Bloor Street has many faces, and a long history. To help you learn about us, in this section you can meet some of our key personnel, and learn about our rich history.
Reverend Martha ter Kuile. Born in Quebec City, Martha grew up in Toronto and Montreal. After studying music and African history at Victoria College, she began a career in international development. She worked for CIDA and the UN, living with her husband and children in Kenya, Ecuador, Nigeria, and Guatemala, eventually returning to a farm outside Ottawa. An M.Sc. in Agricultural Economics from the University of Guelph led her to focus her work on agricultural research for developing countries. She served on the boards of the Institut internationale de recherche scientifique pour le developpement en Afrique (IIRSDA) in Adiopodoume Cote d'Ivoire, and the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima Peru.
In 1992, Martha began preparation for ordained ministry with an M. Div. at Queen's University, and served at Zion United Church, Apple Hill Ontario and Bells Corners United Church, Ottawa before coming to Bloor Street in 2007. She continued her theological studies at Saint Paul University with an M.A. in Christian Ethics, on the history of Christian ideas about poverty. Martha recently completed her PhD in Theology at Saint Paul University, Universtity of Ottawa. Her dissertation developed a Christian Realist Virtue Ethics, based on Reinhold Niebuhr and Martha Nussbaum.
Martha has three grown daughters living in Toronto, and three stepdaughters and families in Colorado. 2012 brought two new granddaughters into the family.Her husband Coenraad, a soil scientist of Dutch nationality, died in 2006.
Martha enjoys reading, music, gardening and walking. She sings in an English and a Spanish choir.
To reach Martha: 416-924-7439 ex 44 ; or by email: [email protected]
David Passmore has been Director of Music at Bloor Street since 1989. Though brought up in the United Church in London Ontario, he has held similar posts at churches of various denominations. He has also worked in musical theatre, as an improvising accompanist for Modern Dance, and taught courses in the Theory Department of the Faculty of Music at U of T for over a decade.He regularly composes and arranges for the Bloor Street Choir; in addition he has written music for organizations such as the Iseler Singers, the Bach-Elgar Choir, the Amadeus Choir, the Mississauga Choral Society, Continuum Contemporary Music and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, and has published with Jaymar and Gordon V. Thompson. He holds a Master's degree in composition from U of T, as well as a Licentiate in organ from Trinity College, London, England, and an Associate in piano from the Western Conservatory of Music in London, Canada.
To reach David: 416-924-7439 ext 30
Nancy Gordon has been a member of Bloor Street United Church since 1974. She grew up in Trinidad where she was born into a missionary family.
After studying nursing at Ryerson, she worked in oncology at Princess Margaret Hospital, and then in palliative care at the Toronto Grace Hospital.
In 2002, Nancy completed her training in Parish Nursing with InterChurch Health Ministries in association with Emmanuel College, U of T. From 2002 to 2008, she was Parish Nurse in joint ministry with Bloor Street and Bathurst United Churches. In September of 2011, she again joined the staff here and continues her joint ministry with Bathurst as the Parish Nurse.
As well as her Parish Nursing, Nancy works at the Kensington Hospice on a casual basis.
Nancy is also a member of the Bloor Street Choir and enjoys quilting and hiking in her free time.
To reach Nancy: 416 924 7439 Ext 29 (confidential voice mailbox) or email [email protected]
This video gives a quick overview of the history of Bloor Street. An earlier version was created for the 2012 Doors Open event. This is a great place to start to get a sense of why our church exists at all, and some of the changes its been through as Toronto has grown from a small town to a major city.
January 23, 1886 - Meeting of the Historic Eight. The historic group of eight, founders of Bloor Street United Church included Thomas McCraken, the Reverend Professor William MacLaren; the Rev. Dr. Gregg; Samuel Crane; R.J. Hunter; W.J. MacMaster; John Scott and George Smith. Bloor St. United Church began a recognized need to establish a Sunday School in a rapidly expanding neighbourhood of Spadina Avenue and Bloor St. At the time, this area was at the northwestern limits of Toronto. Since the horse-car did not run on Sundays, it was difficult for the families to attend Sunday services in the older churches in Toronto. The meeting of the 'historic eight' at the home of Mr. McCraken led to the recommendation to the Toronto Presbytery that a Sabbath School work be initiated near the corner of Bloor and Huron Streets.
February 5, 1886-Lot on corner Bloor and Huron purchased In anticipation of a positive response from Toronto Presbytery, the founders purchased a site with a frontage of one hundred feet on Bloor Street and one hundred and sixty feet on Huron Street for $4,500. An additional forty-eight feed on Huron Street was later acquired for $1,900.
March 2, 1886-Toronto Presbytery approves purchase of lot for Church Extension purposes at the intersection of Bloor and Huron Streets.
April 6, 1886-After consultation with the sessions of College Street, Charles Street, Centra and Erskine Churches Sabbath School services were approved.
October 24, 1886-Sabbath School and mid-week meetings started on Sussex Avenue While an appointed committee undertook to build a Sabbath School, a temporary place of worship was rented for $18 a month at 33 Sussex Avenue (now 39 Sussex Ave.)
November 1, 1886-the Rev. Dr. MacLaren, Dr. Gregg, and Messrs G.C. Robb, and D. Fotheringham were appointed to organize a regular congregation of the Church. The committee met on November 16th and again on November 23rd to organize and receive certificates of membership for sixty-seven people and admitted an additional three members by examination. The group of seventy people was organized as a congregation to be known as 'The Congregation of Bloor Street Church, Toronto.'
December 5, 1886-First church service held in connection with this movement First service conducted by the Rev. Dr. MacLaren and is his sermon was based on John 14:12, 'Verily, verily, I say unto you. He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also, because I go unto my Father.'
December 6, 1886-Cornerstone of new schoolhouse laid.
November 16, 1887-Congregation formally organised by Presbytery.
January 17, 1887-Women's Foreign Missionary Society auxiliary organised.
February 19, 1888-First elected permanent session inducted into office. First permanent session elected by the congregation included Messrs. D. Fotheringham, David Gourlay, George Crane, Robert J. Hunter, and George C. Robb. Acting moderator was Dr. MacLaren.
April 15, 1888-First services held in church building.
September 4, 1888-The Rev. W.G. Wallace inducted as minister (1888-1918) 'I well remember seeing in my congregation in Georgetown on Sunday two strange gentlemen and wondering what their errand was.'
November, 1888-Women's Association organised from the earlier ladies' committee. For many years it was charged with the distribution of copies of the Presbyterian Record in the homes of the people. It was also involved with building and furnishing funds of the Church, catering social gatherings and ministering to the needy in the district.
September 4, 1889-Laying of the corner-stone of the church.
June 8, 1890-New church dedicated.
1890-First home mission established in Wynchwood district of Toronto which eventually became the site of the St. Columba United Church.
1902-The Rev. Dr. James Menzies designated as our special missionary.
June, 1902-General Assembly met in Bloor Street Church.
1905-Men's Association formed for the purpose of social intercourse among the men of the congregation and of discussing questions of public interests from the ethical and Christian standpoint.
April, 1905-R.G. McKay appointed as first minister's assistant.
April 22, 1906-Mission work started at Rhodes (formerly Reid) Avenue The mission was opened in a tent and in due time a brick building was erected. The Rev. D. Wallace Christie, just graduated from Knox College, was inducted as its first minister on September 17, 1907.
January 14, 1907-Women's Home Missionary Society auxiliary organised.
1908-1927-Mr. Peter C. Kennedy was organist and choir master.
March 28, 1909-New Sunday School buildings formally opened.
1909-Weekly Church Calendar first issued.
May 1, 1910-W.A. Cameron inducted as assistant minister and Church Secretary.
1911-Approved by a considerable majority the Basis of Union among the Methodists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians.
June, 1912-The Rev. David Lang inducted as assistant minister.
1913-Mission work started as Davisville-Glebe Church About this same time as the Church participated in the Davisville-Glebe mission, it began its interest in, by the way of gifts and personal service, St. Christopher House, Toronto.
May 28, 1914-MacLaren Auxiliary (W.F.M.S.) and Robertson Auxiliary (W.H.M.S.) amalgamate into Wallace Auxiliary (W.M.S.)
1915-Approved revised Basis of Union By this time the Presbyterian Church Association had been formed, in opposition to the Church union movement.
September 10, 1915-The Rev. Dr. George C. Pidgeon inducted as colleague minister (1915-1948).
September 12, 1918-The Rev. Dr. W.G. Wallace resigns his charge.
October 28, 1918-Church office established with Miss Ethel K. Ross as its first secretary.
June 1,1919-First secretary of young women's work appointed, Miss Nina Millen.
1919-Department of Religious Education established with the Rev. C.M. Wright as its first director.
February 8, 1920-Junior Congregation and Kindergarten services started.
March 17, 1920-The Rev. Dr. Menzies killed in North Honan The Rev. Dr. James Menzies already at work in North Nonan since 1895 was in 1902 designated by the board of foreign missions as the special missionary of Bloor Street. A skilful surgeon he worked in a hospital at Hwai-Ching, built by the gifts of a few friends in Bloor Street Church. On March 17, 1920 he was killed while trying to defend the compound from bandits.
May 16, 1920-Tablet containing the names of men of Bloor Street Church who died in the First World War.
June, 1923-Dr. Robert McClure designated our special missionary.
1924 - Men's Association amalgamated with the Young Men's Business Club under the name of the Men's Club of Bloor Street Church.
1924-Miss Margaret Mutch became leader of Canadian Girls in Training.
December 22, 1924-January 9, 1925-Congregation votes to follow its Church into The United Church of Canada The vote, 1055 to enter the United Church of Canada and 311 opposed. As a result of this vote the Church lost 240 of its members.
1927-Owing to the decision of the civic authorities to widen Bloor Street, it became necessary to make a new entrance to the Church edifice.
August 19, 1928-Dr. and Mrs. Andrew Taylor designated for service in India.
September 17, 1929-The Rev. Crossley W. Krug inducted as assistant minister.
May 25, 1930-The Rev. William S. Taylor designated to India.
June 22, 1934-The Rev. Frank Fidler inducted an assistant minister.
1936-Mrs. J.A. Jackson retired after thirty years of service to the kindergarten congregation.
October,1936-Miss Lillie Carr appointed young women's worker.
September 12, 1939-The Rev. Eric L. Cowall inducted as assistant minister.
September 17, 1941-The Rev. Donald MacLeod inducted an assistant minister.
September 5, 1945-The Rev. G. Preston MacLeod inducted as associate minister.
September 10, 1945-A $5,000 gift set up the George C. Pidgeon scholarship at Emmanuel College on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of Dr. Pidgeon's induction.
1947-The Rev. J. Phillips Jones appointed visiting minister.
November 16, 1947-Diamond Jubilee Services.
June 30, 1948-Dr. Pidgeon retired.
November 19, 1948-The Rev. Dr. Ernest M. Howse inducted as minister (1948-1970) The location of Bloor Street United Church had been radically transformed. The phenomenal growth of the city had changed it from a well-to-do residential area to the heart of the city. The outlying suburb had become the hub of one of the largest cities in the continent. By the time the Rev. Howse started his ministry at Bloor Street, people were travelling to Sunday service from distant suburbs. The work of the Church changed to meet the changing demands of the community. During the period in which gang trouble was at its worst, the Church permitted the Christie Pits gang to use the Assembly Hall for Saturday night dances. New Canadian groups came through in waves. For a while Baltic groups came in large numbers, followed by Hungarians, Italians, Germans and many from Great Britain. In a few years the crowds became so great that the service had to be transferred to Massey Hall. 'We tried to make them all feel that The United Church of Canada was eager to help them become Canadian citizens no matter what their religion.'
September 16, 1949-The Rev. Kenneth Cleator inducted as associate minister.
1950-Miss Ethel Ross retired after 32 years a church secretary.
August 30, 1954-Church damaged by fire The Church had just finished renovations at a cost of $75,000. The Santuary was destroyed save that the walls and the structure of the gallery remained. While services and programmes were temporarily housed in neighbouring churches and Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto, the Restoration Committee set out raising funds to rebuild. By the time the new building was completed the total cost of restoration was in excess of $430,000. Fortunately the Restoration Committee was able to raise more than $160,000 to help with the cost. Rather than attempt to recreate the destroyed structure, the Committee took this opportunity to move in a bold new direction. Under the direction of Bruce Brown and Brisley, Architects, choice was made of the arcaded design as it now appears.
September, 1954-Gift of George C. Pidgeon house to church.
September 10, 1954-The Rev. Walter Sellars inducted as associate minister.
November 24, 1954-Congregational meeting adopts restoration plans.
January 8, 1956-Re-dedication of rebuilt church.
September 10, 1957-The Rev. J. Stanley Kennedy inducted as associate minister.
December 20, 1959-Dedication of The Narthex Windows There are nine Panels, three groups of three, all distinctively Canadian. Each Panel represents a minister who served God and his church in a significant way. Each minister appears in a background and in an attitude suggesting the particular piece of work, which was his greatest contribution to the United Church of Canada, and to our country. The Panels commemorate Dr. Henry Wilkes (1805-1886), pastor and evangelical preacher of the first Congregational Church in Canada, Zion Congregational Church in Montreal; Dr, Hanes MacGregor (1759-1830), Presbyterian scholar and preacher; Dr. William Case (1780-1855), Methodist circuit preacher, Superintendent of Indian Missions and schools in Upper Canada, General Superintendent of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada; Dr. William T. Gunn (1867-1930), Union Chairman of the Congregational Churches at the time of Church Union in 1925; Dr. George C. Pidgeon (1872-?), minister of Bloor Street Presbyterian Church 19915-1925 and of Bloor Street United Church 1925-1948; Dr. Samuel D. Chown (1853-1933), head of the department of Evangelism and Social Service; Dr. Egerton Ryerson (1803-1882), one of the early Methodist circuit riders dedicated to training of an educated ministry; influential in obtaining for Victoria College a royal charter and was its first principal; Rev. James Evans (1801-1846), Methodist Missionary to the Indians in the West; Dr. James Robertson (1839-1902) Superintendent of Missions to the West and North-West.
December 16th, 1962-75th Anniversary Celebrated with the dedication of two groups of stained glass windows. One set of windows included the two panels respectively above the East and West Narthex doors. The other set comprises the large Central window above the gallery, which with two flanking windows, is called collectively 'The Great South Window.'
1969-1991-The Rev. David Allan
1970-1975-The Rev. Bruce McLeod
1975-1986-The Rev. Clifford Elliott
The ministers portrayed in the three left Panels, as you face them from the inside, served in pioneer days, the three churches which later united to form the United Church of Canada. Those portrayed in the three right Panels made distinctive contributions during the further development of those churches. The three central Panels portray the men who were leaders of their respective churches at the time of church Union, June 10, 1925.
Dr. Henry Wilkes (1805-1886) was so convinced that Canada needed a thoroughly enlightened, well-trained and Godly ministry that he left a prosperous business in Montreal to train in Glasgow. He cam back with the commission of the Colonial Missionary Society and with grants to help struggling churches already established, and to start new ones in needy areas. In the Panel, Dr. Wilkes is standing with a family who belonged to the first Congregational Church in Canada, Zion Congregational Church in Montreal. He was much beloved as a pastor and was a great power as an evangelical preacher. He stressed the importance of theological education in academic life, arguing that it should not be left to the sects but should be a part of the University. The grey stone building behind the figures in Congregational College, Montreal, of which Dr. Wilkes was the first principal.
On Sunday morning, December 16th, 1962, Bloor Street United Church, then in the celebration of its Seventy-fifth Anniversary, dedicated two groups of stained glass windows. One set of windows included the two panels (or "Lights" as they are called by the technicians) respectively above the East and West Narthex doors.
The other set comprised the large central window above the gallery, which, with two flanking windows, is called collectively "The Great South Window." (Since this window is at the end of the Church opposite the Chancel it is ecclesiastically the Great West Window.) .
So many questions have been asked about the symbolism of these windows that this page is written to provide an outline of information. .
The Great South Window
A central window and two flanking windows comprise a series of nine vertical panels, surmounted by a large circular panel. Gothic in outline, all these unite in a grand design to depict the distinctive feature of Christianity in the 20th Century, the Ecumenical Move¬ment. .
The circular window at the top, with the single, dominating figure of Christ commands the whole. The five panels directly beneath contain representations of more than thirty nationalities and groups ranging from Eskimo to Maori. They include figures from all shades of the human race, white, black, red, yellow and brown; and representations of the diversified ecclesiastical traditions, in¬cluding Coptic and Orthodox, which are gathered together in the World Council of Churches. To assure authenticity in representa¬tion the artists were provided with coloured photographs of the World Council Assemblies at Amsterdam and Evanston. In sweep¬ing circles, extending through the five panels, the multi-coloured and strikingly garbed group stand together beneath the out¬stretched arms of Christ. .
As a sub-theme, the lower parts of the five panels represent the Missionary service which the United Church carries on in countries outside Canada—Trinidad, Africa, India and the Orient. East and West of the five-panelled window in the centre, two two-panel windows supplement the story of the 20th Century Ecu¬menical Movement with a background of historical figures of the Church. .
The East flanking window depicts, in its left panel, Augustine and John Wycliffe; and, in its right panel, John Knox and John Calvin. .
Augustine, the first Missionary to England, (He became the first Archbishop of Canterbury) is pictured preaching to King Ethelbert, who shortly afterwards was baptised, to become the first Christian King of England. John Wycliffe, "the morning star of the Reforma¬tion," is pictured with his Bible—the first translation into the English language. He is talking with his "poor priests," the Lol¬lards, whom he sent out to take the Bible to his countrymen. John Knox is pictured as preaching to Edward the boy King of England; and John Calvin is discussing the "Institutes" with a group of his scholars. .
The West window depicts, in its left panel, St. Francis of Assisi and John Wesley; and, in its right panel, John Bunyan and William Wilberforce. .
St. Francis gives the final touch of ecumenicity to the window. He represents the Roman Catholic tradition. He is pictured, as he has been most lovingly remembered by children throughout the centuries, attended by the beasts and birds. John Wesley is depicted, not in his ecclesiastical robes, but as the "plain man on horseback," as he was remembered by multitudes of his country¬men to whom he preached in the open air. .
The right panel with John Bunyan at the top represents the inde¬pendent tradition inherited in the United Church. Bunyan is shown in prison, beginning his story of "The Pilgrim's Progress," which was for generations, next to the Bible, the most influential religious book in the Christian tradition. William Wilberforce is shown speaking to the House of Commons. He is pleading the cause of the slave, and stirring the Christian conscience to a new dimension of humanitarian concern. .
In the Arches above the panels, Rosettes include the insignia of the three Assemblies of the World Council of Churches. The central window has the designs from the Obverse (the face) and the Reverse of the medal given to the participants in the Assembly at Amsterdam (1949). The West window has the design from the Obverse of the medal, given at Evanston (1954). The East window has the design from the engraved castor presented by the Indian Government to the participants at New Delhi (1961). .
The theme of the Great South Window in its entirety supplements the theme of the series of nine windows in the South wall of the Narthex below. The Narthex series depicts the Church Union Movement in Canada. The Great South Window depicts the Ecumenical Movement in the world. .
The Creation of a Window
The Great South Window and the Lights over the doors of the Narthex entrance, like the nine Lights in the Narthex itself were made by the Celtic Studios in Swansea, Wales (the earlier windows depicting the Evangelists, were made by Robert McCausland Limited of Toronto). .
Preliminary suggestions for the design were submitted to the Studios more than five years before the installation. After the commission was accepted, the Studios required eleven months to make the window. .
First, two skilled draftsmen spent two months preparing full-sized cartoons. From these cartoons other craftsmen made complete line-tracings, from which still other craftsmen shaped the more than six thousand pieces of stained glass required for the project. All the glass was selected from English, hand-made, antique pot-metal glass. .
In the next stage, the pieces of glass were painted in an oxide, and fired in an electric kiln. Following that, each individual piece was then mounted on plate glass and fixed on special easels for painting against the daylight. Following that, certain stains such as lemon, yellow and gold had to be applied individually to certain areas of the work. One colour—the cerise in the robe for the figure repre¬senting the priest from the Malabar Church in India—was especially made for this window. When the colour work was completed, the whole glass was again fired to a glazed finish. .
The next stage was assembly. Each piece of glass was bordered with lead, and the individual pieces joined together in sections. This task required a quarter of a ton of pure lead, and about 22,000 soldered joints. Then all the sections were packed in sturdy boxes and shipped across the Atlantic. .
Undoubtedly, in time, the theme of The Great South Window will be repeated in other churches, and in other places throughout the world. But, to the best of our present knowledge, the installation of the Bloor Street Window is the first time that the Ecumenical Movement, "The great new fact of our time," has been represented on such magnificent scale in the medium of stained glass. The Window, therefore, is a unique contribution to Bloor Street Church, of which its members, and of which indeed the United Church of Canada, may be justly proud. .
The Entrance Lights
Each of the new windows above the doors at the East and West Narthex entrances has its own theme. The Light above the West Narthex door pictures the Coming of Christ. The central figures are the Madonna and Child. The secondary symbols are the rose and the fleur-de-lis. The rose is the symbol of the promised Messiah. It refers to the passage in Isaiah (Is. 35:1) which promises that with the Messiah, "the desert shall rejoice and blos¬som as the rose." The fleur-de-lis is the conventional form of the Annunciation Lily. Thus the theme in the central panel, the Coming of Christ, is repeated in the sub-panels. .
As the Light above the West door hails the coming of Christ, the Light above the East door salutes Him as "Christ the Victor." The central figure is the Lamb which from the earliest days of Christian¬ity has been one of the most familiar symbols for Christ. The Lamb is crowned with the three-rayed nimbus, the symbol of Divinity. The Lamb is standing on the Book with the Seven seals (Rev. 5:1). The symbolic word is that the final judgement upon the Earth comes from Christ. The Lamb carries a staff and pennant, the symbol of Victory. The flanking circles bear supplementary symbols. One contains the letters Alpha and Omega, respectively the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Again this is a symbol from the Book of Revelation (Rev. 21:6) with the phrase describing Christ, "I am the first and the last." The interwoven symbol is the Cross with the Crown to signify victory. The other circle contains the letters IC-XC, the symbolic representation of the Greek words for Jesus Christ. Beneath that are the four letters NIKA, the Greek word for Victor. In this panel also the central theme, Christ the Victor, is repeated, like the notes of a musical symphony, in auxiliary sub-themes. .
The Four Evangelists:
To complete the story, a brief word may be said about the stained glass windows previously installed. In the reconstruction after the fire, which in 1954 destroyed all but the stone exterior of the old Sanctuary, two large stained glass windows were installed, one on either side of the Chancel. In the traditional symbolism of Christian art they depict the four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Above the human figures are the symbols by which each has been immemorially represented. .
Matthew is designated by the winged man, as his Gospel deals with the human genealogy of Jesus; Mark by the winged lion, because of his allusion to "The voice of One crying in the wilderness" (Mark 1:3), which symbolically sounded as the voice of the lion. These two panels comprise the Window on the East of the Chancel. .
The balancing West window contains the figures of Luke and John. Luke is surmounted by the winged calf, because his Gospel speaks of sacrifice; John by the eagle because the eagle is believed to soar higher than any other bird, and John was thought to have presented the Divine nature of Christ in the most exalted terms. .
Some time later a series of nine small windows was installed in the Narthex. They commemorate leaders of the Churches which together comprise the United Church of Canada. Their story is told here: "The Narthex Windows." .
The story begins on page 304 of the big leather bound book of minutes of the Toronto Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. In careful but wavery handwriting, with a scratchy black pen, between approval of calls to ministers at $1,000 a year and disapproval of permitting church membership to those who work on Sunday, the secretary records on March 2, 1886, a successful petition to establish a Sabbath School which became Bloor Street Church.
The school was needed, the petitioners argued, because the Bloor and Spadina neighbourhood, then the northwest fringe of the city, was growing fast; elegant homes were going upon its cow pastures and market gardens. But because the horse-cars did not run on Sunday, the new residents and their children were cut off from their former Presbyterian churches.
The Sabbath school, which opened Oct. 24, 1886, in a house still standing at 33 Sussex Avenue, expanded evening worship. Meanwhile work began on a permanent building at Bloor and Huron, and the petitioners were back “craving Presbytery to organize them as a congregation”.
The congregation gets its first church
That was done on November 16, 1887. The church was ready six months later, delayed by strikes and the "failure of the contractor to carry out his contract". By then it was already too small. The Board of Managers reported in distress that all available seats were taken and still the demand continued. Fixed seats were assigned in those days, although there were no pew rents. Bloor Street was unusual in that from the start it raised its money through envelope givings, white for local, blue for mission, pink for the building fund. .
Consequently the congregation of 204, only 15 months after it was organized, committed itself to build a $65,000 church to seat 1170 people. By its opening in June 1890, all the seats on the ground floor had been allotted, and many in the gallery. This building, with additions to the west and interior changes especially after the 1954 fire, is basically the church of today.
Most of its founding congregation lived south of Bloor. One elder's district, out of five, covered everything north of Bloor. Some of the fine homes of the first leaders still stand, notably 80 Bedford road and 49 Madison Avenue. The first minister, the Rev. W.G. Wallace, lived on Madison, behind the present parking lost, in what is now the Ecumenical Forum. He was inducted in 1888 and served until 1913, beginning a tradition of long pastorates. The Rev. Ernest Marshall Howse served from 1948 to 1970. The Rev. David Allan, who came in 1969, overlapped the Rev. Bruce McLeod from 1970 to 1975 and the Reverend Clifford Elliott from 1975 to 1986.
A very full Sunday
Sunday was a serious commitment in early decades. One attended morning service of course, perhaps preceded by a Bible class. In the afternoon there was Sabbath School, then home for tea, and back for evening service and for the "young people", a fellowship hour. The services were solemn and formal; ushers wore morning coats and striped trousers. Members sat in their numbered pews, and for a while numbers were listed beside names in the annual reports. Children attended Junior Congregations and did not appear in church or take communion until they were full members. Communion was conducted with military precision. Members and communion tokens, delivered by their elder before each occasion, which they surrendered, to be counted next day and their attendance recorded.
There was fun, too. By the third decade reports note a tennis club, a men's Bible class of 60 regrettably "compelled to meet in a room unsuited to their natural oxygenic requirements", addresses on such subjects as the status of women in China and he novels of Jane Austen (sometimes with the treat of the first audio-visuals: stereopticon slides), money raised ($42) to send a fur coat to a missionary in northern Ontario and time spent teaching Jewish immigrants to read and write, and a young people's society whose skating and sleighing parties attracted crowds but who interesting missionary lectures "were not a well attended as we would wish".
Women slowly get recognized
Like all Presbyterian churches of its day, official Bloor Street was all male. Though occasional thanks are recorded to "the ladies for their assistance” with what was apparently men's work, for decades no women's names appear in the lists of lay leaders or minutes of the congregational meeting or the reports of Session and the Board of managers. Not until 1922 did women present the reports of their own organizations at the annual meeting. Not until the 50th annual meeting did a woman's name appear as the mover of a business matter. While women gradually crept into the music committee, Religious Education Council and Board of Mission, it was not until 1950 that the Kirk Club dared to point out that unmarried women were contributing to the church without representation on its governing bodies (married women were assumed to be adequately represented by their husbands), and until 1969 that the first women were elected elders.
In their own organizations, however, women had almost a parallel church. The Women's Foreign Missionary Society auxiliary was organized only two months after the congregation itself, with 48 members. Soon after came the Woman's Association, and later a home mission auxiliary, as well as other groups of which the longest lived were the Kirk Club and Business Women's Club. The WA in its first years called on all families monthly, entertained students, collected for a furnishing fund and (in 1891) considered "how to aid the unemployed". The WMS collected clothing and cash for mission, studied the then-unknown world around us, started missionary groups for boys and girls one of which lasted 50 years, and stretched their pennies to send the Missionary Record into every home.
Many threads, one church
A number of threads are woven through the fabric of the first 100+ years. Some like a welcome for students appear in the first years and continue intermittently, breaking out for instance in the crowded Campus Club of the 1950s. Others like sponsorship of refugee families begin only after World War II. Constant through it all is missionary outreach.
From the first, the Board of Managers complained about "ample room for improvement" in weekly givings, urged more to use envelopes, adduced averages to demonstrate that bills could not possibly be met; and yet the books always balanced, mortgages were paid off, and there was money for others - in some years more for others than we spent on ourselves. In the Presbyterian Church's Century Fund campaign in 1900, Bloor Street, then only 12, stood second in Canada in its contribution.
The same year it opened its expensive new building, the congregation took on an outreach mission at Wychwood, which became St. Columba United Church at Vaughan Road and St. Clair Avenue. Later it underwrote and nurtured two other new congregations in Toronto. The Sabbath School already was supporting a French-speaking boy at the Pointe aux Trembles mission school "to break the yoke of Romanism in our Dominion". The congregation supported two missions in western Canada, and in 1902 became one of the first to have its own overseas missionary. He was a minister and doctor, James Menzies, whose wife Davina Robb, was a chartered member who had been sent to China in 1896. Not only did it send $1,200 a year for his support in China but added enough in individual funds to build a small hospital. After Menzies was killed in 1920, Dr. Robert McClure was sent to China in his place, with his support guaranteed by the Sunday school.
Ministry through music
Another thread is the ministry of music. The first annual meeting appointed both an organist and a choir leader, at $125 and $40 a year respectively. By 1912 the Session could claim that "our excellent quartet and choir has . . . maintained the high standards of excellence for which our church has become noted". That high standard was continued when Frederick Silvester was organist from 1937 to 1966, when Lois Marshall was soprano soloist, and there was acclaimed evening organ recitals and special choir offerings such as the St. Matthew Passion.
Professors and Moderators
Still another thread is the intellectual. A number of Bloor Street's founders were professors at Knox College, the Presbyterian theological seminary, and partly because of its location, it has consistently attracted both professors and students. Dr. Pidgeon came to Bloor Street from theological teaching, and three of his successors have taught theological courses.
Most were influential in the United Church, the world church and in the community. Dr. Howse and Dr. McLeod were moderators of the United Church; Dr. Pidgeon was the first moderator of the United Church, and the last of the Presbyterian Church before Union in 1925. (Bloor Street voted 1055 to 311 to enter Union, and lost 400 members because of it). Sunday services were broadcast from 1924 intermittently until the 1960s. Three ministers wrote regularly for magazines and newspapers.
On our 50th anniversary the Session reported as it might report on the 100th: Growth and change bring new conditions and varied problems. But it went on to hope that "the strength, unity and harmony of a great congregation established by the fathers may be maintained by the children, and to this end new conditions and problems will be faced with courage, efficiency and prayerful consideration”.