Description of Historic Place
The property at 18974 Leslie Street, known as Sharon Temple, is situated in the community of Sharon, in the Town of East Gwillimbury. The three-storey, timber-frame building of ascending chambers was built by Ebenezer and John Doan from 1825 to 1832. The property also comprises David Willson's Study (1829) and the Cookhouse (1842) which are original to the site. Other historical buildings moved to the site include the Ebenezer Doan House (ca. 1819), the Drive shed and Granary (both ca.1818); and the Outhouse (ca. 1850).
The exterior and interior of Sharon Temple along with the scenic character of the property are protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement (2007). The property is also designated by the Town of East Gwillimbury under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law 74-30). The property was designated a National Historic Site of Canada, in 1990, by the Government of Canada. The site is owned and operated by the Sharon Temple Museum Society.
Located on Leslie Street, the primary thoroughfare in Sharon, the Temple is the dominant landmark in the community. Respecting the historic structural independence of the Temple, it stands isolated in the 2.4-hectare, park-like property, contributing to its prominent appearance. David Willson's Study and the Cookhouse survive as other original buildings of the complex.
Sharon Temple was associated with the Children of Peace, a breakaway sect of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, which was founded in 1812 and led by David Willson (1780-1866). The Children of Peace was formed when Willson was expelled from the Society of Friends for his dissenting beliefs, which attracted other Quakers who shared similar views and a new sect evolved. With a goal of establishing a utopian, non-sectarian community, the Children of Peace devoted themselves to self-sufficiency, fair-dealing and democratic equality. Their doctrine incorporated some Quaker beliefs, elements of mysticism, and ancient Jewish ceremony, combined with an emphasis on the arts with music and poetry as part of worship. The Children of Peace used the temple 15 times a year - 12 times for regular monthly offerings and three times for special high holidays. In the 1830s, the sect reached a peak with nearly 300 members. They became politically active, supporting democratic government reform, and were closely associated with the rebel William Lyon Mackenzie. In 1837, members of the sect joined the Upper Canadian Rebellion and four years later were instrumental in electing the leading reformers, Robert Baldwin and Louis LaFontaine – the 'fathers of Responsible Government.' The sect flourished until the 1850s when declining membership eventually led to the discontinuation of services, around 1889. The Temple was purchased and opened as a museum, in 1918, by the York Pioneer and Historical Society. The Temple is an early example of historic preservation in Canada.
Sharon Temple has exceptional craftsmanship, rich symbolism, a unique design and originally a unique function. Recalling Old Testament sources and the Book of Revelations, Sharon Temple features three ascending chambers and was constructed over seven years, from 1825 to 1832. The Temple's symbolic design is square to reflect their practice 'to deal on the square'; doors on each side allow all people to enter 'on an equal footing'; large windows on each elevation allow light to fall equally on all worshipers; and the three storeys representing the Trinity are topped by a golden sphere to represent unity and peace. The twelve interior columns separating the worshippers from the choir space represent the apostles while the four inner-sanctuary columns represent Faith, Hope, Charity and Love. Construction of Sharon Temple was inspired by Solomon's Temple in ancient Israel, with the design based on Willson's instruction. According to tradition, parts of the Temple's framework, like Solomon's Temple, were constructed at a distance with as few tools as necessary. Leading the building campaign were Ebenezer and John Doan, whose skill and attention to detail was remarkable. Evidence of their skill is found in the mortised and pegged structural construction and the fine reed detailing and beaded cladding comprising the finish. Influence of the Regency style is expressed in the reed detailing, cubic plan, low hip roofs, tall rectangular windows and quarter columns that form the corners of the building and the door surrounds with Adamseque entablatures. Twelve rooftop lanterns serve a symbolic, decorative and functional purpose: when illuminated with candles they represent the light of God as delivered by the apostles. Unlike other sects where all functions were concentrated in one structure, the Temple was used only for special functions.
Source: OHT Easement Files
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of Sharon Temple include its:
- symmetrical, three-storey plan of ascending chambers, cubic in form with low hip roofs
- sectioned timber-frame construction with tongue-and-groove cladding with beaded detailing
- exposed rubblework foundation of granite fieldstones
- large, tall and narrow 18 over 12, rectangular windows
- doorways on each elevation with Adamesque entablature type door surrounds and eight-panel double doors
- rooftop lanterns with operable glazing crowned by wooden pinnacles
- gilded sphere suspended atop the structure
- white and green colour scheme
- reed detailing as seen on the friezes, door surrounds, door panels, quarter columns and lantern cladding
- quarter columns at the edges of the temple
- separate zones of the interior associated with different functions as marked by the Tuscan columns on panelled bases and differentiated floor levels
- austere finish of the interior with beaded tongue-and-groove wainscoting and smooth, plastered walls and ceiling
- light shaft extending from the uppermost chamber to the bottom chamber
- arched openings separating the zones of the interior
- white, green, and fawn-coloured paint scheme
- built-in benches lining the walls
- curved and tapered ladder (Jacob's Ladder) extending from the first storey to the second storey musicians gallery
- reed detail as seen on the ladder and crown mouldings
- wide board pine flooring
- coved ceiling and barrel vaulted plaster ceilings
- black walnut cabinet (ark) with its pagoda roof
- original placement on the site, isolated in the middle of the property and centred on a rise of land
- 2.4-hectare, park-like setting, surrounded by broad lawns and mature plantings
- surviving outbuildings