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Visiting a consipicuous, Gothic building in Toronto, Ontario: stones and memories at Jarvis Street Baptist Church

Updated on July 22, 2015
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
Jarvis Street Baptist Church in Toronto
Jarvis Street Baptist Church in Toronto | Source
T. T. Shields
T. T. Shields | Source
Map location of Toronto, Ontario
Map location of Toronto, Ontario | Source

At the pinnacle

This building in thoroughgoing Gothic style is situated at the intersection of Jarvis and Gerrard Streets in Downtown Toronto, Ontario. True to its style, the structure exhibits various of its associated features in abundance: pointed arches at windows and doorways, flying buttresses and pinnacles. Rounded window tracery is in keeping with the curves of the arches and its 9 metre copper spire completes the skyward thrust of its smaller pinnacles (1). The building is thus strongly evocative of the Victorian Era when Gothic Revival style was popular and is reflected in very many church building designs of the period.

The main entrance to the building is diagonal to the Jarvis and Gerrard Street elevations. The built environment around the intersection where the structure is situated has in the past decades undergone many demolitions of older buildings, and this process seems to continue, as remaining, older residential structures in the vicinity continue to be slated for removal and replacement with tower blocks on what is prime real estate a few minutes' walk from Yonge Street in Downtown Toronto. Various, well appointed hotels are to be found within a short walking distance from Jarvis Street Baptist Church, which thus stands in contrast to most other buildings in the immediate area: a Gothic island in a sea of eclectic, modern structures.

The current building, executed in brown Queenston stone, dates from 1875, although this deserves some qualification. The congregation which meets in it had its origins in 1818, what became Toronto was known as York in Upper Canada; and the current building was severely damaged by fire in 1938 and was considerably rebuilt. Its architects were Henry Langley (1836-1907)(2) and Edmund Burke (1850-1919). A mid-20th century extension was built in red brick. The interior of the building has a for its period unusual amphitheatre-shaped design.

While the building is always known as Jarvis Street Baptist Church, its official address is given as 130 Gerrard Street East.

Among the more well known ministers at Jarvis Street Baptist Church was T. T. Shields (1873-1955), who served at this congregation from 1910 until 1955. In the Biblical themes which Mr. Shields took up in his preaching, he was known for the eloquence of his rhetorical style (3).

Another individual with links to the congregation was Senator William McMaster (1811-1887), principal of McMaster University and co-founder of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, who substantially funded the present 1875 Jarvis Street building.

July 22, 2015


(1) The spire is superficially similar to, but much smaller than, that of St James's Cathedral, Toronto.

(2) Architect Langley was responsible for several Toronto church building designs and for the Province's Government House (completed 1870), residence of Ontario's Lieutenant-Governor.

(3) See for example a discussion of the ministry of T T Shields in: Iain Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith, Edinburgh / Carlisle, Pa.,: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990, p. 130. Born in England, T. T. Shields previously ministered successively at Florence, Dutton, Delhi, Hamilton and London - all in Ontario. Somewhat unusually for baptist ministers in North America, he was noted for a Reformed emphasis in his ministry, which may have been related to his background in England; he also maintained a widely circulated written ministry through a periodical which he edited, in which he gave trenchant commentary on the contemporary scene.

Some sourcing from Wikipedia.

Also worth seeing

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

How to get there

Porter Airlines flies to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, and has 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 from Union Station. TTC streetcars 505 and 506 are convenient for Jarvis Street Baptist Church, as are the Carton and College stops of the Yonge-University subway. For up to date information about travel to Toronto, you are advised to 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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