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Visiting an Unusual Church Building on St. Clair Avenue, Toronto, Ontario: Memorializing a Business Figure

Updated on March 26, 2019
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
Sketch of Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, December 1914
Sketch of Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, December 1914 | Source
Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, Toronto
Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, Toronto | Source
Eaton Centre, Toronto
Eaton Centre, Toronto | Source

Dedicated to a figure primarily known for commercial pursuits.

On the surface, far from seeming unusual, this monumental church building looks like a typical cathedral.

Except that it isn't.

At the time of its construction in 1914, the building was affiliated with Methodists.

Then in the 1920s, most — not all — of the Canadian Methodists joined with most — not all — of the Canadian Presbyterians to form the United Church.

Thus, since neither Methodists, Presbyterians nor the United Church officially have Cathedrals, this building is not now, nor has ever been, a Cathedral. Even though its massively proportioned design makes it look like one.

Another feature of this cathedral-like edifice is its name. It is dedicated to the memory of a very prominent, local business figure, Timothy Eaton (1834-1907), founder of Eaton's Department Store and still memorialized in the Eaton Centre, Toronto.

In other words, the church building's name does not indicate a dedication to a religious figure but rather to a business personality.

Toronto's Eaton Centre, which, despite the demise of the Timothy Eaton's original department store and mail order company, still bears the founder's name. The Centre recalls the Woolworth Building in New York City — interestingly heralded (somewhat sacreligiously?) as a 'Cathedral of Commerce' at its opening ceremony by a prominent clergyman, the Reverend S. Parkes Cadman.

I suppose one could say that the process of infusing religiosity into a secular commercial building — manifested by the discourse of the Reverend S. Parkes Cadman — has been reversed at the Timothy Eaton Memorial Church: a building ostensibly set aside for religious use has been dedicated to a figure who was not primarily known for religious, but rather commercial, pursuits.

I have elsewhere mentioned that, while it is not unusual for prominent church buildings to be described in relation to the various levels of fame of personalities associated with the buildings, I am sometimes challenged by this in relation to the contrasting, preeminent record of the Church's lowly Founder: a dilemma which I have difficulty in resolving.

Features of this building by Wickson and Gregg in English Gothic style include pointed arch windows and massive flying buttresses. The 30-metre tower contains a 21 bell carillon. Other significant features include a stained glass window reproduction by Robert McCausland of Holman Hunt's 'The Light of the World'.

Timothy Eaton Memorial Church is situated at 230 St. Clair Avenue West, Toronto, Ontario.

July 20, 2016

Map location of Toronto, Ontario
Map location of Toronto, Ontario | Source

Also worth seeing

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


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. 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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