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Visiting First Baptist Church, Ottawa, Ontario: A Verticality Now Dwarfed; With Historic, Associated Personalities

Updated on January 25, 2020
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
First Baptist Church, 140 Laurier Avenue West / Elgin Street, Ottawa
First Baptist Church, 140 Laurier Avenue West / Elgin Street, Ottawa | Source

The complexities of built and metaphorical prominence

[NB: Among the many notable buildings which are the subject of the hubpages, these may include religious buildings, described as churches, etc.; these descriptions centre on the buildings' architectural and historical interest.]

At 140 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa, Ontario, the prominent spire of First Baptist Church dominates the plot of land on which it stands, although high-rise nature of the neighbourhood now dwarfs the building.. The building, designed by architect James Mather, dates from 1877/78 (1)(2). At first the building was referred to as the 'Tabernacle'.

The structure's strongly Gothic Revival features include pointed window and doorway arching and flying buttresses.

The congregation which commissioned the building had been in existence since 1857, while Baptist Christians had already met regular in the area at different locations in the preceding years.

Significant renovation and expansion work was carried out at the building in 1916 and 1928.

In 1966 a large organ was installed at First Baptist Church, the work of Casavant Frères, of Saint-Hyacinthe, QC.

Prominent historical personalities associated with First Baptist Church, Ottawa have included two Prime Ministers of Canada, the Honourable Alexander Mackenzie (1822-1892)(3) and the Right Honourable John Diefenbaker (1895-1979)(4).

Indeed, Alexander Mackenzie — himself a stonemason — laid the foundation stone of First Baptist Church and subsequently attended the congregation.

Prominent legal figures have also been congregants.

As I write these hubpages, not a few of which related to ecclesiastical structures, it is thus undoubtedly relevant and of interest to mention some of the more prominent personalities with which a building associated with the Christian confession has been linked; but I am sometimes challenged by this in relation to the contrasting, preeminent record of the confession's lowly Founder: a dilemma which I have difficulty in resolving.

Indeed, First Baptist Church's longserving Minister S. Iveson once wrote: "...the longer a church building stands, the more hallowed it becomes. It is true that the danger of paying too much veneration to material structures can be very real."

An admission, surely, of the complexities surrounding built and metaphorical prominence?

January 25, 2020


(1) See also: ;

(2) James Mather (1833-1927) was a Scottish-born architect who designed a prolific number of buildings in Ottawa; he was also responsible for buildings in neighbouring Nepean and in Quebec.

(3) Interestingly, Scottish-born Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie, who served in that office from 1873 until 1878, was never styled 'the Right Honourable', as is usually the custom among Canadian Prime Ministers; this is because he declined to become a member of the United Kingdom Privy Council. In addition, while for a number of decades after Confederation it was customary for Prime Ministers of Canada to be conferred with a knighthood, yet when on three separate occasions Alexander Mackenzie was offered such a knighthood, entitling the bearer to call himself 'Sir...'. he each time declined. His strongly egalitarian instincts might thus make him seem to be a rather modern figure for the age in which he lived and be reckoned to cause him to be a figure of interest for those who see important significance to Canada's historical process of loosening Imperial ties with Great Britain and its Establishment. However, this rather curiously does not seem to be the case. By way of conjecture, one reason for this may be because Alexander Mackenzie was strongly noted for fiscal restraint and probity, whereas we live today in an era of big government and high taxation. Could it be also that the very strong Baptist convictions with which Alexander Mackenzie was identified might not be regarded as fashionable among historians? (I leave the thought there...)

(4) John G. Diefenbaker, who served as Prime Minister of Canada from 1957 until 1963, representing Saskatchewan ridings, was arguably among the most anti-Establishment figures ever to have occupied his office. His highly individual rhetorical style and his capacity to move especially small town and rural audiences to adulation (and metropolitan electors to distraction!), with his often used vituperative figures of speech and by his perennial challenging of vested interests, were reminiscent of the style of early 20th century Prairie preachers. In fact, his whole persona seems already far removed from the somewhat genteel image of James Mather's architectural creation here in Ottawa!

Map location of Ottawa, Ontario
Map location of Ottawa, Ontario | Source

Also worth seeing

In Ottawa itself, among the numerous visitor attractions are: the National War Memorial of Canada; Château Laurier; the Rideau Canal; Laurier House; Rideau Hall; the Bank of Canada Currency Museum; the Supreme Court of Canada Building, and many others.

Gatineau , Quebec (distance 2.9 kilometres); the Canadian Museum of Civilization (Musée canadien des civilisations ), in Gatineau is Canada's most visited museum. Gatineau's Citizen's House (French: Masion du citoyen ) has a noted art gallery and the Hall of the Nations (French: Hall des nations ) containing valuable cultural artifacts from around the world. Gatineau Park (French: Parc de la Gatineau ) has exceptional recreational and scenic possibilities.


How to get there: Air Canada flies from various North American destinations to Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport / Aéroport international Macdonald-Cartier d'Ottawa; car rental is available; however, visitors may wish instead to use OC Transpo public transit for travel within the Ottawa / Gatineau area. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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