When it comes to architecture in Toronto, ultra-modern skyscrapers and office buildings may spring to mind — but there’s more to Toronto’s architectural story than just steel and glass. During the settlement of the city, originally known as York, churches were some of the first buildings to be erected. While fires have destroyed some, Toronto still boasts architecturally stunning churches and cathedrals, 10 of which are listed here.
Located in the heart of the Annex neighbourhood, the Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church became one after the two congregations, St. Paul’s Avenue Road United Church and Trinity United Church, joined together in 1887-89 to serve the community. The building was erected in 1889 and has since undergone several renovations, which have improved accessibility and acoustic sound. Built in the Romanesque Revival style with stones quarried from Port Credit, Trinity-St. Paul’s was designed by Toronto architect Edmund Burke. Today, the church is designated as a Heritage Building by the Toronto Historical Board and supports different social justice activities, educational forums, performance, and art.
The development of St. Michael’s Cathedral was thanks to Father Michael Power, who saw the need for a new building to serve a rapidly growing Catholic congregation. Toronto architect William Thomas designed St. Michael’s and John Harper led the project, which began in 1845. Bishop Power dedicated this English Gothic Revival style cathedral to St. Michael, but passed away before construction was finished. The completion of the tower and spire were added during later renovations in 1865-67, and the dormers were added in 1890. Fragments of a stone pillar and pieces of the original oak roof from the old Norman York Minster Cathedral in England are sealed in St. Michael’s cornerstone. St. Michael’s is one of the most iconic buildings of downtown Toronto, both for what it represents to its congregation and for its historical significance to the city of Toronto.
Situated in the historic St. Lawrence neighborhood, the original St. James’ Cathedral was built in 1833 in Neoclassical stone and became a cathedral in December of 1839. However, the building was destroyed by a fire 10 years later. In 1910, Parish House opened its doors again, and different renovations have taken place over the years — today, it is a designated Ontario Heritage Property by the Ministry of Culture and a Heritage Site by Heritage Toronto. For its exterior, white brick and Ohio sandstone were used, allowing as much light as possible towards the interior, which creates a unique atmosphere inside the building. From the inside, a perfect mix between light and shadow is reflected in the high ceilings, pinnacles, pointed arches and the stained glass windows in this magnificent Gothic Revival architecture piece.
Metropolitan United Church in 1896 | Public Domain / WikiCommons
The Metropolitan United Church is called ‘the downtown church for a diverse city,’ a progressive church that happens to be the largest in downtown Toronto. The original building was designed by Henry Langley in 1872 in the High-Victorian style, with 23 bell carillon. A fire in January of 1928 destroyed most of the church, and today, the tower is the only thing that remains. The reconstruction took place shortly after the fire in 1929 by architect John Gibb Morton, who re-designed the church in an English cathedral style with a deep Chancel, clerestory, and side columns.
Situated on Trinity Square, the Anglican church of the Holy Trinity was built in 1847 by Henry Bowyer Lane in a neo-gothic style. Its floor plan was designed in the shape of a Latin cross, an oft-repeated motif in church design. Holy Trinity includes some unique curiosities like the twin octagonal towers, which were once used as a navigational beacon. Present-day skyscrapers now eclipse the towers’ peaks, which were once visible from Lake Ontario. One of the most striking aspects of Holy Trinity — apart from the stunning stained glass windows, some of which date back to 1858 -—is the juxtaposition of the church next to the ultra-modern skyscrapers and the nearby Eaton’s Centre shopping centre. Holy Trinity boasts a busy events roster, giving you unique opportunities to experience the church — whether it’s their Panter’s Pub or Music Mondays, there’s something for everyone.
Situated in The Beaches, Corpus Christi Catholic Church is a Gothic Revival building that went up in 1927. Its gorgeous arches are beautifully painted in pastel blue, cream and white. There’s no shortage of artistic mastery at Corpus Christi — the stained glass master Guido Nincheri designed the windows and acclaimed painter William Kurelek painted a mural within the church. The building was designated as a heritage building by the City of Toronto in 1973.
St. Peter’s Church was built in 1906-1907 by prodigious architect Arthur W. Holmes, who designed several other prominent churches. This Roman Catholic Parish church is situated on Bathurst Street, in popular neighbourhood The Annex. From the outside, the building appears to be a beautiful ancient castle in the middle of the city. The bell tower was restored in 2011 after the parish successfully raised an impressive sum of $400,000.
St. Patrick’s Church began as a mission from St. Michael’s, but it was given its own parish boundaries in 1861. The church was built in 1867 and was also designed by architect Arthur W. Holmes in the Romanesque Revival style. It is located in Toronto’s Chinatown and is known as the city’s fifth oldest Roman Catholic parish. St. Patrick’s is the home of the Canadian National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and holds services for the German-speaking community as well.
Also situated in The Annex, the Church of the Messiah is an Anglican church founded in 1891 by a group of pioneers from another church nearby. The building was designed by Gordon & Helliwell, but like many others, it had to be entirely restored due to a catastrophic fire in 1976. The restoration includes a daycare and a modern, comfortable space for its community.
Situated in Toronto’s vibrant Greek Town, Holy Name Parish was built between 1912 and 1926. The building, again designed by Arthur W. Holmes, resembles the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. The interior includes a series of seven bas-relief pictures, showing various moments in the last day of Jesus’s life, and the stained-glass windows show different religious passages of the bible.
Originally from Barcelona, Sandra has a background in linguistics, having founded ‘Original Translations’ , and is an active member of the Subtitlers’ Association. She is currently finishing her MA in Translation Studies at the University of Birmingham.