Yonge Street: United Church of Canada

Summerhill News – Spring 2007

Published by the Summerhill Residents Association
Yonge Street United Church – by Bill Davis

With the neighbourhood's growing interest in heritage matters I feel called to reminisce. My look back is both factual and personal. To place the church in our neighbourhood, it occupied the northeast corner of Summerhill and Yonge, where the Orion Condominium now stands.

A full photo of the Yonge Street United Church taken early on, before a black iron fence was placed on the west and south sites of the property.

The original church was Yonge Street Methodist Church, which stood at Marlborough and Yonge – where the TD Bank now stands – from 1873 until 1911, when a new church was built at Summerhill and Yonge. At the time of church union in 1925, this place of worship became a United Church.

In May, 1971 the building was severely damaged by fire. For a period of years the congregation carried on without a building. It worshipped for some time in the chapel at the United Church of Canada national office at St. Clair and Avoca, and then made arrangements to use an upstairs room in the "Ports of Call", for a period of time.

1971 Post fire photo takes from Yonge and Summerhill.

These were interim decisions while the membership decided whether to use the insurance money to rebuild or to amalgamate with another United Church. Ultimately members decided rebuilding the church could not be justified on the basis of its numerical strength and the cost involved, and it amalgamated with St. Andrew's United Church, at Bloor and Church.

In the period of my growing years, the 40's to the 60's, church and community life were closely interwoven. The church had an institutional membership in the Residents Association. Its men's club attracted large numbers from the community. Its minister knew a large percentage of residents within our boundaries. He lived in the church manse at 98 Summerhill Avenue. In many ways it was the community centre. The gymnasium under the sanctuary was home to the Summerhill Kiwanis Club; open 4 nights a week for boys and occasionally girls in the community.

1962 Halloween dance in community living room - basement of church. Guests were ages 16-19 years of age, and would walk to church.

When the Kiwanis trimmed its program for budgetary reasons the church continued to make its facilities available and did some modest fund raising to staff the program. From this initiative the Summerhill Boys and Girls Club that now operates out of Cottingham Public School continues its long history. Much of the funding for this community program now comes from St. Andrew's United Church out of the proceeds of the property sale turned over to that congregation at the time of the amalgamation.

For better or worse the relationship between church and community is different today. As a teenager and young married person the church was the centre of not just spiritual life but also social and community life. It had basketball, baseball, hockey and football teams in various leagues. Often it was the "Church League" run by the Protestant Youth Council. In addition because the neighbourhood produced some high quality athletes we would also have teams in city leagues (like the Davisville Senior B softball league).

One of last weedings, 1969 groom from Shaftesbury, bride from Roxborough - crowd spills out front door onto Yonge Street.

We had regular dances and social events, couples clubs, card nights. The area serviced extended across Yonge Street to include Farnham, Woodlawn, Walker, Alcorn, Birch and Marlborough.

Typical of the time is the agenda of the laying of the cornerstone at the new Cottingham Public School. One of the first on the program was the minister of Yonge Street United Church who opened the ceremony with prayer.

One could not imagine a similar role in urban Toronto for any church. It takes a much larger population base to sustain a functioning institution. Nevertheless it remains a significant part of our community history. For those of us whose lives were shaped by its multi faceted existence the corner has a certain nostalgia and indeed remains holy ground. I tapped into my old photograph album and borrowed a few items from the St. Andrew's United Church archives to recreate a bit of the flavour of the times.

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