Tag Archives: Metropolitan United Church Toronto

Metropolitan United Church—destroyed by fire 1928


Metropolitan United Church c. 1925, St. Michael’s Cathedral on Bond Street in the background. Toronto Archives, F 1568, Item 04641.

Metropolitan United (Methodist) Church on Queen Street East was perhaps the grandest church that the Methodist ever built in Canada, deserving its nickname as the “Cathedral of Methodism.” The congregation was founded in York (Toronto) in 1818, its first services held in a log cabin on the south side of King Street. By 1833, a larger building was required and land was purchased at Toronto Street and Adelaide Street East (then called Newgate). On this location, they constructed a Neo-Georgian style structure. However, because the congregation continued to expand, in 1868, another site was sought, on the north side of Queen Street East, between Bond and Church Streets.

The property the congregation acquired had an interesting history. Known as McGill Square, it was part of “park lot #7,” granted in 1793  by Lieu. Governor Simcoe, to Adjutant John McGill of the Queen’s Rangers. In the mid-1790s, McGill built a large Regency-style cottage on the southern portion of the land, near Queen Street East. In 1842, McGill subdivided and sold much of his estate as small lots. However, the property surrounding his cottage he reserved as a public square. The McGill family continued to reside in the cottage until 1870, when they sold the land to the Metropolitan congregation for $27,846. This occurred despite its designation as a public square, to the dismay and anger of many of the residents of the city and the City Council.

The site was highly favoured by the congregation, since many of its members lived on Jarvis Street, which in those years was an upscale neighbourhood. The committee that was designated to oversee the building of the new church authorized a competition for its design. They offered $200 and $100 for the best two submissions. However, the proposals were considered too expensive, so the committee turned to the architect, Henry Langley, to submit a plan. He accepted, events progressed rapidly, and the cornerstone was laid on August 24,1870, by Edgerton Ryerson.

Langley designed a church that resembled the French Gothic style of the 14th century. Its foundations were constructed of stone quarried in Queenston and Georgetown, the facades built of white brick, trimmed with Ohio cut-stone. There were two towers above the side entrances, both 130’ in height. The dimension of the structure were an impressive size, 216’ long and 104’ wide. The tower over the main entrance possessed enormous pinnacles. The roof had designs created by employing various colours of slate rock.

The nave was extensive, with two side aisles, but no centre aisle. Surrounding the interior on all four sides was a balcony, 17’ wide, supported by cast-iron columns. There was a large chancel at the north end of the nave, and an enormous organ containing 3315 pipes positioned above the pulpit and the choir stalls. The seating capacity of the church was 1800, making it one of the largest churches in Canada. William Dendy in his book, “Lost Toronto,” described the ceiling as, “. . . . a tent-like canopy of Gothic vaults, executed, complete with ribs and bosses, with plaster that was highly frescoed in stylized foliage patterns.” Construction on the cathedral was completed in 1872, and dedicatory services were held in April of that year. 

The total cost of the church was $135,000, which included $6500 for the organ, which at the time of the opening was not yet functioning. As the spring season progressed, the property surrounding the church was landscaped. A carriageway was built from Queen Street to the church’s main entrance, and it continued east and west to surround the building. This allowed carriages to enter and depart the square without turning around. In 1874, a cast-iron fence in the Gothic style was commissioned to enclose the square. Designed by Langley, Langley, and Burke, it was slightly over 5’ in height. However, due difficulty raising funds, it was not installed until the following year. Despite being enclosed by a fence, the church allowed McGill Square to be used as a public park, to be enjoyed by everyone (unfortunately, the fence was removed in 1961).

During the early-morning hours of January 30, 1928, the church caught fire and was almost completely destroyed, save for the tower and part of the narthex. The congregation decided to rebuild, and J. Gibb Morton was given the commission. The tower and the front facade of the old church were retained, and Morton created a church that resembled the one that had burnt. Its narthex, nave, side aisles, and transepts, were in the traditional style, but there was no balcony. The altar and altar table were reached by steps.

In 1926, the Metropolitan Methodist Church joined with the United Church of Canada. 

Note: Much of the information for this post was derived from William Dendy’s book, “Lost Toronto,” published by Oxford University Press in 1978.

corner-stone 1870 [1]

Advertisement for the laying of the cornerstone in 1870, Toronto Public Library. 

1872, Pub. Lib. pictures-r-5390[1]

View of the church in 1872, from Shuter and Church Streets. The north and east facades are visible. Photo from the Toronto Public Library, r- 5390.


The Metropolitan Methodist Church in 1873, the camera positioned on Queen Street, pointing to the northwest. The tower has High Victorian Gothic pinnacles at the top. Toronto Public Library, r- 5393.

                 1873, public lib. pictures-r-5392[1]

View looking southeast from Bond Street in 1873 at the north and west facades. The patterns on the roof created by varied colours of slate are visible. Toronto Public Library, r- 5392.

                              1875, public library pictures-r-5415[1]

Sketch drawn on stone by G. P. Alfred in 1875. Toronto Public Library, r-5415. 

1881, engravinbg public lib. pictures-r-5384[1]

Photograph coloured by water colour of a wood engraving by F. Schell, dated 1881. It looks north on Bond Street from Queen Street. Toronto Public Library, r- 5384.

1887, pub. lib. pictures-r-5395[1]

Interior of the church in 1887, gazing north toward the pulpit, choir loft, and organ. The balcony surrounds the interior, and it includes the choir loft. The pulpit is below the balcony. There are two side aisles, but no centre aisle. Toronto Public Library,r- 5395.

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View of the Gothic-style fence around McGill Square in the 1870s. Photo from Eric Arthur’s book, “No Mean City.” Fence was removed in 1961. 

1890, Ont. Archives I0001873[1]

The camera is pointed southwest from the northeast corner of Church and Shuter Streets, in 1890. In the distance is a streetcar on Church Street, travelling north. Ontario Archives, 10001873.

1890, public lib. pictures-r-5420[1]

View in 1890 looking north on Bond Street, the church on the east side of the street. To the north is St. Michael’s Cathedral. Toronto Public Library, r- 5420.

1899, pub. lib. pictures-r-5445[1]

View of the interior in 1899, looking north. This photo provides an exceptional view of the ceiling. William Dendy in his book, “Lost Toronto,” described the ceiling as, “. . . . a tent-like canopy of Gothic vaults, executed, complete with ribs and bosses, with plaster that was highly frescoed in stylized foliage patterns.” Toronto Public Library, r-5445.

                     1900, pub. lib. pictures-r-5404[1]

View gazing northwest from Queen East and Church Streets. By the turn of the century, the streetscape was cluttered with electric wires and hydro poles. The idyllic pastoral scenes of the 19th century had faded into memory. Toronto Public Library, r- 5404.

pictures-1910, etching, pub. lib. [1]

This etching of McGill Square, c.1910, depicts the landscaping of the square and the carriageway from Queen Street. The houses on Church Street are visible to the east (right-hand side) of the church. Toronto Public Library, Baldwin Collection, JRR 4551.

                      1920,  f1231_it0136a[1]

This artistic photo was taken in 1920, showing the south and west facades of the church. Toronto Archives, F 1231, Item 1036. 


This charming sketch was created by Harold Pearl in 1924. It is a view of the tower of Metropolitan Methodist from Victoria Street. The rear of the houses on Bond Street, which back on to Victoria Lane, are visible. The sketch was exhibited at the Art Gallery of Ontario in March of 1925. Photo from the Baldwin Collection (979-35) of the Toronto Public Library. 

Fonds 1266, Item 16613

The south facade and the tower after the fire of January of 1928. Photo taken on May 2, 1929, when the nave had already been rebuilt. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 16613.

               Fonds 1266, Item 17147

The tower encased with scaffolding on July 2, 1929 after the fire of the previous year. Only one pinnacle on the tower survived. Note: the High Victorian pinnacles of the 1870-church were never duplicated on the new church. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266. Item 1717.

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             The new Metropolitan United in the spring of 2014.

Sources: William Dendy, “Lost Toronto,” Eric Arthur’s, “No Mean City.”

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Books by the Blog’s Author

Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book, published by History Press: .

Book also available in most book stores such as Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox and AGO Book Shop. It can also be ordered by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)


Another book on theatres, published by Dundurn Press, is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It explores 81 theatres and contains over 125 archival photographs, with interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories. Note: an article on this book was published in Toronto Life Magazine, October 2016 issue.

For a link to the article published by Toronto Life Magazine:…/photos-old-cinemas-dougtaylortoronto-local-movie-theatres-of-y…

 The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for a link to order this book:

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos that allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. Note: a review of this book was published in Spacing Magazine, October 2016. For a link to this review:

For further information on ordering this book, follow the link to  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link below:–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21







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A Christmas concert in an historic Toronto cathedral

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A Christmas concert is a major part of the festive season for many people, and when it is presented one of Toronto’s historic cathedrals, the enjoyment is greatly increased. When I was a boy in the 1940s, I attended a small church that had no resemblance to a cathedral, and the Christmas concert was certainly not of the calibre that I witnessed this year (2015) at the Metropolitan United Church at Queen Street East and Church Street.

In the 1940s, in the small church of my childhood, the roles that we were to perform in the Sunday School Christmas concert were arbitrarily handed to us in mid-November, and the rehearsals commenced the first week of December. The concert was always held on a Saturday night, and it resembled a variety show. There were solos, duets, trios, pantomimes, short plays, elocutionists, and a choir composed of 35 or 40 children. There were always a few singers who were slightly off-key, someone who forgot their lines, and another who invariably tripped over the the heavy draperies that had been suspended in front of the pulpit to act as a stage curtain. However, the evening was always considered a great success by the parents and adult friends that filled the church to capacity. One or two gushing parents told us that we were almost ready for the stage at Massey Hall.

Following the concert, everyone gathered in the church basement around the enormous tree to receive our presents from Santa, who possessed a striking resemblance to the choir master. We did not think it strange, as Santa, carols and music were such integral parts of the festive season so why shouldn’t they all look alike? Along with our gifts, we were given an orange and a large shiny B. C. apple. These were considered  great treats in the 1940s, as fresh fruit was difficult to obtain. There was no imported produce during the winter months and much of the available food supply was being shipped overseas to feed the troops fighting in Europe or the Pacific.

The Christmas concert at the Metropolitan Church rekindled many fond memories from my childhood. The pageant presented during the morning service on December 13th was much different to the simple Sunday school concert of my youth. The costumes and lighting were quite professional, the narrators the quality that one might expect of the CBC, and the soloists and choir were excellent. However, some parts of the pageant were the same as the days of yesteryear—the wonderful carols, the nervous smiles of the children, and the inattentive little boy in the shepherd’s costume who removed his woollen lamb’s-head to obtain a better view of the scene.

I departed the church with the wonder and warmth of Christmas within me. As I walked home along Queen Street, I paused to observe the adults and wide-eyed children enjoying the animated Christmas windows in the Bay Store. Then, continuing westward, I paused again to watch the skaters on the rink in Nathan Phillips Square, their excited laughter and shouts filling the mild December air. The magic of the season was everywhere throughout the city.

However, perhaps the greatest expression of the message Christmas this year is the arrival of the Syrian refugees and the manner in which they have been welcomed by Torontonians and other Canadians across the country. The true message of Christmas lives on after almost two thousand years, expressed in many different ways.             

Merry Christmas 2015 

P.S. The Carol Service at Metropolitan United Church at 7 p.m. on Sunday December 20, 2015 will be a real treat.

Scenes of the Christmas pageant at Metropolitan United


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A link to the history of the Santa Claus Parade (1905-2015)

A link to five favourite sites in downtown Toronto to view Xmas lights

List of my 25 favourite memories of Christmas’ past.

To view the Home Page for this blog:

A link to view previous posts about the movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern.

A link to view posts that explore Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these the movie houses of the past. The book is a trip down memory lane for those who remember these grand old theatres and a voyage of discovery for those who never experienced them.  


   To place an order for this book: .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 more of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 130 archival photographs.

A second publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 70 of the city’s heritage sites with images of how the city once looked and how it appears today. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016.


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Remembrance Service of 2014 evokes memories of yesteryear


The year 2014 has special significance for Canadians as two of our soldiers were recently brutally murdered on home soil. Although the idea of sacrifice is ancient and deeply engrained into our cultural conscience, the deaths of the two soldiers poignantly brings it forward into our modern world, creating a renewed commitment to the concept. “They shall not have died in vain.”

On the Sunday prior to November 11th, I attended a Remembrance Service at Metropolitan United Church, located at Church and Queen Street East. It was deeply emotional, evoking memories of past services, when I was a child. I attended my first Remembrance Day Service 1946, the war having ended only the previous year. Almost every family in our neighbourhood had suffered the loss of a loved one, a friend or a neighbour. The names of the men and woman who had lost their lives in the Second World War remained open wounds that the passage of time had not yet healed.

I was in grade two at D. B. Hood  School in 1946. The school was located near Dufferin Street and Eglinton Avenue West in the Fairbank Community, then a suburb of Toronto. The school had no auditorium or gymnasium, so we assembled in the basement of the school, a space usually reserved for the children who brought their lunch to school. In that decade, we were not allowed to do this unless one of our parents signed a note to give to the teacher. For the Remembrance Day Service, we sat on long wooden benches, gazing at a podium that had been created for the occasion. The principal, a local minister and several teachers officiated at the service. It was an experience I never forgot.

In the 1940s, the educational system was vastly different to that of today. Student in grade eight were sometimes 16 years old, as no one was promoted unless that they achieved a passing grade in all academic subjects. They passively sat in classrooms and waited for their 16th birthday so their parents could sign them out of school and they were able to enter the work force. Many of these students, when they turned 18, joined the military. As well, many of the teachers on the staff of the school had enlisted.

Thus, during the first Remembrance Day service I attended in 1946, tears streamed down the cheeks of many of our teachers when the names of those who had died in the war were solemnly read from the Honour Roll. Teachers recalled former colleagues and remembered students who had recently sat in their classrooms. Two young girls sitting behind me cried softly. They had lost their father and an older brother in the conflict. No more would their brother’s voice ring in the frosty air in nearby Fairbank Park as he whooped and hollered while sledding down a snowy slope on a winter’s day. No more would his laughter be heard as he teased the girls while waiting in line to purchase a ticket to one of the local theatres—the Grant or Colony. Though not forgotten, their brother had departed their young lives, his sacrifice a present-day reality. 

There are other memories of the soldiers who served that remain with me today. In the late 1940s, I remember standing on Dufferin Street with my father and brother to watch the Warriors’ Day Parade enter the gates of the CNE. The long lines of men, six or eight abreast, seemed endless. Their medals shone in the late-summer sun. The men were young, having returned from the battlefields only a few years earlier. Some marched with a pronounced limp, some were missing an arm and others bore wounds—emotional and physical—hidden from view. However, their faces were youthful and expressed the hope that the years ahead would be peaceful and that they would never again be required to return to the killing fields of battle. Their hope was that the world would learn from the past and that the horrors of conflict would never again descend upon humanity.

Times have indeed passed since 1946. On the morning of November 9, 2014 at Metropolitan United, only one veteran remained in the congregation to represent those who perished in the Second World War. It was with grateful heart that I attended the Remembrance Service, which was tinged with sadness, loss, but also gratefulness. Amid the wreaths, the poppies and the music of remembrance was the hope that the future will be better and that the ideals that the men and woman fought for will survive and flourish in the years ahead.


Entrance of the 78th Fraser Highlanders (York) to commence the Remembrance Service at Metropolitan United on November 9, 2014.


           The chancel of Metropolitan United Church.


                Departure of the 78th Fraser Highlanders.


Following the service, two volleys were fired in honour of the two soldiers who recently perished.


The memorial window in Metropolitan United that commemorates and honours those from the congregation who gave their lives in the two great wars.


                    “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow  . . . . .”

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Posted by on November 10, 2014 in historic Toronto, Toronto history


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