Participants in the ROMwalks Sacred Stones & Steeples tour took in St. Michael’s Cathedral among other sites. Above the altar, seen near the peak of the stained glass window, of the cathedral hangs the biretta of Cardinal James McGuigan. Photo by Vanessa Santilli

ROM leads tour of Toronto’s ‘Sacred Stones & Steeples’

By 
  • October 11, 2012

(UPDATED 17/10/2012)

TORONTO - It’s not common knowledge the Catholic Church in Toronto originally owned a plot of land at the northeast corner of George and Adelaide Streets. At that time in 1806, Toronto, then called York, had a Catholic population of about 37 people. Nor do most people know the chapel built on this spot was taken over by soldiers during the War of 1812. The land was eventually sold in order to buy the property where St. Paul’s Basilica stands today.

“The only research is in the deeds to the land which was bought by a priest and it was recorded there to be left entrusted to the Roman Catholic Church,” said Paul Vaculik, a ROMwalks volunteer tour guide.

On Oct. 7, more than 60 people gathered to take part in the Sacred Stones & Steeples ROMwalks guided tour, led by volunteers of the Royal Ontario Museum. The two-hour walk covered landmark religious buildings in Toronto at the tine of the War of 1812, whose bicentennial takes place this year, as well as general historical factoids as time marched onwards.

Along with the origins of St. Michael’s Cathedral, the tour also stopped at St. James Cathedral, Metropolitan United Church, Mackenzie House, St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church and the First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Toronto.

St. Michael’s Cathedral, the oldest church on the tour, was built to accommodate the Catholic population which was growing along with the overall population of Toronto, said Vaculik. St. Paul’s, the first Catholic church in Toronto, was originally fairly small, unlike the basilica Torontonians know today.

“The population really grew because of the famine in Ireland,” he said. “The population of Toronto was 20,000 and, within five months, 38,000 Irish came over.”

Unlike the Anglicans, the Catholic Church’s main base wasn’t the affluent. It was the labourers.

“When they started building around 1847, it was like a barn-raising,” said Vaculik. “A lot of the labourers contributed their labour to building the church so they excavated the land and they started to build the church.”

The base material was ballast material from ships, he added. Bishop Michael Power received a lot of flak for choosing St. Michael’s location, Vaculik said. “It was at the northern end of Toronto and it was starting to get into the boonies, but now it’s well in the heart of Toronto.”

Vaculik also pointed out the often overlooked fact that the galero of Cardinal James McGuigan is hanging above the altar at St. Michael’s Cathedral.

“The tradition was that when the cardinal’s received their hat when they were made cardinals, when they died they would hang their hat up by the ceiling (until) it rotted and fell down.”

This practice has been discontinued, and so, the galero of McGuigan will be the last to hang in the cathedral, he said.

Amidst a backdrop of organ practice, the group was led into the Anglican St. James Cathedral, where a white bust of Bishop John Strachan greeted visitors.

A major influence in Toronto, Strachan played a role in the 1813 surrender of York, negotiating directly with the Americans despite having no official diplomatic authority. In the area of education, Strachan was responsible for establishing King’s College at the University of Toronto.

Unbeknownst to the average churchgoer, the Gothic architecture of the cathedral displays windows in groupings of three to represent the Holy Trinity, said Vaculik.

At Metropolitan United Church, another prominent name in post-secondary education in Toronto is mentioned: Methodist minister Egerton Ryerson.

“Ryerson laid down the framework for the educational system as we know it today,” said Vaculik, including the now standard notion that teachers must complete training colleges.

For more on ROMwalks tours, see www.rom.on.ca/programs.

 

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Comment

francis mccarrick besties

Charles Lewis: The papal office deserves a defence 

"I believed that criticism of the papacy was a sport for non-Catholics or perhaps disgruntled Catholics who were always at odds with Church teachings. Then a few things happened," Charles Lewis writes.

Faith

Pope's homily

pope francis homily abuse satan
Read the latest homily given by Pope Francis.

Features