Description of Historic Place
St. Philip's African Orthodox Church is located on Hankard Street in the area of Sydney, Cape Breton known as Whitney Pier. This wooden church with Gothic style elements was built between 1900 and 1915. The building and property are located in the provincial designation.
St. Philip's African Orthodox Church is valued for its role in preserving Nova Scotia's West Indian heritage and for its association with the industrialization of Nova Scotia.
Over the years, St. Philip's has become one of the most important institutions in the Black community of Sydney; a community which originated mainly in the West Indies (Barbados) and whose members emigrated to Sydney during Cape Breton's industrial boom of the early 20th century.
The African Orthodox Church was originated by George Alexander McGuire in the United States in the early 1920s. Born in Antigua, McGuire traveled to the United States in 1892 and became a minster with the Episcopal Church of America. In 1913 he returned to Antigua to serve in his boyhood parish. Aware of the rising black consciousness following World War I, McGuire returned to the United States with the intention of starting an Independant Black Church. This action coincided with the advent of the radical Marcus Garvey Black Movement in the United States. Garvey, born in Jamaica, led what was to be the largest and most successful mass movement of Black people in the history of the United States. In the early 1920s, Garvey initiated the Universal Negro Improvement Association which was designed to work towards political, economic and religious independance of Blacks in America, the West Indies and Africa. Garvey was know to have crusaded in Sydney in the early 1920s and that several branches of the UNIA were active in industrial Cape Breton, several of which continue to the present time. In the formative years of the UNIA, Reverend McGuire was invited by Marcus Garvey to be chaplain of the organization. This acceptance by McGuire laid the groundwork for the African Orthodox Church.
The African Orthodox Church was officially constituted on September 2, 1921. Shortly thereafter, George McGuire was consecrated first Bishop of the African Orthodox Church. Also in 1921, Rev. McGuire sent Jamaican-born William Ernest Robertson to Sydney to start the work of the African Orthodox Church in Canada. Sometime after, Rev. Robertson succeeded in starting St. Philip's Parish in Whitney Pier.
The building which presently houses St. Philip's was built between 1900 and 1915. It was originally owned by the Dominion Iron and Steel Company in Sydney. In 1925 or 1926, a Dr. A. Calder negotiated with the Steel Company on behalf of the trustees of St. Philip's to obtain the building and the continued connection to the Steel Company in reflected in the use of steel for some interior elements. It was moved by flatcar and rollers to its present location on Hankard Street. The parish then took over the preparation of the building, using the volunteer services of local carpenters and any other labour that was available. The pastor of St. Philip's at that time, Rev. Dixon Philips, also worked on the construction of the church. The building was formally opened on July 15, 1928.
St. Philips African Orthodox Church represents the only African Orthodox Parish in Canada.
Source: Provincial Heritage Property files, no. 31, Heritage Division, 1747 Summer Street, Halifax, NS
Character-defining elements of St. Philip's African Orthodox Church include:
- 1 1/2 storey wood clad structure with Gothic elements;
- rectangular massing of the main section and its gable roof;
- exterior steeple centered on the facade with hipped roof;
- a closed belfry on the top portion of the steeple;
- a ground level entrance porch with double doors on both sides;
- projecting eaves and verges;
- a five foot chimney located on the east side;
- a semi-circular canopy of wood protecting the west door;
- a wrought iron railing decorating both doors;
- four lancet arch Gothic windows on each side of the main section, each seven feet in height and three feet wide at the base, including sashes and frames;
- steel altar railing and wooden pews made from local materials.