Someone once said show me what you build and I'll tell you who you are. The early story of our nation - it's values, history, optimism and determination and even it's very climate and topography are written on the walls of our prominent buildings. They are uniquely Canadian and they are ours.
Timing, they say, is everything. Gothic revival architecture in Canada coincided with a great period of rapid growth and nation building following Confederation in 1867. It was the favoured building style of the times in Canada. The steep roofs and thick stone walls so characteristic of Gothic architecture are uniquely suited to Canada's northern climate and natural resources. Canada had an abundance of natural stone and was rich with the sandstone and limestone used in the construction of Gothic style buildings. The Canadian winter climate dictates how a building is constructed if it is going to last and Gothic architecture hit both notes.
Height and verticality are also key. The central aisle, or nave, is considerably higher than it is wide. The most efficient way to create height over a vast expanse is through the use of vaulted ceilings held aloft by flying buttresses. It is an idea borrowed from centuries earlier. Vertical lines are emphasized through pointed arches, towers, spires, steeples, and long vertical windows. This raises the eyes upward and in the case of churches, heavenward.
Likewise, there is an extensive use of windows to create light. The windows are often filled with stain glass to add colour but also to add narrative art - or "the poor man's bible" in churches. They tell the stories of the bible to a largely illiterate community.
Height. Verticality. Space. Light. Stone. Towers. Steeples. Spires. Stain glass. Pointed arches. These are the key features that make up Gothic Revival Architecture and the style most favoured by architects like Joseph Connolly.
Joseph Connolly was part of the wave of immigrants who set up shop here. Born in Limerick, Ireland he received his training in architecture under J.J. McCarthy, a leading 19th century Catholic Church architect. Connolly brought with him to Canada a keen interest in Gothic Revival Architecture. He designed for people that had money and the best source of money at the time was church and government.
Connolly "happened" at the right time for Canada. The buildings of the day were designed with the future in mind and broadcast the message "we have arrived". During his time in Canada, Connolly designed or refurbished more than 40 churches in Ontario. He applied centuries old designs that share a bloodline to the hilltops of Ireland.
And so we chase Connolly. By highlighting 5 churches designed by Joseph Connolly, we hope to provide a window for others to learn about the churches, the communities which built them and our rich Canadian heritage. We offer a few of our own personal observations along the way. Please join us on the journey and dream the architects' dream.
St. Patrick's Church - Hamilton, Ont. (1875)
St. Patrick's - Hamilton, ON
St. Patrick's Church is located in Hamilton, Ontario the "steel capital of Canada". Industrial ties run deep in Hamilton, but the city also boasts a natural setting that can rival any city in Canada. The cool blues of Lake Ontario on one side play off the deep greens and grey stone of the escarpment of the other. Steel and concrete. Water and stone.
Joseph Connolly designed this church for the largely Irish parishioners that worked in the iron mills of Lake Ontario. In the East end of 1877 Hamilton, one can drink water from the streams and eat fish from Lake Ontario. The church is new and fresh and most likely surrounded by greenery. Thirty-five miles to the south west a Scottish immigrant to Canada by the name of Bell has just invented something quite unique. He is in Tutela Heights, a small hamlet burg of Brantford and his telephone is going to bring changes they say.
In present day Hamilton, St. Patrick's is now located in the city centre and surrounded by pavement. There is a basketball hoop from the nearby schoolyard within 12 feet of the head. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, the stain glass windows are protected from stray balls, rocks and avian threats by Plexiglas and chicken wiring. The once mighty spire has been removed, most likely for safety reasons as it deteriorated over time and hasn't yet been replaced. Despite this, the church appears to be in incredibly good shape. The day we visited, scaffolding was erected on the back wall of the church and pails from mason's used for parging were upside down on the planking . It's current exterior condition and surroundings only hint at it's once stately past.
St. Patrick's, in fact, was once a Cathedral, home to the Bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton, an honour now given to the much newer and more grand Christ the King Cathedral located on the mountain. St. Patrick's, however, is truly a 13th century Neo-Gothic style church. It has the look of Limerick, Ireland as if Connolly took this building's design from his birthplace and childhood and transformed it here for the day's mostly Irish congregants. Massive pillars hold up flying buttresses in this small church. The front of the church has a beautiful rose window and a multitude of small stained "rosettes" in cinquefoils in the clerestory. Other Gothic features include the central nave, the flanking aisles, the Gothic arches over doorways and windows and the massive double entrance doors with massive rustic iron hinges.
Rose Window and Stained Glass - Note Plexiglass and Wiring
Despite some outward condition issues, St. Patrick's is serene and welcoming inside. The day we visited the people acknowledged us and bade us well. There was a pair of gentlemen that sat in the most rearward bench, both leaning on canes, dressed in grey suit coats and hats. They looked at home here and nodded in agreement on both our arrival and departure. It's clear St. Patrick's is a haven of tranquility and calm. Within these historic and holy walls, peace reigns.
"I leave you peace, my peace I give you." (John 14:27)
Church of the Immaculate Conception - Formosa, Ont. (1875)
Church of the Immaculate Conception - Formosa, ON
We have a fascination for a certain valley. This particular valley runs from Kincardine on Lake Huron down to Long Point on Lake Erie and it holds scenic riches all along the path that await discovery. Formosa, Ontario happens to be located in South Bruce County on a picturesque stretch of this valley. Rev. Jasper Matoga, a Jesuit missionary, visited the area in Jan. 1853 on one of many trips to minister to the new settlement of the region. Upon seeing the valley in which the present day hamlet is situated, Matoga described it as "Formosa" the Latin word for beautiful.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception is located atop the northeast hill and can be seen for miles thanks to her steeple. The foundation for this Joseph Connolly church was laid in 1875 - several years earlier than "Our Lady" in Guelph or "St Peter's Basilica" in London. Perhaps Connolly landed his commission in those cities based on his work here. One can only speculate. Designed by Connolly, it was built as funds allowed by the largely German immigrant farming population. In the latter half of the 19th century, a larger percentage of men than today were skilled in trades other than working their farms. You built your own house or you went without in rural Ontario and these same skills were used in erecting this church.
The farmers built around and over the original wooden church and used that structure for scaffolding for the new build. Once the shell was completed in 1880 the old wooden church was dismantled and it is this date that appears over the doorway. The interior was completed by 1885 a full five years later and is distinguished by it's intricate Gothic-style altars carved by Nicholas Durrer, a local craftsman and parishioner.
The exterior is made of hand cut stone from local rock quarries and limestone laboriously shipped by train to Mildmay and than carted by horse to the hill top. Approximately 90% is "Formosa reef" a term applied to the rough, porous locally abundant and cheap stone. The smoother limestone was brought in by train from Guelph and than by wagon over to the church site. The smoother and most likely more expensive stone was only used for a portion of the church's construction including the first few rows of the foundation, trim and pointing detail. The Sacristy, chapels and tower appear to be part of the original build and her huge bells were from the old wooden church. The pillars are plaster and masonry and have been painted in a yellow paint and Indian ink mixture or of something similar in an attempt to portray wood grain. The plaster work is an amazing testament to the original builders.
The exterior walls are square blocks of stone and the peaked roof is simply placed atop the walls making it simpler, squatter and stronger than the flying buttress style. This design was largely due to the fact that there was a church inside the church to work around and the construction could be paced by available funds.
Exterior of Sanctuary - Formosa, ON
We learn much from these early settlers whose approach was methodical, focused, measured and sustained. Looking at the landscape, the pioneers would have had a tough life and worked hard for their farms and family. Faith and family were the backbone of any settler's life.
"He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock." (Luke 6:48)
Church of Our Lady Immaculate - Guelph, Ont. (1877)
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception - Guelph, ON
"Our Lady" as the locals fondly call this stunning structure, has long been considered Connolly's masterpiece and flagship Church. It holds a commanding hilltop presence silently watching over the city of Guelph. John Galt, founder of Galt, once wrote "On this hill would one day rise a church to rival St. Peter's in Rome". One can't help but be impressed by the grand boldness of the vision.
The towers alone soar 200 feet into God's blue sky and add to that the elevation of the hill and what a view they create. They rise majestically like some great horned beast from a fictional medieval city - completely foreign in Southwestern Ontario. What awe they inspire, even today when we are used to buildings 50, 100 stories high. One can only imagine their effect on the citizenry almost 100 years ago. Perhaps that is one purpose of these grand churches - to inspire awe and faith in their humble congregants. We certainly felt awe and respect. The church has been given privilege by city fathers who have made it law that it has precedence over the view and no one or anything shall obstruct it.
The exterior is an absolute work of art and vision. The massive structure was for the most part made possible by the plenitude of shale and other sandstones found locally in the stone deposits and quarries. Workers took fifty years to complete the construction and it shows. The builder's mind wonders, if this is above the ground, how far down did they dig for the footings? We headed for the basement and noticed the massive support columns which are situated a full 1/4 of the width of the building off the exterior walls. These columns share the weight of the roof and upper stone facades with the exterior walls. This technique is daring and even more so for the time. Little wonder this is Connolly's watermark Church.
The granite pillars stretch 60 feet or more sit on even bigger columns that are buried for an unknown length into the earth. We suspect 50 ft into the earth or drilled and blasted into bedrock which is more likely given the church's location to stone quarries.
The Narthex of the church is huge and has founts located on the walls between three pairs of doors most likely to control traffic in and out of the doors. There has been some modifications performed over the years and at one time the side entrances would have emptied their traffic into this massive Narthex making it even bigger. When the church doors are open, one can see a tunnel vision view of the entire main street of Guelph.
The huge vaulted ceilings are trimmed with 8x12 ft hand sawn oak that was quarter sawn and then steamed or shaped over a fire until perfect. The fine lumber and plaster work encases some of the busiest and most gorgeous tile work that along with the impressive stain glass throughout the church tell the stories of the bible. Near the crossing offers a fine view of the galleries and side entrances/exits. This church is built in a true gothic cruciform shape - and if viewed from the air appears in the shape of a crucifix.
Interior of "Our Lady" - Guelph, ON
Much has been written about "Our Lady" and our entry just touches on a few of our observations. Tours are also available for those interested in the history of the church. Scaffolding is currently encasing parts of the exterior as the church and the outbuildings are receiving massive restorations. "Our Lady" is the only Connolly church designated as a National Historic Site and people visit this church by the thousands.
We recommend this building to anyone who has a love for anything of beauty.
"Lord, who shall be admitted to your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?" (Psalm 15)
St. Patrick's Church - Kinkora, Ont. (1882)
St. Patrick's - Kinkora, ON
Today we visited a home to hope and well being. The stop this morning was St. Patrick's Church in Kinkora, a crossroads village located just 19 kilometers NW of Stratford, Ontario. Kinkora in Gaelic means "a place of beauty" and this spot is certainly that. The church is positioned perfectly on a East/West axis. The country setting is as peaceful and serene today as it must have been 125 years ago. Stopping at the crossroads, we wondered "have the hands of time stopped in this tiny hamlet"?
Construction for the church began in 1882 by 105 families for a cost of $30,000. Built by a community of mostly Irish immigrants, it is today a place of worship for many Dutch immigrants who arrived in the 1950s. Modelled after the great medieval Gothic cathedrals of Europe, the main framing consists of flying buttresses and oak rib vaulting.
The exterior is yellow line brick and the soldiering over the windows is European in style. Local lore tells of a possible German influence in the brick work and it is true this style of bricking is common in parts of Bruce County which was largely settled by German immigrants. Interestingly, Connolly was in Bruce County a mere 7 years earlier to design Immaculate Conception Church in Formosa, Ontario and perhaps noticed the distinctive brick work.
The single tower has been retained and repaired but the spire, once an astounding 200 ft in height, has been removed due to deterioration. Such a majestic spire would have been visible for miles and it's height would have rivalled the mighty towers of "Our Lady" in Guelph. A replica of the tower and spire appears on the miniaturized model located inside the church.
Beautiful stained glass appears throughout this church and especially a stunning rose window located at the rear of the church. Circular patterns repeat in varying combinations throughout the church - three, four, five six and the unending circle symbolizes eternity.
"The Winter Chapel" resides on the NE side of the church and may have been the place of worship while the original church was being constructed. Certainly it would have been used for services in the winter when the larger church was too difficult to heat. Like any Southern Ontario lot, the bush around Kinkora would have been cleared and burned for heat and winters would have been cold. Big old growth maples currently protect the property from the harsh winters on this rural crossroads. The winter chapel is still used today by the parish Priest to house his vestments and prepare for the days sermon.
Winter Chapel and Rectory - St. Patrick's
There is also a well constructed and beautifully maintained rectory on the property built from red clay brick with a slate roof. Father Paul, the current Parish Priest, wondered if Connolly designed this structure as well, but so far hasn't been able to verify this. Connolly also designed residences and other public buildings in his architectural practice.
There has recently been massive renovations to this church through the efforts of Restoration and Fundraising Committees and their work so far has included removal of the deteriorating spire and extensive restoration of the interior. The day we visited the entire property and grounds were immaculate and there was a man who set to the task of sweeping and readying the church for the morning mass.
The village itself is tiny but one gets the sense of true community that retains the friendliness of an era gone by. After mass there was a table set up with coffee and the entire attending congregation was out back, standing around, talking and exchanging pleasantries. There would be chores to do before and after church (cows don't milk themselves!) but for now it was church.
A home to hope and well being. There is a little treasure yet in the Emerald isle and St. Patrick's at Kinkora, this "place of beauty" captivates all who congregate here.
"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."(Matthew 6:21)
St. Peter's Cathedral Basilica - London, Ont. (1880)
St. Peter's Cathedral Basilica - London, ON
The more one begins to think and write about 19th century churches, the more tempting it is to compare one to the other. It's a somewhat dangerous past-time - much like comparing the qualities of beloved children because each has her own unique features and what might be first perceived as weakness sometimes becomes the strong point. St. Peter's Basilica in London, home to the Bishop of the Diocese, presents such a case.
Driving into the heart of downtown London, it is difficult not to long for the pastoral setting presented by Kinkora or the Gothic giant of Our Lady towering over the city of Guelph. St. Peter's, by contrast, stands squarely in the urban mix of downtown London. We even had difficulty locating the church as surprisingly the towers were dwarfed by concrete condominiums and office buildings. The open fields of Kinkora have been replaced by busy downtown sidewalks, passing pedestrians, and impatient car horns that make up city life.
At first we were disappointed by this, but soon realized that St. Peter's provides the centre calm and sturdy steadfastness so often necessary in city life. City dwellers often seek out places of tranquility and calm amidst the urban chaos. This church is not silent and makes it's presence known in this busy downtown. The cathedrals house 12 bells, each named after one of the 12 apostles and were added in 1926 in celebration of the city's 100th jubilee. They ring each quarter hour. The great organ, purchased in 1926 for $23,000 and which has 59 stops and 3,869 pipes, drowned out the sounds of passing traffic and diesel buses.
This church really paid tribute to Connolly's design acoustics and when the introductory hymn was finished we turned to each other and said "that alone was worth the drive to London".
The Basilica values it's history. They have a wonderful website that provides a wealth of information and have produced a DVD "St. Peter's Cathedral Basilica - The Journey" as well as a booklet "Celebrating 125 Years of the St. Peter's Basilica" which are available at the Basilica. While all this information is readily available, we'd like to take a moment to note our personal observations.
This Cathedral Basilica was named after the first Pope, St. Peter the gate keeper, and it has a very warm and inviting feel. The outside grounds are well kept and simple in design. We entered the back of the church via the main doors and into the massive Narthex. It has been changed over the years to accommodate the needs of the church but this is definitely a Joseph Connolly building. The outer doors were closed and the side entrances are intact on this church and their traffic empties itself through arches into the Narthex. There is a massive pool for a fount filled with holy water just inside the main doors and the word grandeur comes to mind. This very narrow room in between the outside doors and the main body of the church was used for baptism. The philosophy behind this was Baptisms should take place outside and you enter the church through Baptism.
This church is trimmed in Oak and it was the wood that caught our gaze immediately upon walking up the three steps that separate the Narthex and the main body of the church. The nave or center hallway is wide and the space rolls ahead waiting in anticipation of discovery. Oak Rib Vaulting encases the entire ceiling with a spectacular "web" over the Apse. The pillars are a very beautiful “Dusty Rose” and are colossal in diameter and height. The roof, spires, stone chimneys and stone exterior walls that are up on the clerestory are held up by the flying buttress framing and these pillars. An engineering marvel indeed. This same pillar and buttress design has been employed since the 13th century with great success for longevity.
The sun was in the west and the fact that it was shining in the side wall at 6 pm was a little odd. We tried to get our bearings and thought that this church isn’t sitting correctly. This is true and the reason is that the old church, the church of St. Lawrence, was sitting out back while this one was being constructed and it ran East/West. The Cathedral was built in such close proximity that the builders simply couldn’t place it differently. That explains the stain glass window on the right hand side (east) of the main entrance depicting Baptism. The sanctuary floor, altar and podium are made from marble.
The front wall has 7 arches that are filled in with plaster. There is a small doorway from the front wall into the sacristy. The materials for St. Peters were imported from all over the world - New York, Kentucky and Michigan but as far away as Austria. The pieces that make up the round window over the main doors were made in Austria, shipped to London Ontario, reassembled and installed. The windows located at the transepts are magnificent and the sun that was playing tag behind the clouds outside broke loose and shone its light through a saint in that window. We later learned that this window depicts the Apostles Creed. There is a light gold coloured scroll intertwining throughout the image which was made even more spectacular by the sun.
There are many interesting stories about the actual building of this church. One includes the mason strike where the apse was in danger of incompletion only to be rescued by pulling a mason from retirement, and another the use of recycled brick from a demolished post office to complete the twin towers nearly 75 years after the church received its own start. The above description is merely a sliver of what was transferred into our hands.
St. Peter's Cathedral Basilica east - London, ON
Surely St. Peter's Basilica Cathedral has fulfilled her holy mandate first articulated at the dedication on June 28th, 1885 to stand as "an eloquent and enduring monument" to our Lord and to welcome all who enter her doors.
"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18)
The Journey Continues
We hope you enjoyed your time along with us as we traced these old paths. This experience wasn't entirely our doing but rather a flow of charity in our direction. We were helped, welcomed and appreciated wherever we went and that is the best way to spend any day. There is still so much to see and the road is full of riches along the way. Perhaps you may take your own journey and drive the old pioneer roads where trees create a multi-coloured umbrella overhead.
Thank you for walking an old path with us.
"Go in peace," the priest replied. "For the LORD is watching over your journey." (Judges 18:6)
Written by Maureen and Lorne
Photographs by Lorne