Saint Mark’s Church at Pakenham, it could be argued, is the chameleon of churches in the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa. From the top of the hill on which it is sited, it appears to be a demure red brick church, with the arches of the two west windows echoed in white brick detailing. On the side where the main entrance porch is located it provides a contrast of surfaces, angles and textures, with the spire rising behind. From the opposite side (obscured here by tall evergreens) a huge, pointed window appears to fill the prominent gable. And from our vantage point here, below the hill the tower is prominent indeed, rising above an array of entrances to the sacristy, basement and the church itself.
Saint Mark’s did not start out to look like a chameleon. The first Saint Mark’s Church was built at a different location in Pakenham circa 1839. For lack of a picture, it seems to have been a basic auditory box, very much in vogue in those days. The second house of worship, seen here, began construction at this prominent site two generations later, with the cornerstone of the church proper laid on 2 August 1876.
Many brick churches were built by all denominations in the 1870s and 1880s, but Saint Mark’s, if featuring minimal buttresses, was distinguished on all sides by horizontal string courses of white brick. The purpose of stringcourses usually is to help visually tie a building together. The stringcourse on the Centre Block of Parliament literally resembles a rope. Clearly, the builders in the 1870s had no idea what was in store for this church a generation later. The 1876 house of worship was consecrated by Bishop John Travers Lewis on 5 January 1883.
If building a handsome house of worship stretched parish finances in the 1870s, by the turn of the century Pakenham Anglicans prepared to complete the parish fabric, despite the expense necessitated by doing so on their hill site. In 1901 they added a tower, spire and transept, combining them with the 1876 church in the popular Queen Anne Revival style.
It might be tempting to declare that complexity, thy name is Saint Mark’s, Pakenham! Where do we not see complexity in this view? To begin at the base, the basement wall is not a simple rubble surface, but rather rock-faced cut stone, with the entrance for the sexton tending the basement furnace sheltered by a portico. Going to church here either meant climbing the hill to get to the main entrance or climbing steps within Saint Mark’s. The basement wall extended as a base for a shingled portal sheltered by a rounded arch in contrast to the pointed and square windows in the rest of the church and the huge perpendicular arch above it in the belfry.
The tower embodied complexity all by itself, its shingled bulk rising above the entrance porch in the foreground to a broach spire featuring dormers, with the spire interrupted by a band of wooden quatrefoils before culminating itself in a jaunty wooden finial. The main entrances to the church all featured a grouping of three quatrefoil windows in the transom. The white brick stringcourses in the 1876 church were continued on the main floor in the 1901 construction. The large new gables featured textured wooden panels and triplicate windows, while the transition from lower brick wall to gable was accented by large ornamental brackets or crockets.
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