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Visiting St. Andrew's Lutheran church, Toronto, Ontario: multilingual use caused by Stalin

Updated on November 1, 2011
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
St. Andrew's Lutheran church, Toronto
St. Andrew's Lutheran church, Toronto | Source
Map location of Toronto, Ontario
Map location of Toronto, Ontario | Source

Latvian, Estonian and English on Jarvis

When Joseph Stalin, the veteran Soviet dictator, decided to annex Estonia and Latvia to the Soviet Union during World War Two, he set in course a chain of events which brought about a change in use for a fine church building at the intersection of Toronto's Jarvis and Carlton Streets. The reason why? Many Estonians and Latvians fled their homelands, and in due course many found sanctuary in Canada. Not a few came to the Toronto area and in 1951, since many Estonians and Latvians are Lutheran (the Reformation having taken hold centuries previously in their area of northern Europe), their representatives managed to obtain the former St Andrew's Presbyterian church as a shared venue for Lutheran services.

Even today, services at St Andrew's Lutheran church (as it now is) are held regularly in Latvian, Estonian (1) and English.

Often known as St Andrew's Evangelical Lutheran church, the word 'Evangelical' here needs to be explained. While many North Americans are familiar with the word 'Evangelical' as referring to a variety of independent church which is particularly numerous in the American Mid-West, yet here the context is Lutheranism. In Germany (where Luther was from, of course), the word 'evangelisch' is used to mean 'Lutheran'. This usage has carried over into the English names of Lutheran churches also.

This 1878 building in Gothic style was originally built for a Presbyterian congregation by Langley and Burk. The brick and stone elements used are mainly visible on the exterior of the building; in its interior, considerable woodwork can also be seen. Its two, imposing steeples reach a height of 25 metres and may thus be seen a considerable distance along Jarvis and Carlton Streets.

Less than 50 years after the original Presbyterian congregation moved into the building, it participated in the creation of the United Church, which had the effect of causing numbers using St Andrew's church to dwindle. Thus it came about that, after World War Two, Latvian and Estonian Lutherans took the opportunity to obtain the building.

Although the Latvian and Estonian communities in Toronto are not comparatively large, for many decades now they have become well established. To many Torontonians of Latvian and Estonian heritage, this building has long been very familiar.


(1) Although Latvia and Estonia are neighbouring countries, their languages are not related, although both countries were strongly influenced by Lutheran translations of the Bible. Estonian is a Finno-Ugric language, related to Finnish, while Latvian is classified as a Baltic language, related to Lithuanian and the now-extinct Old Prussian. These languages, regularly heard in this fine building and elsewhere in Toronto, thus contribute to the complex, linguistic mosaic of the city.

Also worth seeing

In Toronto among the church buildings which are visitor attractions are the United Metropolitan Cathedral, St James's Cathedral, St Michael's Cathedral. Other noted buildings include Old City Hall, and the Ontario Parliament building.


How to get there: Air Canada, flies to Toronto Pearson Airport, with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available. However, visitors to Downtown Toronto will find many sights to be easily walkable. 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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