FROM TENTS, TO GROCERY STORES TO ARCHITECTURAL GEMS: OVER A CENTURY OF CHANGE
By Bill Menzel
Several places of worship in the Beach are able to proudly claim membership in the Century Club - at least 100 years with formal roots in the community. One started in the home of a local grocer (Waverly Road Baptist) another in a tent (St. Aidan's), and the Beach Hebrew Institute began in a Baptist hall. Over the years, changes have continued to direct each of their destinies because of shifting populations and neighbourhood needs. This spring, two of our oldest churches, Key Beach United and Bellefair United, voted to officially amalgamate - another landmark in the history of the worshipping communities and these historic buildings.
Beach Baptist Church (129 Waverley Road) began in 1889 when Mr. Whitelock began teaching 17 children the Bible. His home was located above his grocery store, presently Whitlock's Restaurant, at Queen and Kenilworth Avenue. After two years, having outgrown the home, the assembly started to worship in the local fire hall. In 1892 the group of worshippers was formally recognized as a Baptist church.
Three years later the fledgling congregation purchased property across from Mr. Whitelock's store and built its first church building. At that time it was known as Kenilworth Ave. Baptist Church. In 1908 the growing congregation bought its current property on Waverley Road, north of Queen, and changed its name. The congregation began construction on its current building in 1910 by local architect, Charles F. Wagner. An addition to the rear of the church building to accommodate its burgeoning Sunday school was constructed in 1953. In 1911, the church began the Beaches Hockey League, now the Toronto Hockey League, on a rink it constructed in its back yard.
THE "TENT CHURCH"
This year, St. Aidan's Anglican Church celebrates its 100th Anniversary. St. Aidan's (70 Silver Birch Avenue) began its development as The Tent Church, an actual tent located on the south side of Queen at the end of Spruce Hill Road, in 1891. In 1902 the church moved to north of Queen on the east side of Spruce Hill. With the move, its new facility was constructed with a wooden roof and oil lamps, but with canvas sides. As more people settled in the area, the structure was winterized. Known as The Pavilion Church, it was located on property owned by the Rev. H.C. Dixon, in whose memory Dixon Hall (located on Queen, west of the Don), as an agency serving the poor of Toronto, was established. In 1907, the congregation was formalized as a Mission of St. John's Norway (Queen and Woodbine). A year later, the archbishop established the Mission of St. Aidan as an independent and distinct parish. After the cornerstone was laid 1909, the congregation moved to its present location a year later. Memorial Hall, in honour of those who served in World War I was dedicated in 1923. The Chapel was completed in 1966.
St. Aidan's has an impressive collection of art by Doris McCarthy, a key figure in Canada's art scene since the 1920s, McCarthy has distinguished herself as an important artist and an inspirational teacher. She has produced an unparalleled body of work, was the first woman President of the Ontario Society of Artists, has taught some of Canada's most distinguished creative people, and continues to be a mentor for many practicing artists. For her continuing contribution to Canada's artistic community, Doris McCarthy received The Order of Canada, among other honours. Wall hanging designed & executed by Canadian artist Doris McCathy
A TRADITIONAL SCHUL IN THE BEACHES
The Beach Hebrew Institute (109 Kenilworth Avenue) was founded in 1920. A group of local businessmen purchased the old Baptist church, on Queen St., by then known as Kenilworth Hall, and moved it 50 yards south, turned it 90 degree with front entrance facing west. For the original congregation of some forty families, having their own community centre and place of worship must have felt like a haven in an area primarily inhabited by Protestant Christians.
The Institute was established as a traditional schul, which is an independent place of Hebrew worship without a rabbi (trained teacher). Several years after the Hall was moved, its street façade was dramatically altered with arched windows, entrance and parapet, giving its resemblance to traditional small European community "Shtibel" architectural style facilities (architect, W. G. Hunt). In the 1970's a growing Jewish community in the Beach area revived the use of the building and carried out significant restorations. Two years ago it celebrated its 85th Anniversary.
UNITED ONCE AGAIN
A brief history of the older places of worship in the Beach area would not be complete without questioning why two United churches were located within five blocks of each other? The answer lies in a piece of particularly Canadian history. In the early 1900's, there was a congregation of Methodists worshipping on Bellefair Avenue at Queen. Their first building, begun in 1906, was just north of the present location. The present building was started in 1914 but World War I interrupted its completion. The congregation worshipped in the basement until the sanctuary was completed in 1923. Further east on Wineva Avenue was a Presbyterian congregation, Kew Beach Presbyterian (140 Wineva Avenue).
In 1925, Methodists, Congregationalists, Union and many Presbyterian congregations joined together forming The United Church of Canada. Two United churches within the Beach community were "instantly" created. Those at Kew Beach Presbyterian who chose to remain Presbyterian developed their own church building on Glen Manor south of Queen, known as Beaches Presbyterian Church (65 Glen Manor Road). In 2007, the congregations of Bellefair and Kew Beach United churches voted to amalgamate as Beach United Church, with the location for the new congregation to be determined.
Buildings of worship, - churches, synagogues, etc. - continue to anchor the Beaches neighbourhood in its history. And although many members may no longer come primarily from the neig hbou rhood, these congregations continue to "give back", with community and outreach activities and space for events offered back to the community. Whether it is a local yoga group, young mothers' club, a seniors' program, study group or a musical concert, they still create a point of contact and inspiration.
Bill Menzel, BB&R Architect Inc. www.BBRarchitect.com
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