22.7.12

How Toronto Found Itself with Two Holy Trinity Anglican Churches

Sunday, 23 September 1894 - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Today I visited Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Toronto...both of them. Both built for the same reason only years apart. Perhaps I should start from the beginning.

Toronto, then called York, had a Anglican Church called St. James. Anglican is basically the Church of England outside of Great Britain. The church was rebuilt several times to accommodate the growing number of English settlers.

Even before the Irish Famine that started in 1845 with the potato blight, Irish immigrants were pouring into Toronto just to escape the horrid poverty. By 1851, at the peak of the Famine, the Irish made up the largest ethnic group in Toronto. Most settled in a neighborhood called Corktown. It was in this neighborhood that the first Catholic church in Toronto, St. Paul’s, was built in 1841.

However the majority of Irish in Toronto weren’t Catholic, but Protestants--Orange Men with the Church of England. They had St. James--or did they? At the time St. James rented their pews. It was a common practice of the time to collect money to run the church. What it meant was the rich sat up front, the middle class sat behind them and the poor--well, they either sat in the very back or stood. The Irish Protestants were the poorest of the congregation.

Original Holy Trinity in Corktown
The Irish had enough. They decided to build their own Anglican Church in Corktown. Providing much of the labor themselves and using the bricks they made in the brickyards, they built Holy Trinity Church in 1844. The pews were open to all--free and unreserved. Tithing would have to be by contributions from the struggling working class congregation.

Meanwhile a certain Mary Lambert Swale of Settle, England must have heard of the plight of Toronto’s working class. Knowing she was dieing , she made a will, leaving 5,000 pounds sterling to the Toronto Diocese to build a church. The stipulations were that it had to be Gothic design, the pews were to always be free, that the pulpit not be placed as to obstruct the view of patrons, and that the church be named Holy Trinity.

Mary Lambert Swale's Holy Trinity Church
Although Miss Swale gave the donation anonymously, her named leaked out. She was only twenty-five when she died. Her church was opened in 1847. The original Holy Trinity Church changed it’s name Trinity East, although even now it is better known as Little Trinity Church, no doubt touched by Miss Swale’s dieing wish.

Little Trinity’s congregation has grown and the church was expanded in 1889 to add 600 more seats! They has been sending missionaries around the world.

Holy Trinity in the future
As for the other Holy Trinity Church, eventually in the next century it will find itself in the middle of the urban core, the residential neighborhoods replace by skyscrapers. Rather than closing down, Holy Trinity will turn it’s attention to the urban homeless, helping where it can. Indeed a plaque by the door will list the names of the ignored homeless who died on the streets. It will champion the cause of social outcasts whether homosexual or the latest wave of immigrants, like the Hispanic. It will be in the spirit of the church’s founder, Mary Lambert Swale, who wanted an church that catered to the forgotten and powerless.

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