Central Ottawa Deanery

Saint John the Evangelist, Ottawa

Diocesan Archives 51 O4 11

Intentions, Frustrations, Embarrassments

Here we are in downtown Ottawa in the mid to late 1870s in the upper storey of a building on Rideau Street, looking north along Sussex Street.  On the right-hand side, we see the stone Clarendon Hotel fronting on Sussex Street, while in the distance we note the familiar bulk of Notre Dame Basilica.

What captures our attention is the stone church in the foreground. This building was put up by Christ’s Church in 1860 as the parish schoolhouse and to serve as a chapel of ease for Anglicans in Lower Town who might otherwise be put off travelling some distance to attend the parish church at the western end of Sparks Street. It is difficult not to see this building as a transparent attempt by Christ’s Church to keep the city as one large Anglican parish, and to prevent any number of city churches emerging as separate parishes. What a hope.

The Chapel of Ease as it widely came to be known also was referred to as the Bishop’s Chapel when Bishop John Travers Lewis and his family came to Ottawa to reside, as Ottawa he found, for a time, to be more congenial than his see city of Kingston. Given the acute clergy shortage at the time, Lewis acted as Incumbent in this house of worship, which increasingly came to regard itself as a parish church quite separate from the Christ’s Church congregation.

From the perspective of Christ’s Church, it was frustrating to have the Bishop acting as rector of the parish’s chapel of ease, but it was even more embarrassing to read in the public prints that the architecture of the Chapel of Ease was considered by arbiters of taste as more advanced than that of the older parish church on Sparks Street.

Not advanced enough for Bishop Lewis, apparently. He had dreams of tearing down this house of worship and building a national cathedral on this site, just down the street, so to speak, from the spires of Parliament Hill. As the people attending worship here struggled into existence as the Parish of Saint John the Evangelist, there was the embarrassing scenario of Christ’s Church, Saint John the Evangelist, the new Saint Alban’s Church in Sandy Hill and Bishop Lewis all squabbling to claim a share of the value of this property.

That was all ahead in the future. In the 1860s, the Chapel of Ease was regarded as the foremost example of ecclesiastical architecture in Ottawa. As the major concentration of Ottawa inhabitants resided in the Lower Town, it is hardly surprising that ere another twenty years passed, an even more ambitious Gothic Revival wing was built extending from the south wall of this house of worship.

Surviving photographs show that interior arrangements were unusual. In contrast to what one might expect in an advanced example of Gothic Revival design, old photographs show that the altar was not located in the east end, but rather in a small transept on the north wall opposite the one we see here midway along the south wall. Unlike Roman Catholics in the pews of Notre Dame and people at Saint Alban’s and Saint Bartholomew’s who faced east during worship, Anglicans in the chapel of ease faced north, whereas members of Christ’s Church uptown faced south. We note a modest entrance into the church upstairs near the north end of the west wall, but very likely there were other entrances as well.

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Diocesan Archives 51 O4 11


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