Description of Historic Place
St. John's Anglican Church has stood since 1842 surrounded by its cemetery on South Drive in an area of Summerside that was once the village of St. Eleanors. Located on the east side of South Drive, it is a Gothic Revival wood framed structure. It features a moderately pitched gable roof and a long rectangular footprint. A tall entrance tower has buttresses and finials and includes a spire topped by a ball. It is clad entirely in white vinyl with cedar shingles on the roof.
The church is valued for its Gothic Revival architectural style; its association with the history of the Anglican Church in PEI; and for its contribution to the streetscape.
St. Eleanors was once the county seat of Prince County and it was seen as a logical location for the established Church of England. The land for the church was acquired sometime prior to 1825, the year that the original wooden frame structure was erected. Measuring 48 x 30 feet, it had a tower of 60 feet and was the first Church of England building in Prince Edward Island. The clergyman at that time was Louis C. Jenkins, who had first visited St. Eleanors in 1821. When he agreed to become the Rector in 1823, the congregation had 150 members. They struggled to find the money to complete their place of worship and it was not until the end of 1827 that the exterior of the church was finished. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire in November 1835.
A new structure was begun in 1838 and was under construction for four years. Assumed to be similar in exterior design to the original church, the building was constructed by George Tanton, Jr., who had erected the earlier building. He had come to PEI from England as a young man and some of his children married descendants of other early residents of the area. The church became a local landmark with its attractive three stage buttressed tower that was topped by battlements, pinnacles, and an octagonal spire.
Robert Ellis, a local cabinet maker, was the principal tradesman engaged in finishing the interior of the church between 1841 and 1847. He constructed box pews, a staircase in the tower, and a gallery extending the width of the building. He also built two pulpits, elevated and accessed by steps, as well as a communion rail and a communion table.
In 1888, some changes were made to the east end of the building. Summerside furniture maker H.A. Compton was hired to lower the ceiling of the chancel and to create small rooms on either side of it. Following the dedication of the new chancel in June, the Wardens hired Mr. Compton to proceed with other changes in the interior, including the lowering of the pews which had originally been raised a step up from the centre aisle.
In 1950, two rooms were constructed under the gallery and the stairway was enclosed. The clear glass of the windows was changed to opaque pebbled glass, altering the appearance of the exterior. In 1967, two Sunday School rooms were built in the gallery with a window allowing light to come in from the nave. The stairway to the upper level was opened up and refinished along with the church entryway.
Also in 1967, the lych gate was erected in front of the church. It was designed by architect Keith Pickard and was placed there by the Village of St. Eleanors as its Centennial project. At the same time a concrete walk was laid from the gate to the grave of William Henry Pope at the eastern end of the church. W.H. Pope, a Father of Confederation, is buried next to his brother, James Colledge Pope, a Premier of Prince Edward Island. Another Premier, Albert C. Saunders is also buried in St. John's Cemetery.
In 1985, the building was sheathed with vinyl which covered the wooden shingles and obscured the original architectural features of the tower. Other changes included insulation above the ceiling, new oak doors, and some interior painting. In the surrounding yard, a new fence was erected around the cemetery, repairs were made to headstones, a grave plot map was prepared and a new walkway to the Pope grave was laid.
The building is one of the oldest in the City of Summerside and continues to be used by the congregation of St. John's Anglican Church in affiliation with St. Mary's Anglican Church on Summer Street.
Source: City of Summerside, Heritage Property Profile
The heritage value of the church is shown in the following character-defining elements:
- the massing and rectangular form
- the moderately pitched gable roof with cedar shingles
- the staged tower with buttresses, battlements, and finials on the west elevation
- the tower spire sheathed in cedar shingles and topped off with a ball
- the Gothic arch windows symmetrically arranged on the north and south elevations with quatrefoil design
- the Gothic arch windows in the tower