Description of Historic Place
The building at 3428 Portage Road North, known as Old St. John's Anglican Church, is situated in the former community of Stamford, now in the City of Niagara Falls. The small roughcast masonry church was designed in the vernacular Gothic Revival style and was built between 1825-26.
The exterior and interior of the church as well as the aesthetic and scenic condition and quality of the property are protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement (1986). In 1968, the Church was commemorated by a provincial plaque. The property is also designated by the City of Niagara Falls under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law 78-24).
Located on the east side of Portage Road between Chippewa and Queenston the church faces the former public commons (now a park) known as Stamford Green. The historic St. John's cemetery, the parish's burial ground, is located to the north and west of Old St. John's.
Old St. John's Church is significant for its association with the development of Anglicanism in Niagara. It is the oldest church in the region and one of the oldest Anglican churches in Ontario. The property is associated with a number of significant individuals including Napoleonic War veteran Captain Robert H. Dee, who, in 1820, donated the land on which St. John's was built. The construction of this church was also supported by the personal initiative and patronage of Sir Peregrine Maitland (1777-1854), Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada (1818-1828). Maitland had a 400-acre summer estate nearby, known as Stamford Park and was a strong supporter of the Anglican Church. Other members of the establishment, including John Beverley Robinson, Attorney General of Upper Canada, contributed to the building costs of this church. Construction started in 1825 and the building was consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Charles J. Stewart, Bishop of Quebec in 1828. The first priest was Rev. William Leeming (1787-1863), Rector of Chippewa, and an active missionary in the area. St. John's separated from All Saints Church (Chippewa) in 1857 to form its own parish. St. John's Church remained in religious use until a new St. John's church was constructed, in 1957, on an adjacent lot. Old St. John's was deconsecrated in 1962. At this time most of the church's interior furnishings were removed to Upper Canada Village. The building was acquired by the Old St. John's Stamford Heritage Association and is now used as a columbarium.
Old St. John's Church is significant as one of the earliest remaining examples of the vernacular Gothic Revival style in Ontario. This informal style was expressed through simple buildings modestly adorned with Gothic inspired decorative features. Vernacular Gothic Revival churches were not typically designed by architects, but were usually expressions of frontier building traditions and locally available materials. St. John's is a small stone building with a roughcast (stucco) exterior. There is a three-sided apse at its east end and a small, one-storey enclosed gabled porch projecting from the westerly gable end. The use of roughcast as an exterior finish was common at this time as it both protected the randomly coursed masonry from the elements and produced a clean and smooth surface that was easy to maintain. A square-frame tower with louvered pointed arch openings is located at the western gable end. The side walls consist of three equal bays accentuated by three small pointed-arch windows with intersecting Gothic-style wood tracery. The front elevation has eave returns, two tall pointed arch windows flanking the porch and a smaller pointed arch window above the porch ridge. A date stone inscribed “1825” is located in the western gable end. The building generally retains its historic character, but has been altered on a number of occasions including: 1845 (bell installed), 1866 (bell tower repaired and shortened to current form), 1876 (roof replaced). In the mid 19th century, the porch was added to the front of the church obscuring the original entrance and altering the façade proportions. Three simple buttresses were added to the building when a bulge appeared in the rear wall in the mid 19th century.
The interior of the church has been stripped of most of its original wood finishes and the furnishings are now austere but retain the essential plan, with elements such as the gallery, exposed timber roof framing, wood stairs, wood floors, wood window trim, plastered walls and plaster ceiling. Remnants of historic stencilling have been found under the layers of recent paint.
Source: OHT Easement Files.
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Old St. John's Anglican Church include its:
- small bell tower with Gothic inspired details including: double vents on four sides, metal finials and cross and metal roof cladding
- gable roof and hip roof of the apse
- relatively small pointed-arch window openings in the side walls that feature 6x4 pane wood lower sashes with 6x3 pane and tracery upper sashes
- intersecting style vernacular Gothic wood tracery
- rough cast stucco finish on the exterior walls
- thick rubble masonry walls approximately 0.60 m thick
- three simple buttresses on the southeast end
- simple and symmetrical floor plan
- clear span interior space of the main hall
- modest gallery at west end of the church
- historic plaster walls and ceiling with 19th century stencilling obscured under recent layers of paint
- broad pine floor boards
- timber roof framing
- wood window sills, reveals, doors and door surrounds
- wood stairs that provide access to the gallery
- proximity of the park (former commons) on the west side of Portage Road
- Anglican cemetery located on three sides of the church that remains in use