The Early Anglican Churches in Guelph
Publication Date: 1963
Certain areas of land were given to various denominations for the building of churches by those who were in charge of the laying out the town of Guelph. One of these areas, and one of the most central, was that of St. George’s Square, which was one day to house the church attended by those Anglicans of the town. There were not enough funds to construct the church at once, so services were held in the old schoolhouse, the earliest stone public building built by the Canada Company’s Commissioner, John Galt. The first minister was the Reverend Mr. Miller, visiting from Ancaster. He preached on July 12 and 13, 1831. However, Major Strickland notes in his book Twenty Seven Years in Canada West:
"Although I had been several months a resident in Guelph, I had neither seen nor heard a clergyman of the Established Church…. The first person I heard preach in Guelph was a tailor, who had made a professional visit to the city….. A large congregation assembled to hear Mr. H-------, who, to do him justice, was eloquent enough, though his sermon was all in his own praise from beginning to end." (Vol. I, page 219-220. Strickland was here 1828 and 1829.)
In September 1832, The Reverend Arthur Palmer (July 4, 1807 – May 4, 1881) then 25 years of age, arrived in Guelph. He was for many years the only Anglican clergyman in the County of Wellington. He continued to hold services in the school until a church built of wood with a single spire and seven Gothic windows on each side was erected in the Square in the spring of 1833. The builder of the church was John Thorp, a young Irishman, and friend of John Galt, brought to Guelph from New York by Mr. James Buchanan, the British Consul there. The Rectory was a log house on the river side of Woolwich Street, built on the Glebe Lands.
Mr. Palmer, finding the rectory to be too far from the church, rented from John Coombe Wilson, a large brick house located approximately where the C.N.R. express office now stands, east of the station. Here Mr. Palmer ran a school for preparing youths for university. Such boys as Thomas Saunders, H.W. Peterson, Gorge Thomas, John Sandilands, Col. Hodgert’s sons and likely Mr. Palmer’s sons attended.
The cornerstone of the second St. George’s Church was laid on July 17, 1851, by the Rev. Mr. Palmer. It stood on the site of the earlier frame church but the new one was built of stone and was in the Romanesque style. The architect for this church was William Thomas, the contractors were John Worthington, John Harrison, and James Thompson. The estimated cost was £2500. It stood seven or eight feet higher than the level of the present square. A little cottage where Mr. and Mrs. William Neeve lived, stood at the rear of the church. The former, the sexton of the church, also conducted a school there.
In 1846, the Rev. Archdeacon Palmer acquired from Henry Tiffany, the tract of land lying between Palmer, Grange and Metcalfe Street and the river. In 1855 and 1856, he had built a large stone residence which he called 'Tyrcathlen.' This beautiful home was designed by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament in London, England. The building has since had additions and is called 'Ker Cavan.' It is, at present, a nursing home.
With the growth of the town, and the increase in numbers of the congregation, the church on St. George’s Square was found to be too small. On Friday, November 25, 1859, it was reported that Dr. Clarke and Mr. J.B. Brown of Guelph proposed to purchase the site of St. George’s church at a cost of £2150, in order to remove the church and throw the street open. If the town did not buy the land in three years, it was to become these two gentlemen’s property. In 1860, the Mayor, Messrs. D.A. Allan, C.J. Buckland, and Dr. Parker were appointed a committee to approach Mr. Palmer to find out what the property was worth. At first Mr. Palmer demurred, but in 1862 we find that Mr. Palmer and the wardens, George Elliott and William Theodoric Vale signed the purchase agreement for the site on Woolwich Street sold by the Canada Company to the late Dr. Alling. The property in 1862 was owned by John Coombe Wilson and his wife. On a part of this site the Canada Company had originally built a house for Dr. Dunlop.
On May 23, 1871, the corner stone of the third St. George’s church (the present structure) was laid. The architects of this fine gothic edifice were Messrs. Gundry and Langley of Toronto. The contractor was Mr. Stephen Boult. The estimated cost was $26,000. The old church was dismantled, and the stone was purchased by Mr. James Massie, who used it to build “Gilnockie” at the corner of Lemon and Queen Streets. Much of the woodwork of the interior was built into the late Mr. J. B. Powell’s home at the end of Perth Street. The new St. George’s Church was opened for service on April 20, 1873, with appropriate services. The church was consecrated June 24, 1879.
Late in the fall of 1874, Archdeacon Palmer requested a leave of absence because of ill health. He left Guelph in 1875 and resided for a while in Bristol England. He died May 4, 1881, in Dublin, Ireland.
The Rectory was constructed during the tenure of Rev. Alexander Dixon who was appointed rector of Guelph in 1875. In 1883 he was appointed Archdeacon. He retired in 1901 from active duty and moved to Toronto where he died February 26, 1907. He is buried in St. James’ cemetery in Toronto.
The architect of the Rectory was a nephew of Mr. Dixon’s – A.J.E. Westnocott, who later became his curate. The building was constructed in 1879 and opened June 25th.
In 1890, the parish was divided, and St. James’ parish was formed with a mission on Waterloo Avenue. On July 6, 1891, the corner stone of St. James’ church was laid by the Bishop of Niagara. On April 17, 1892, the church was opened for service.
In 1911, a Mission Hall was built in St. Patrick’s Ward. This later became St. Patrick’s church.
The President of the Guelph Historical Society is indebted to E.M. Lenore Cutten, Mary Groesser, Sybil Tanner, Hilda Ross, A.E. Smith, for much of the information for the above article which was taken from their booklet History of St. George’s Parish, Guelph, Ontario, 1832-1932. He also garnered further information from the Guelph Mercury files for 1907, 1881, and the Galt Reporter for 1859, as well as from Strickland’s Twenty-Seven Years in Canada West, published 1853.