St. Augustine Church ‘was a selfless venture’

In 1943, the Rev. Canon P. M. Lamb of St. Cuthbert’s Church anticipated the post-war expansion of the Sunnybrook area. Consequently, he began to lay plans for the work of church extension in the northern portion of his parish.

“This was a selfless venture of faith because he knew only too well that it would result in a substantial loss of membership for his parish.” (From an 1996 memoir written by parishioners.)

Within a year he had persuaded the Incorporated Synod of the Diocese of Toronto to purchase a site two blocks north of Eglinton Avenue on a quiet country lane known as Bayview Avenue on the outskirts of the Town of Leaside. On June 6, 1944 the site was purchased for $3,600.00.

This plot of land had had variety of previous uses, as demonstrated: “In 1816 a wooden school house was constructed. It was used also as community centre.” Much later: “Between 1913 and 1919 a water tower existed here to dispense water to the community.” And later still: “When the tower was removed an apple orchard provided much needed sustenance.” (All quotes from the same previous source.)

Leaside, by Jane PitfieldA nucleus of worshippers began to gather at the home of Eric Palin, at the corner of Rumsey Road and Donlea Drive. He became the first churchwarden and his wife, Alice, began the Ladies’ Service Guild. Mrs. Norman Pickering began the Sunday School. On April 28, 1946, services of worship, led by William Bothwell, a Trinity College student, began in the basement corridor of Northlea School. The congregation was known as “St. Cuthbert’s Northlea Mission.”

The church requested the name of St. Augustine of Canterbury in order to perpetuate the memory of the former church of this name, which had been located at Spruce and Parliament streets, but destroyed by fire much earlier. This request was granted.

On January 19, 1947, Reverend G. I. B. Johnson replaced William Bothwell as Priest-in-Charge and, in May 1947, the parish was officially incorporated. A rectory was purchased at 38 Donlea Drive for the sum $12,500.00. The first Rector, Reverend H. Newman Bracken led the service on June 15, 1947 in the auditorium of Northlea School. Bruce, Brown and Brisley was to provide the architects for the new church (as the firm had for Leaside Presbyterian Church) and the sod was turned October 3, 1948.

On February 20,1949, the basement unit of the new St. Augustine of Canterbury, constructed at a cost $40,000.00, was opened by the Rt. Reverend A. R. Beverly. Four hundred and twenty-five people crowded in for the service and sixty-eight children squeezed into a back room with their teacher, Mrs. Phil Oglesby. By June 1950, an urgent appeal was made for a Nursery Wing to consist of two rooms north of the existing building. On St. Augustine’s Day, May 26, 1951, this wing was officially dedicated by Reverend Canon P. M. Lamb.

A great desire to expand the church above the basement led to a financial campaign being launched in 1953. Within two years, the congregation raised $111,000.00. On St. Augustine’s Day in 1956, the Rt. Reverend F. H. Wilkinson, Lord Bishop of Toronto, laid the cornerstone and, on January 22, 1957, he officially opened the new church building.

The cornerstone of the superstructure to the Nursery Wing was laid on May 26, 1960 and the Rt. Reverend G. B. Snell officially opened the completed church on November 27, 1960. “The church is constructed of stone taken from the valley of the Credit River and has a vertical gothic thrust along contemporary lines.” (Same source as above.) Canon Bracken served St. Augustine’s for thirty-five years while his wife, Alice Bracken, supervised the nursery department for twenty-eight years.

In 1982, Reverend Canon John B. Hill became the new rector. He has served St. Augustines for 17 years and is still at the church in 1999.

Written by Jane Pitfield.