Lanark Deanery

Saint James, Perth

Diocesan Archives 51 P4 11
By on February 1, 2023
Diocesan Archives 51 P4 11

An architect up and dies

Anglican worship at Perth formally dates back to 1819 when the Rev. Michael Harris, a War of 1812 veteran, arrived to minister to a huge swath of territory extending from the Rideau Lakes to Bytown. The first Saint James’s Church was built on a site called Mount Meyer at the corner of Drummond and Harvey streets beside the substantial brick courthouse.  Harris reported to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel that the frame church’s exterior was calcined. He was trying to say it was covered with stucco.

Stuccoed or not, the local climate took a major toll of frame buildings. By the late 1850s, Saint James’s new rector, the Rev. Alexander Pyne, prepared to build a larger and more enduring stone house of worship.  The choice of William Thomas as architect for the new church suggests that some low church members of Saint James’s Church initially did not go along with the High Victorian Ecclesiastical Gothic Revival notions being considered for a new church at Almonte.  

No sooner had the walls of the huge new Saint James’s Church been built to half the height designed by Thomas in 1861 when it became apparent that the parish could not afford the building Pyne envisioned.  To further complicate matters, the architect then up and died.  That was when the architectural partnership of Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones, then at work on the original Centre Block of Ottawa’s parliament buildings, was called in to cut down the design. 

We see the result in this engraving published in the Toronto Mail on 14 May 1877.  This is the earliest known image to survive of the new Saint James’s Church, showing how, despite its new look, it conformed to the old siting, together with Saint Andrew’s Church of Scotland flanking the courthouse—the supreme symbol of the Crown, certainly power, where justice was meted out and where the county council met.  

By the time this engraving was made, the Church of Ireland was dis-established and the Church of Scotland in Canada had been rolled into the larger union of all Presbyterian churches.  Even the traditional visual symbol of being an “established church”—a church tower—which in the British Isles only the three established churches had been allowed to build, was missing from the fabric of Saint James’s Church, but only temporarily for lack of funds to build it.

The details of the side wall are muddied here, but placing the main entrance at the centre of the west wall was a holdover from the Regency Gothic Revival and was retained from Thomas’s original design, apparently because it already had been built and paid for.  

In Fuller & Jones’s pared down design, the front façade was barely twice the height of the doorway arch.  The simple pointed archway of the main doors and the great west window above it with its leaded diamond panes were left as the main features of the Drummond Street front.  

The large base for the tower was a declaration that, if built, it might become a visual signpost not only for the church but for Perth itself from miles away.  The temporary roof on the tower base shown here has a Château or even French Second Empire feel to it; in being mixed with the Gothic Revival details, a mix that proclaims it was authored by two men combining English Gothic and French Second Empire in their design for the Canadian parliament.

The Diocesan Archives collects parish registers vestry reports, service registers, minutes of groups and committees, financial documents, property records (including cemeteries and architectural plans), insurance policies, letters, pew bulletins, photographs and paintings, scrapbooks, parish newsletters, and unusual records. 


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