By the mid-1850s to the early 1860s, five denominations — Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, Baptist and Roman Catholic — had formed congregations in St. Marys and were worshipping in their own church buildings. All these early churches were modest, rectangular buildings, frame for the Presbyterians and limestone for the others.
By the 1890s, the Methodists, Presbyterians and Catholics had magnificent new churches complete with impressive spires. In 1902, the Baptists dedicated an attractive new brick church, close to downtown on Church Street South. By this time, St. James Anglican Church across the road also looked very different but its congregation had chosen to modify the original plain building rather than replace it.
A major renovation was completed in 1886 when the roof was raised to a much steeper pitch, supported by the large beams visible in this week’s photograph. At the same time, the tower in the southwest corner and the west entry porch were built. Inside, there was a new chancel, leading up several steps from the nave, with the altar set against the east wall.
This week’s photograph, circa 1940, was taken by photographer Frank Robinson who had studios in St. Marys and Aylmer. It shows the interior similar to today’s but with several important differences. Then, the organ console was located in an alcove on the north side of the chancel. Today, the console is on the south side of the chancel, between the communion rail and the choir stalls, with the organist facing the choir.
In 1928, a three-sided sanctuary extended the chancel to the east, containing the altar and three lovely windows that can be seen in this photograph. Today, unlike its position in the photograph, the altar has been moved out from the wall to allow the minister to face the congregation while celebrating communion.
In the 1940 photograph, four draped Union Jacks are prominent at the front of the church. World War II was underway and church members were patriotic, proud of the community’s contributions to the war effort.
Recent changes to the interior of St. James include components from St. Paul’s, Kirkton, added when the two congregations officially combined in 2012. Most significant are the stained glass memorial windows from St. Paul’s families, mounted on the west wall above the entrance.
At this time of year, St. James Anglican Church, like all local churches, is beautifully decorated for Christmas. All are warmly welcome at any of the services.