Description of Historic Place
St. John’s Anglican Church is a large Gothic style church located in the centre of Old Town Lunenburg. Its style and location have made it a local landmark. Both the land and the building are included in the provincial designation.
St. John’s Anglican Church is valued for its age; association with the history of Lunenburg and the South Shore region of Nova Scotia; its interior and exterior architecture; and its recent restoration.
The construction of St. John’s Anglican Church began in 1754 and is the second oldest Anglican Church in Canada, being predated only by St. Paul’s Church in Halifax. As such, it had a significant role in the establishment of the Church of England in Nova Scotia. Since it was constructed as the same time the town was founded, it has served as the social and religious heart of the community for over two hundred years. It was also the focus of the Church Square in the original British urban design for the town.
Originally the congregation was mainly German and French speaking “Foreign Protestants” who were the founders of the town. The early form of the church closely resembled a New England meeting house with a round conical tower, similar to German churches. Seventeen of the church’s earliest parishioners are buried in a crypt under the church. Many of the surnames of these Foreign Protestant settlers still abound in Lunenburg and remain associated with the church.
Since its construction, the church has undergone many changes, often in association with economic and social changes in the town. In 1840 a new tower was built and it was at this time that the church began to take on some Gothic elements. The new tower had its iconic Gothic style pinnacles placed around the top. 1870, the beginning of the lucrative ‘Age of Sail’ in Nova Scotia, again saw marked changes in the church. The church was moved 25 feet westward to where it is presently located. A new nave, chancel and Gothic windows were added. Noted Halifax architects Sterling and Dewar oversaw these Gothic changes in the church and was instrumental in the addition of the hammer-beam roof supports. The church was again enlarged in 1892 with local master carpenter Solomon Morash acting as chief contractor. At this time side aisles were added, the chancel was enlarged, the main supporting timbers of the building were encased in marbleized octagonal pillars and a galvanized roof added. Fourteen pinnacles were added to the buttresses around the perimeter of the church. Much of the work was done by local shipbuilders, a reflection of Lunenburg’s close tie to the sea.
In 2001 the church suffered a devastating fire, a victim of arson. Over fifty percent of the historic fabric was lost. Following a four year detailed restoration the church was returned to its pre-fire appearance. During the restoration, where possible the remaining historic fabric was integrated with new materials. The church continues to serve the Anglican population of Lunenburg and is a popular tourist site.
Source: Provincial Heritage Property Program file no. 4.
Exterior character-defining elements of St. John’s Anglican Church relate to all pre-2001 and restored elements and include:
- copper roof;
- wooden doors and cladding;
- location in the centre of Old Town;
- painted white with black trim;
- exterior sign “St. John’s Anglican Church of Canada welcomes John’s Anglican Church of Canada welcomes You.’
Exterior character-defining elements of St. John’s Anglican Church relate all pre-2001 and restored elements of Gothic architecture and include:
- central tower caped with pinnacles, enclosing bells;
- arched windows and doors;
- large arched window in centre of tower;
- pinnacles on perimeter of roof line on buttresses;
- side additions with gable ends.
Interior character-defining elements of St. John’s Anglican Church relate to all pre-2001 and restored elements and include:
- plaster walls;
- ornamental painting including: hand painted east wall of chancel, stars on chancel ceiling, banners over arches between nave and chancel and over nave entrance, faux marble finish on columns, and gold leave on columns in nave and chancel;
- hammer-beam roof supports with curved principals and collar beams;
- historic wall plaques;
- pews, book racks and kneelers;
- wooden floor boards;
- two historic stained glass windows, including “Fishers of Men” window, and 13 windows restored using pieces of original stained glass;
- 1926 oak altar;
- concrete baptismal font;
- 1902 bronze bells;
- support columns covered by faux marble encasement;
- crypt containing remains of seventeen parishioners.