Description of Historic Place
St. John’s Anglican Church is a one-and-one-half-storey, wood structure located on Main Street, Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Surrounded by an historic burial ground and many mature trees, the church is situated on an elevated plot of land with a north-facing view of Wolfville’s dyke lands, which extend to the Bay of Fundy and then on to Cape Blomidon. The church, which was built in 1818, and the surrounding property and cemetery, are all part of the heritage designation.
St. John’s Anglican Church is valued as Wolfville’s oldest church, for its architectural features, for its cemetery and for its historical association with the development of the Anglican Church in the Annapolis Valley.
A landmark in the town of Wolfville, the church was built in 1818 and it remains the town’s oldest original church structure. Before its construction, Anglican missionaries like Rev. John Wiswall, a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts and the first rector of Cornwallis, Horton (now present-day Wolfville) and Wilmot, conducted services to worshippers of all faiths once a month in Baptist meeting houses in Horton. Wiswall and other missionaries lamented that the town lacked a proper church for its Anglican worshippers. Other towns in the valley, notably Middleton and Wilmot (present-day Auburn), already had Anglican parishes by this time. At the time of the church’s construction, there was one Presbyterian, two Baptist and two Methodist meetings houses in Horton. Land for the church was purchased for 30 pounds from Stephen Brown DeWolf to Rev. Robert Stanser, the second Bishop of Nova Scotia.
Many influential people served at the church over the years. One prominent rector was Rev. Richard Dixon. During his 32 years of service, he was revered by townspeople who viewed him as an advocate for their welfare and an authority on town issues. A noted writer of church publications, he also contributed to secular publications such as the Montreal Star, Saturday Night, The Standard and The Canadian Bookman. Dixon spearheaded the creation of the Wolfville Ministerial Association in 1917, a precursor to today’s Inter-Church Council, that encouraged cooperation among Wolfville-area churches; he served as the association’s first president. He also worked as vice-president of the Evangeline Cricket Club, lectured on Shakespeare at Acadia University, and in 1917, he helped organize an aid committee for victims of the Halifax explosion.
Architecturally, the church’s interior and exterior elements blend Classical, Gothic Revival and Georgian styles. This is likely due to the many changes and renovations the church has undergone over the years. In 1887, extensive renovations by local architect George Prat replaced the church’s Georgian-style flat-head windows with Gothic-style ones. A large extension was added in 1986-7, and in 2005, an exact replica of the original belfry was installed (the original blew off in a storm in 1886). The Classical Revival details include the church’s ornate cornice ends and its bargeboard design on corner boards, mouldings and gable ends. Internal architectural features include the church’s original Georgian-style wooden pews; though missing the original doors, they date back to the church’s construction.
The cemetery grounds consist of a mix of early and contemporary grave markers and tombstones as well as several separate family burial plots enclosed with iron fencing. The cemetery’s large grounds are dotted with mature trees, which provide solace and privacy for visiters.
- Town of Wolfville Heritage Property Program files, St. John’s Anglican Church file.
Character-defining elements of St. John’s Anglican Church include:
- Classical Revival cornice eaves and bargeboard design on corner boards, mouldings and gable ends;
- original Georgian-style wooden pews.
- Gothic windows with hood mouldings;
- Gothic two-leaf style door;
- belfry with gothic windows on all four sides.
Structural and landscape elements:
- asymmetrical appearance;
- steep pitched gabled roof;
- vertical clapboard siding with wide corner boards;
- stained glass windows at east and west ends of the church;
- architraves around windows and the front door;
- wide horizontal boarding wraps around lower edge of the structure.
- the cemetery includes mix of early and contemporary grave markers and tombstones as well as several separate family burial plots enclosed with iron fencing.