Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Brief History of the Bathurst Street Chapel

Doris Hillyard, who serves (among other jobs) as the institutional memory of our congregation, sent me the following information about the history of our chapel, including a document by Charles McClean and several other documents without listed authors.

Our chapel on Bathurst Street is the third church building built by the Toronto congregation of Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS Church).

The congregation (or "branch" as it was originally known) was organized in 1891.   At the time, there were ten members and meetings were held in private homes and public halls.  By 1900 the membership had increased to 100 and the first small church was built on Camden Street.  Just six years later in 1906, the membership had increased to somewhat less than 300 and a second church building was constructed on Soho Street.

By the 1920s the branch had grown and a new, larger church was planned for Bathurst Street that would include a lower auditorium and an upper sanctuary.  The lower part of the building was completed by 1931 at a cost of $100,000.  The worldwide financial collapse of the Great Depression prevented any work on the upper sanctuary, but despite economic conditions, the congregation was able to pay off the mortgage over the next twelve years.

In 1962, after thirty-two years of meeting in the lower auditorium, the congregation made plans to complete the building.  Services were held for the first time in the new upstairs sanctuary on the first Sunday of March, 1963.  I talked to Gordon Hodgins who remembers attending that service. He says that President W. Wallace Smith attended and spoke at the dedication. The cost of finishing the building ($122,000) was fully paid within a year of the decision to begin the work, leaving the church clear of any debt.

In recent years, developers have approached the property owners on our block with plans to build mixed-use high rise towers.  The congregation entered into an arrangement to sell the building for a very good price, pending the developer's ability to get financing and sell a sufficient number of condominiums in the proposed high rise.  If the sale goes through, the congregation intends to build a fourth chapel within a larger mixed use high rise.  The advantage will be to have a newer building that is more accessible and more appropriate to our size and present needs.

However, with the high rise market in flux, it remains to be seen whether the move will occur.  In the meantime, we're still in our current building, which has served us so well for the past eighty years.

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