SAINT DAVID'S REFORMED EPISCOPALIAN CHURCH, OTTAWA By Brian Northgrave (Article)
ST DAVID’S REFORMED EPISCOPALIAN CHURCH, OTTAWA
This is a brief history of the church my wife Valerie and I bought in January 1972 to live in with our three children, Ben 5, Stacey 3, and Beth 1, after some renovations to make an apartment in the church hall/basement. The building had been up for sale for over a year, with a leaking roof, and some hymn books on the pews where the departing parishioners had left them.
That summer we had a call from Gladys Blair, a historian of the New Edinburg neighbourhood, who offered to come over and tell us about the building. She arrived with Mr. Donaldson, then in his 70’s, who had been brought up in the congregation since childhood.
They told us that in 1887 some of the congregation of St. Bart’s Anglican Church on MacKay St. stood up in the middle of the service, raised a cross that was draped with a black cloth, and marched out of the church.
This was to signal that they considered that the service at St. Bart’s was so high Anglican that it might as well have been Catholic. The departing group began looking for a “low” Anglican denomination, and what was on offer at the time was “Reformed Episcopalian”, with congregations largely in the US, but also with several across Canada. This was a denomination that dispensed with the Anglican hierarchy, leaving responsibility to each congregation, including allowing it to choose its minister.
The group chose a plot of land at the corner of Crichton and Charles Streets in New Edinburg, and raised a stone (first story) and brick building. The three main memorial windows were dedicated to Dr. Bell who lived over on 151 Stanley St. and his family.
The Ottawa Journal in 1889 recorded the inauguration of this new church, noting that it had been built to accommodate a congregation of three hundred people.
Ms. Blair and Mr. Donaldson told us that the church had functioned as Reformed Episcopalian from 1889 to 1952 when it ran out of parishioners and was sold to the Mormons as their first church in the Ottawa area. The Mormons had it until 1962 when they moved into a larger building, and passed the church to a German-speaking Pentecostal congregation which shut its doors in 1971.
With the history dealt with, Ms. Blair talked about the church bell in St. David’s tower. She said that the large, heavy bell, cast in Troy New York in 1877 had originally hung in Ottawa’s old Bytowne Market where it signalled the opening and closing of the market’s daily activities. After one of the several fires that destroyed the Bytowne market building but not the bell, the bell was moved to St. David’s church tower.
Ms. Blair went on to note that a new Bytowne market building was then about to be completed and said “wouldn’t be nice if you contacted Mayor Greenburg and offered to return the bell to its original location in the Byward Market.”
We agreed. A team arrived and managed to move the bell from the tower. The Mayor sent us a nice letter thanking us for giving the bell to the city, and now it hangs in the main market building up on the gallery above the stalls, with a plaque thanking “The Northgrave Family” for returning it to its origins.
The church was used for many years by the Ottawa Baha’i community for their services. In 1996 the Bahia’s moved elsewhere. In 1997 with architect Paul Northgrave and builder Doug Bretslaff, the church was converted into a loft apartment, with much of its original features, and so it remains today.
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