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Visiting Knox Presbyterian Church, Spadina Avenue, Toronto, Ontario: Romanesque & Gothic Revivial by James Wilson Gray

Updated on January 20, 2015
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
Knox Presbyterian Church, Toronto
Knox Presbyterian Church, Toronto | Source
George Brown
George Brown | Source
Map location of Toronto, Ontario
Map location of Toronto, Ontario | Source

A monumental building for a historic congregation

This imposing building in Toronto, Ontario dates from 1909. Known as Knox Presbyterian Church, its design is a combination of Romanesque Revival and Gothic Revival. Thus, here we see both pointed arches and flying buttresses but also pinnacles with cones, in representation of a blending of these styles. The building's designer was James Wilson Gray.

This building replaced a previous structure at Queen Street West, between Yonge and Bay Streets, which burned down in 1895. This in turn had served as a replacement for a previous building, which itself had burned down in 1847.

Knox Presbyterian Church is located at 630 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, Ontario.

Upper Canada / Canada West / 19th century Ontario was strongly influenced by trends and customs in Great Britain, not least in the religious scene. The history of Presbyterianism in Scotland is very complex, and many Presbyterians in the former Upper Canada and, subsequently Canada West, saw the need to emulate events and precedents through which Scottish Presbyterians lived. Accordingly, when the 1843 Disruption occurred in Scotland, led by Thomas Chalmers, there were Toronto Presbyterians also who wished for local Presbyterianism to reflect these distinct elements. Thus it was that the congregation now known as Knox Presbyterian Church identified with the Free Church of Scotland, rather than the established Church of Scotland (1).

Some readers may recall from the hubpage on College Street United Church (formerly Presbyterian), Toronto, that at this building in 1925 an assembly met there resolved to unite Presbyterians and Methodists, and others. Historian Desmond Morton refers to 'a sturdy core of Presbyterians' who did not join the new institution (2). Indeed, in June 1925, a Presbyterian group representative of this 'sturdy core' performed a midnight vigil at Knox Presbyterian Church. The congregation subsequently received an influx from non-merging Presbyterians in the city.

The congregation is named for 16th century Scottish Reformer John Knox, for whom the former Knox Presbyterian College, now part of the University of Toronto, at nearby Spadina Circle, is also named.

Noted personalities associated with the congregation: these included George Brown (1818-1880), proprietor of the Toronto Globe and prominent Liberal, briefly Premier of Canada West and referred to as a Father of Confederation.

Thus the structure is an imposing building for an historic congregation in one of Downtown Toronto's central arteries, close to the University area.

February 18, 2013


(1) It may be pointed out that, while the Free Church of Scotland wished to be separate from the established Church of Scotland, it avowedly did not repudiate the establishment principle. In Canada, with no established church, this distinction became increasingly moot. Interestingly, though, Knox Presbyterian Church's congregant George Brown (see above) partly made his mark locally by arguing for the separation of church and state; one is moved to muse whether this may have been partly motivated because the established church in Upper Canada had been Anglican, rather than Presbyterian, as in Scotland.

(2) Desmond Morton, A Short History of Canada , Toronto, Ontario: McClelland & Stewart, 1997, p. 192

Also worth seeing

In Downtown Toronto itself, visitor attractions include: Old City Hall, Osgoode Hall, Campbell House, the Ontario Legislative Assembly Building at Queen's Park, Fort York, Union Station, the CN Tower, and many others.


How to get there: Porter Airlines, flies to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, with wide North American connections. Car rental is available at Union Station. Air Canada flies to Toronto Pearson Airport, with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available, but visitors to Downtown Toronto will find many sights to be easily walkable. TTC Streetcar 510 passes 630 Spadina Avenue, Toronto . Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent. For any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities, you are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources.

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

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