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Ottawa West Deanery

Ottawa, Saint Mark

Black and white image of Saint Mark's church being built.
Diocesan Archives, 51 O20 3
By on September 1, 2021

Not Your Standard A-Frame

On a summer evening just before dusk in 1955, in a part of the City of Ottawa that had not yet quite fully adjusted to being expropriated from the Township of Nepean, an anonymous individual took this photograph of a momentous building beginning to take shape in a quickly suburbanizing area.

The time was auspicious.  A dozen years earlier the Second World War brought 40,000 temporary residents, military and civilian, to work for the government in a city of less than 180,000 inhabitants.  There were no resources for a major building program; instead temporary buildings sprang up across the city.  The rapid influx of people and overnight construction of federal temporary buildings put pressure on housing within the city and on its supply of drinking water, with people jammed into every possible space in the existing stock of city housing.

After the war was over, it was expected that the population would shrink, as the temporary population brought in by the war would leave.  Those expectations proved  wrong.  Instead, the federal government continued to expand and to hire even more employees.  The population in the next decade doubled to 400,000 as returning veterans qualified for grants to build new housing infrastructure, young couples married, and a postwar ‘baby boom’ took place.  This led to the massive annexation of adjacent areas of Nepean and Gloucester townships on which to build the massive subdivisions of new ‘Victory’ houses.

We can see some of these ‘Victory’ houses in the background, dwarfed by the main timbers of the new Saint Mark’s Church.  These houses seventy years later appear small, but they were marvels of design efficiency compared to older houses in the Diocese.  They took advantage of the water, septic and hydro services provided by the City of Ottawa.

Saint Mark’s was one of a number of large churches being planned and built in Ottawa’s suburbs from the late 1940s to the 1960s.  Even the tall hydro poles in the distance are dwarfed by the timbers of the church jutting into the suburban sky.  The bold structure must have seemed a dramatic harbinger of bold new ideas in church design to those in the young congregation volunteering to  help put it up.  So it must also have seemed to Anglicans around the diocese.

Saint Mark’s was not the only A-frame church being built in this era.  Judging from the skeleton of large beams framed against the evening sky, it may have seemed a standard A-frame design, but it proved not to be.  This photograph was taken from the back rather than the front, hence the three closest A-frames were taller than those in the nave of the church. This provided a focal point on which to place a large cross, thereby bypassing the need for a church tower.

As dramatic as the new church seemed, it marked no departure from traditional Anglican worship and ritual, with a long nave providing a processional aisle leading to the focal chancel at the front with altar, font, lectern, pulpit and choir grouped in the traditional order.   

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