1923, pg 15
- The National Post Newspaper Archives: Feb 6, 2013, pg A18
- Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 4 by J Ross Robertson (1904), pgs 306-315
- St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica: History of the Cathedral & Restoration
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library
- Interior Photos: Google Maps