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St. Thomas Pioneer Church

55, Walnut street, St. Thomas, City of, Ontario, N5R, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1982/10/18

View through graveyard of north and east side -1925; Meredith, Colborne Powell, [Photograph], c. 1925, PA-026813, Library and Archives Canada
Oblique view to the southwest - 1925
View through lynch gate and graveyard from Walnut Street - 2002; OHT, 2002
Oblique view to the southwest - 2002
View through the front of cemetery to the façade - 1925; Meredith, Colborne Powell, [Photograph], c. 1925, PA-026813, Library and Archives Canada
Front view to the west -1925

Other Name(s)

St. Thomas Pioneer Church
Old St. Thomas Church

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)


Listed on the Canadian Register: 2008/11/21

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

St. Thomas Pioneer Church, at 55 Walnut Street, is situated in the City of St. Thomas. The brick and stucco building was designed in the Gothic Revival style and was constructed in 1824.

The exterior, selected elements of the interior and the scenic character of the property are protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement (1982). The property is also designated by the Town of St. Thomas under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (Bylaw 100-82).

Heritage Value

Located on Walnut Street in the City of St. Thomas, St. Thomas Pioneer Church's heritage value is greatly enhanced by its contextual setting. Surrounded by a graveyard dating back to 1819, the church yard is the final resting place of many generations of Anglicans in St. Thomas. The lych-gate and many trees in the cemetery also enhance the park-like surroundings of the church.

St. Thomas Pioneer Church is associated with Col. Thomas Talbot, Capt. Daniel Rapelje, Bishop Charles Stewart and the establishment of the Anglican church in St. Thomas. The area around St. Thomas was originally part of a grant received by Col. Thomas Talbot (1771-1853), in 1803. Talbot, an Irish aristocrat, arrived in Quebec in 1790 and amassed a fortune selling land to settlers, while opening Elgin County to settlement. Daniel Rapelje (1774-1828), an American who came to Upper Canada in 1802, became a captain of the 1st Middlesex Militia after serving in the War of 1812. Following the war, Capt. Rapelje built a grist-mill which attracted new settlers to the area. In 1821, Rapelje donated two acres of his original land grant to be used for a church building and a burial ground for Anglican adherents in the area. Rapelje had already buried two sons on the site by 1819. The church was constructed in 1824 and a tower, steeple and chancel added in 1825. These additions were financed by a donation from Col. Thomas Talbot. As one of the earliest churches in the area, the congregation had to rely on visiting missionary ministers, until a permanent Rector could be secured. The most important visiting minister was Rev. Charles James Stewart, who spent much of his career helping to establish the Anglican church in southwestern Ontario. Rev. Stewart (1775-1837) arranged for the first Holy Communion at the church on June, 19, 1825. Though Stewart became the Bishop of Quebec in 1826, he would return to St. Thomas often. The church's first incumbent was the Rev. Alexander Mackintosh, a missionary deacon who served from 1824-1829. The church was consecrated in 1833 and would serve the congregation continuously until 1877 when Trinity Church opened. The 1824 church building then served as a Sunday school, losing its bell to Trinity Church. A new bell was donated to St. Thomas Church in the 1950s and is used to call worshippers to the church every June 19th in commemoration of the first Holy Communion.

St. Thomas Pioneer Church is as an early example of vernacular Gothic Revival architecture in Ontario. The church has a basilica plan with modest transepts and a tower and steeple over the entrance. The nave has four bays characterized by lancet windows with finely crafted intersecting tracery in the arch. The east entrance with its crenellated tower and gable end also features a double door enclosed within a lancet arch with intersecting tracery. In the 1840s the church was extended to the south and transept galleries and a vestry were added. The pulpit was also relocated to the junction of the nave and transept at that time. The interior is characterized by simple white walls and box pews, called 'family pews'. The galleries have simple wainscoting panels of dark wood. The transept and sanctuary walls have ogee-arch windows with simple wood muntins of intersecting tracery and small quatrefoils. The exterior walls of the nave are rendered with white stucco over brick. The tower is wood-frame with white clapboard and contains a pair of lancet louvered vents on the façade, and single lancet louvered vents on the sides. The crenellated roof of the tower is replicated along the slope of the gable roof of the main façade. The very tall and slender octagonal needle spire rises from above the crenellated tower and is clad with slate shingles.

Source: OHT Easement Files.

Character-Defining Elements

Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the St. Thomas Pioneer Church include its:
- basilica plan with modest transepts
- wood-frame tower with clapboard siding
- stucco-clad nave and façade walls
- brick transept walls
- octagonal needle spire clad in slate
- lancet louvered vents in the tower
- lancet windows in the nave walls with intersecting tracery
- ogee-arch windows in the transept and sanctuary
- intersecting tracery with quatrefoils in the ogee-arch windows
- crenellated roof of the tower
- crenellated gable roof of the main façade
- wood pulpit located on the east side of the church
- arrangement and use of box pews
- simple wood-panelled galleries
- location at the edge of the historic boundary of the City of St. Thomas
- proximity to many of the oldest gravesites in St. Thomas
- location of the entrance and the lych-gate
- siting in a park-like setting with many mature deciduous trees




Recognition Authority

Ontario Heritage Trust

Recognition Statute

Ontario Heritage Act

Recognition Type

Ontario Heritage Foundation Easement

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1825/01/01 to 1825/01/01
1821/01/01 to 1821/01/01
1877/01/01 to 1877/01/01
1988/01/01 to 1988/01/01
1877/01/01 to 1900/01/01
1959/01/01 to 1959/01/01
1982/01/01 to 1982/01/01
1982/01/01 to 2007/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Building Social and Community Life
Religious Institutions

Function - Category and Type


Religion, Ritual and Funeral
Religious Facility or Place of Worship


Architect / Designer




Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Ontario Heritage Trust Property Files Ontario Heritage Trust 10 Adelaide Street East Toronto, Ontario

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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