The Diocese turns 125

The Memorial Window in Christ Church Cathedral
By on April 1, 2021

The Diocese of Ottawa was established on April 7, 1896. The Memorial Window in Christ Church Cathedral, commissioned for the Cathedral’s 150th anniversary in 1982,  illustrates much of the history of the Diocese. 

Parliament and Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, can be found in the details. The wavy blue lines on the red Cross of St. George represent the confluence and importance of the Ottawa, Gatineau and Rideau rivers. A diverse crowd is gathered at the base of the Cross.  

It is only in recent years that Anglicans have begun to acknowledge that the Diocese was founded on the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg. That history is less visible in the window. An Indigenous woman stands on the right side of the cross by Chaudiére (Akikodjiwan) Falls, a sacred place. May this anniversary usher in a new era of reconciliation and right relations.


The Diocese of Ottawa was created in 1896.  While it is true, as David Farr noted, that in order of seniority, Ottawa was the 22nd Anglican diocese to be created in Canada, its origins are much older.  The long genesis derived from many factors: primarily the unsettled condition of much of eastern Ontario in the 19th century, giving a “missionary” character to the diocese; and rivalry between the region’s principal towns, Kingston and Ottawa.

Ecclesiastical authority in the Ottawa Valley had always been remote.  First administered from Halifax, then Quebec and, after 1839, Toronto, eastern Ontario lay on the fringes of established religious order.  In 1862, the region was given its own ecclesiastical framework, with fifteen counties east of the Trent River and south of the Ottawa River carved out of the Diocese of Toronto to create the Diocese of Ontario, with its see city at Kingston. 

Only nine years later, in 1871, the first Bishop of Ontario, seeing Ottawa thrive as the new capital of Canada (while Kingston languished) made the case that Ottawa should become a see city of a new diocese containing parishes on both sides of the Ottawa River.  It was a hard sell, mainly for lack of funding, and it took Bishop John Travers Lewis 25 years before the Diocese of Ottawa emerged strung out along the line of J.R. Booth’s Canada Atlantic Railway from Lancaster in the east to Rutherglen in the northwest.

The idea was quickly grasped by Christ Church, Ottawa from the beginning, and they promptly set about building a new much larger house of worship, anticipating by 25 years the day it became the cathedral of the new Diocese of Ottawa.  Another 70 years rolled by before Clarendon Deanery on the Quebec side of the river would be removed from the Diocese of Montreal, to double the land area of the Diocese of Ottawa.  The coat of arms designed by Edward Marion Chadwick featured a saw cutting through a tree—a device borrowed from the family coat of arms of the first bishop, Charles Hamilton.  At the time it seemed appropriate to a city where sawmills employed ten times the number of people employed by parliament.

With thanks to the Archives for this information.      


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