Church of the Holy Trinity – A Historic Church Hidden in Modern Toronto

1870 - Looking northeast towards The Church of the Holy Trinity
1870 – Looking northeast towards The Church of the Holy Trinity (Archives of Ontario I0021832)

The Church of the Holy Trinity is located at 19 Trinity Sq (behind the CF Toronto Eaton Centre, on the west side) in downtown Toronto. It’s situated west of Yonge St, north of Queen St W and east of Bay St in Trinity Square.

Holy Trinity’s Early History

Now veiled by the country’s busiest shopping centre, this historic church sits on land once owned by Dr James Macaulay. A former army surgeon for the Queen’s Rangers, the Crown granted Dr Macaulay several acres of land in the area west of Yonge St and north of Queen St W in 1797. His residence was known as Teraulay Cottage and while “the fields” around his home were cleared, the surrounding approach was swampy and tangled with forests.

In 1845, Bishop John Strachan received £5,000 from an anonymous donor in England to build a church in the Diocese of Toronto. The benevolent woman, whose name did not become known to all for over a half-century, had two stipulations. First, the place of worship was to be named the “Church of the Holy Trinity” and second, “the seats of which were to be free and unappropriated forever.” £3,000 was to go towards the building, and the remaining £2,000 was for an endowment fund.

The land was donated to the church by the son of Dr Macaulay, and Bishop Strachan also thought the site to be locally beneficial. It was on the outskirts of Toronto and in an area then known as Macaulay Town.

In 1847, the church was built. Architect Henry Bowyer Lane designed the cruciform-shaped, modified Gothic-style Anglican place of worship. Using timber from the surrounding forest and brick from the Don Valley, the structure features a west main entrance flanked by soaring towers topped with battlements. Inside each tower is a spiral staircase leading to a gallery. The slate roof once served as ballast in ships from Britain.

2020 - The stained-glass windows in the chancel of Holy Trinity
2020 – The stained-glass windows in the chancel of Holy Trinity

The Growing Church & Changing Landscape

Holy Trinity has many beautiful stained-glass windows. In 1856/57, architect William Hay designed the windows in the chancel behind the altar. Made by Ballantyne & Allen of Edinburgh (Scotland), the life-size figures on the upper portion represent the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John while the figures on the lower portion are the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. Other painted-glass windows are thought to be made by McCausland & Bullock of the Toronto Stained Glass Works.

Also during that time, Mr Hay drew-up plans for the two-storey annex on the southeast corner of the church. Originally used as a parochial school, the first floor of the addition was for boys, while the second floor was sectioned into a school for girls along with a small chapel.

In 1860, Mr Hay designed the church rectory. It’s a separate structure mere metres from the church’s northeast corner.

In 1868/69, the architect firm of Gundry & Langley, along with alterations, also created the plans for the church’s reredos. The stunning ornamental panel behind the altar is still in the church to this day.

By the 1870s, the landscape around the church had changed drastically. Holy Trinity quickly became concealed amongst the commercial buildings of busy Yonge St and Queen St W. In 1887, the architect team of Darling & Curry designed the Trinity School House. It was once located near the southeast corner of the church at what was known as 15 Trinity Sq.

A historian wrote:

“Macauley’s fields are fields no more;
The trowel supersedes the plough;
Huge inundated swamps of yore,
Are changed to civic villas now.”

Reverend Henry Scadding

From 1847 until 1875, Henry Scadding was the church’s reverend. His former residence, which is now known as the Scadding House, is located 7.6 m or 25 ft from the church’s east side. It was moved several metres to its current location in the mid-1970s to make way for the Eaton Centre. Reverend Scadding was a noted historian, and the Scadding family were early settlers of the Town of York. The family’s historic home, the Scadding Cabin, is located on Exhibition Place grounds.

Mary Lambert Swale’s Gift

The church’s Jubilee year in 1897, was a time of celebration. The benefactress who made The Church of the Holy Trinity possible 60 years before was honoured. Her name was Mary Lambert Swale. The wealthy young woman was from Settle, England, and she married Hogarth Swale, an Anglican priest. She learned of Bishop Strachan through articles he wrote for an Anglican journal. Upon her passing in 1845 at the age of 25, her bequest was given to Bishop Strachan. Mrs Swale also gave a similar gift to establish a church in Australia for convicts.

Social Gospel & The Christmas Story

In the 1930s, the church became home to the Social Gospel movement under Reverend John Frank. The crusade addressed social issues such as homelessness and unemployment.

In 1937, the wife of the church’s then-rector, Patricia Frank, produced a play called The Christmas Story using a script from her previous home parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, England. The tradition carries on to this day.

1974 – The Church of the Holy Trinity, Scadding House, Rectory, an Eaton Building and view of excavation for the Eaton Centre, looking northwest
1974 – The Church of the Holy Trinity, Scadding House, Rectory, an Eaton Building and view of excavation for the Eaton Centre, looking northwest (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 83, Item 38)

The Strength of Holy Trinity’s Congregation

From 1962 until 1976, Reverend James Fisk was the rector at Holy Trinity. During his time at the church, he, the 180-member congregation and community supporters fought to save the church from demolition for the Eaton Centre. In 1972, after two years of negotiation, the church and Fairview Corp Ltd came to an agreement regarding land exchanges (which included moving the Scadding House 46 m or 150 ft to the southwest), street closures and sunlight issues.

In 1977 and after fighting so hard to stay, there was a near-disastrous fire. The fire began just 100 feet to the south of the church, in a former Eaton’s warehouse that was in the process of demolition. Deemed arson, the fire caused $300,000 damage to Holy Trinity, especially to its south side. Three stained-glass windows were destroyed, and the slate roof needed repair. Inside, the original ceiling with its edges inscribed with irreplaceable Beatitudes, the walls (painted in the 19th century) along with the floor and organ were water damaged. It took several years for them to be restored.

The fire damaged the brand-new Eaton Centre, courts in Old City Hall, Salvation Army Headquarters, Yonge Street Arcade and the Bank of Nova Scotia at King St W and Bay St. Sparks were being carried on 48 km winds, so fire engines were positioned along Bay St to Front St W to deal with any issues.

2020 - The west facade of The Church of the Holy Trinity, looking southeast
2020 – The west facade of The Church of the Holy Trinity, looking southeast

Working with the Community & Holy Trinity Today

Since the early 1970s, the church has been supporters of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. Today, Holy Trinity ministers to the urban core by continuing its mission to welcome and care for all marginalized members of our society. The church is involved in many areas, from homelessness to lunch for refugees to music, all in an atmosphere that links the Christian faith to the issues of today.

While The Church of the Holy Trinity is an Anglican parish, since 2007 it’s also been home to the parish of San Esteban, a Spanish-speaking community.

Did You Know?

  • In its early years, the Church of the Holy Trinity was also called the Free Church because, at the time, it was common for Anglican churches to rent the pews for a fee.
  • James St was named after Dr James Macaulay.
  • Bay St north of Queen St W was once known as Terauley St. It was named after Dr Macaulay’s residence – Teraulay Cottage.
  • From the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, St John’s Ward, also known as “The Ward,” played a part in Toronto’s diversity. Immigrants to Canada, including African American slaves fleeing the US, refugees of the Irish Potato Famine, Jewish, Russians, Chinese, Italians and more, made the crammed Ward their home. It was the area bound by Yonge St, Queen St W, University Ave and College St, and The Church of the Holy Trinity was in its midst.
  • The church’s organ, considered one of the finest in Toronto, was built by Edward Lye & Sons. The Toronto pipe organ company was in operation from 1864 until the early 1990s.
  • The Trinity School House at 15 Trinity later became home to CKEY Radio Theatre. The building has since been demolished.
  • In 2000, Holy Trinity began working with the Toronto Community Labyrinth Network and the City. They constructed a temporary grass labyrinth in Trinity Square. Five years later, it was replaced with a permanent labyrinth. Located directly south of the church, it provides a sense of balance and calm in the heart of busy downtown Toronto.
  • Henry Bowyer Lane, the church’s architect, also designed Little Trinity Church and St George the Martyr

The Church of the Holy Trinity Photos

2021 - The Church of the Holy Trinity at 19 Trinity Sq - it's situated behind the CF Toronto Eaton Centre, on the west side
2021 – The Church of the Holy Trinity at 19 Trinity Sq – it’s situated behind the CF Toronto Eaton Centre, on the west side
1870 - Looking northeast towards The Church of the Holy Trinity
1870 – Looking northeast towards The Church of the Holy Trinity (Archives of Ontario I0021832)
2020 - The chancel, organ pipes, altar, reredos panel and stained glass at Holy Trinity Church
2020 – The chancel, organ pipes, altar, reredos panel and stained glass at Holy Trinity Church
2020 - The stained-glass windows in the chancel of Holy Trinity
2020 – The stained-glass windows in the chancel of Holy Trinity
1884 - A view of the nave, organ, chancel, altar and reredos at The Church of the Holy Trinity
1884 – A view of the nave, organ, chancel, altar and reredos at The Church of the Holy Trinity (Toronto Public Library r-504)
1913 - Looking east from the entrance towards the nave, organ, chancel and altar of The Church of the Holy Trinity
1913 – Looking east from the entrance towards the nave, organ, chancel and altar of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Toronto Public Library r-536)
1913 - Looking west from the chancel towards the nave, gallery and entrance of The Church of the Holy Trinity
1913 – Looking west from the chancel towards the nave, gallery and entrance of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Toronto Public Library r-513)
2020 - The west facade of The Church of the Holy Trinity, looking southeast
2020 – The west facade of The Church of the Holy Trinity, looking southeast
2020 - The entrance of Holy Trinity Church
2020 – The entrance of Holy Trinity Church
2021 - Looking northeast towards the two-storey annex completed in 1856/57 - the ground floor of the addition was originally a school for boys while the upper floor was a school for girls and a small chapel
2021 – Looking northeast towards the two-storey annex completed in 1856/57 – the ground floor of the addition was originally a school for boys while the upper floor was a school for girls and a small chapel
2021 - A flower detail on The Church of the Holy Trinity
2021 – A flower detail on The Church of the Holy Trinity
2021 - An interesting detail on The Church of the Holy Trinity
2021 – An interesting detail on The Church of the Holy Trinity
2020 - Holy Trinity Church from Bay St, looking east
2020 – Holy Trinity Church from Bay St, looking east
1983/87 - The completion of Trinity Square, looking northeast
1983/87 – The completion of Trinity Square, looking northeast (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 502, Item 2)
1979/86 - An aerial view of Holy Trinity Church and the Eaton Centre
1979/86 – An aerial view of Holy Trinity Church and the Eaton Centre (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 500, Item 39)
1908 - Looking north towards The Church of the Holy Trinity from Louisa St, a street which no longer exists
1908 – Looking north towards The Church of the Holy Trinity from Louisa St, a street which no longer exists (Toronto Public Library r-461)
1979/86 - Looking east from Hagerman St, just west of Bay St
1979/86 – Looking east from Hagerman St, just west of Bay St (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 500, Item 7)
1977/86 - Looking southeast towards the Rectory, Scadding House and Holy Trinity Church with the Eaton Centre in the background
1977/86 – Looking southeast towards the Rectory, Scadding House and Holy Trinity Church with the Eaton Centre in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 500, Item 31)
1977 - The roof and towers of the Holy Trintiy Church and the smouldering ruins of an old Eaton warehouse
1977 – The roof and towers of the Holy Trintiy Church and the smouldering ruins of an old Eaton warehouse (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 24, Item 12)
1977 - Firefighters at the Holy Trinity Church after a fire began in an old Eaton warehouse
1977 – Firefighters at the Holy Trinity Church after a fire began in an old Eaton warehouse (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 24, Item 8)
1974 – The Church of the Holy Trinity, Scadding House, Rectory, an Eaton Building and view of excavation for the Eaton Centre, looking northwest
1974 – The Church of the Holy Trinity, Scadding House, Rectory, an Eaton Building and view of excavation for the Eaton Centre, looking northwest (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 83, Item 38)
1974 - Looking southeast towards the Scadding House (prior to move), Rectory, Trinity School House, an Eaton Administration Building and The Church of the Holy Trinity before construction of the Eaton Centre
1974 – Looking southeast towards the Scadding House (prior to move), Rectory, Trinity School House, an Eaton Administration Building and The Church of the Holy Trinity before construction of the Eaton Centre (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 83, Item 25)
1953 - Looking southeast at 15 Trinity Sq - the building, since demolished, was originally home to the Trinity School House and later the CKEY Radio Theatre
1953 – Looking southeast at 15 Trinity Sq – the building, since demolished, was originally home to the Trinity School House and later the CKEY Radio Theatre (Toronto Public Library r-503)
1950 - Looking southwest towards The Church of the Holy Trinity and T Eaton Co buildings
1950 – Looking southwest towards The Church of the Holy Trinity and T Eaton Co buildings (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 92)
1975 - Looking west from Yonge St towards Trinity Sq
1975 – Looking west from Yonge St towards Trinity Sq (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 83, Item 16)
1972 - Looking west towards The Church of the Holy Trinity from just west of Yonge St
1972 – Looking west towards The Church of the Holy Trinity from just west of Yonge St (City of Toronto Archives, Series 841, File 67, Item 11)
1875 - Looking west along Trinity Sq, just west of Yonge St
1875 – Looking west along Trinity Sq, just west of Yonge St (Toronto Public Library r-468)
1868 - From the gallery, a view of the nave, chancel and altar at The Church of the Holy Trinity - notice the reredos screen behind the altar that was completed around this year or the next, is covered
1868 – From the gallery, a view of the nave, chancel and altar at The Church of the Holy Trinity – notice the reredos screen behind the altar that was completed around this year or the next, is covered (Toronto Public Library r-505)
1890 - Goads Map showing the location of The Church of the Holy Trinity
1890 – Goads Map showing the location of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Toronto Public Library)
1848 - Sketch of The Church of the Holy Trinity
1848 – Sketch of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Toronto Public Library r-3547)
1847 - Ground plan for The Church of the Holy Trinity
1847 – Ground plan for The Church of the Holy Trinity (Toronto Public Library r-518)
2021 - The Church of the Holy Trinity plaque by the Archaeological and Historic Sites Board
2021 – The Church of the Holy Trinity plaque by the Archaeological and Historic Sites Board
2020 - Church of the Holy Trinity - Henry Bowyer Lane architect heritage plaque
2020 – Church of the Holy Trinity – Henry Bowyer Lane architect heritage plaque
2021 - Toronto Homeless Memorial at Holy Trinity Church
2021 – Toronto Homeless Memorial at Holy Trinity Church
1970 - The rectory of Holy Trinity Church at 10 Trinity Sq, looking northeast
1970 – The rectory of Holy Trinity Church at 10 Trinity Sq, looking northeast (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, ID 71)
2021 - Looking east at the rectory of Holy Trinity Church
2021 – Looking east at the rectory of Holy Trinity Church
2021 - Holy Trinity Church rectory at 10 Trinity Sq, looking north
2021 – Holy Trinity Church rectory at 10 Trinity Sq, looking north
2020 - Scadding House at 6 Trinity Sq, looking north
2020 – Scadding House at 6 Trinity Sq, looking north
2020 - Looking south at the Scadding House
2020 – Looking south at the Scadding House
1847 - A circular written by Bishop John Strachan inviting families to attend services at The Church of the Holy Trinity
1847 – A circular written by Bishop John Strachan inviting families to attend services at The Church of the Holy Trinity (Toronto Public Library)
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