As early as 1759, when the French Fort Niagara, on what is now the American side of the Niagara River, had been captured by the British, the Reverend John Ogilvie came from Albany, N.Y. to hold Anglican services for several months. During the upheavals of the American Revolution, settlers crossed the Niagara River and established farms and a small community on the west bank. In 1784, the Reverend John Stuart of Kingston visited the community briefly and preached in Fort Niagara.
The Bishop of Nova Scotia forwarded the request for a resident clergyman to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts in England. This Society was engaged in supporting mission work around the world. The Society had received an application from Robert Addison for service abroad. So, in May 1791, Addison was appointed and within a couple of months he set sail for Canada. He brought with him a silver chalice and his library of more than 1,500 books, which remain possessions of St. Mark’s.
When he arrived in Niagara the following July, Addison discovered that his “parish” included all of the little villages that were springing up from Fort Erie to Ancaster and from York (Toronto) to London, including the Native Reserve along the Grand River. There was no church building in what was called Newark, and services were held in the Masonic Lodge, or the Indian Council House. The congregation included most of the important people of the day, such as Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, Colonel John Butler and Major General Sir Isaac Brock. Addison also found himself the Chaplain to the newly formed legislature, a position that he was to fill for the next quarter century.
The land granted by the Crown for a Church lay midway between the town and the military establishment at Fort George. Work began quickly on the construction of a fine building with the stone being quarried from the escarpment and hauled to the site by the troops. It seemed for a while that the project was too ambitious for the small congregation and the work was not complete enough for the holding of services until 1809. The structure was rectangular and the outline of the extension for the chancel may still be seen in the floor boards. The building remains the oldest Anglican Church in continuous use in Ontario.
Years of Prosperity
In 1840, following the visit of the Right Reverend John Strachan, Bishop of Toronto, a subscription was begun to enlarge the church and by 1841 the addition of the transepts was completed. The east window was installed at that time, as well as the four tablets beside it, bearing the ten commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed. Balconies were constructed on all three sides of the Church, primarily for the seating of the troops from the Fort. Additionally , in 1843 two high pulpits were added, their sloped ceiling providing sufficient acoustical quality to allow the speaker to be heard throughout the Church.
The Rectory was constructed in 1858, in the style of a Tuscan Villa favored by the well to do of the day.
A chime of six bells was installed in the church tower in 1877, replacing the original bell.
In 1886 the Sunday School House was built adjacent to the Church.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the Church was significantly altered. The balconies were removed. The organ which had been in the west gallery was moved to the front of the Church. The box pews were removed and the paneling used as wainscoting around the Church. New pews were installed in both the nave and transepts.
These major renovations were completed in time for the parish to celebrate its centennial in 1892.
The first half of the twentieth century saw a number of furnishings given as memorials.
Seven stained glass memorial windows, installed by McCausland of Toronto, added to the beauty of the Church; please see the section entitled Windows under the History tab for more information on the stained glass windows. Electric lighting was installed in both the Church and the Sunday Schoolhouse. Three bells were added to complete the set of chimes in the tower in memory of those who died in action during the First World War.
By the early 1960’s it became evident that major repairs were required in the Church. Both the roof and floor of the Church were reinforced and restored and new lighting was installed. The organ was removed and the space it had occupied was converted into a Sacristy. The organ was placed in the balcony, supplemented by new pipes and a new console, as a memorial to those who had served in the Second World War.
A new communion rail and baptismal font were installed, with the ladies of the parish completing the needle work for the new kneelers.
The Schoolhouse, which by then was referred to as the Parish Hall, was also in need of repair. In 1966, extensions were added to both sides. A Historic Building Foundation was established to separate the costs of maintaining the buildings from the regular finances of the Church, thus allowing donations to be made specifically for the maintenance of these historic properties.
As the Church approached its Bicentennial an era of renewed enthusiasm began. A concert grand piano was given to the congregation. Heraldic arms were presented, bearing the inscription Proclaim the Good News. The summer lecture series was instituted to offer challenging theological perspectives to the congregation and community. A concert committee was established to present regular concerts including organ, piano, vocal and instrumental music. The Peace Chapel was created in the north transept to be used for Eucharist services for small groups.
Throughout their long and colorful history across four centuries, the people of St. Mark’s have remained true to their calling. They have worked together to sustain and enhance their buildings and property. They have worshiped together in times of stress and in times of celebration. If Robert Addison were to return today, he might at first find the words and music of the service falling strangely on his ears. Once accustomed to the newness of the language, however, he would find that this people have remained true to their calling to proclaim the gospel to a different, but equally needy world.
Rectors of the Parish
|The Rev. Robert Addison, M.A.||1791 – 1829|
|The Rev. Thomas Creen||1829 – 1856|
|The Venerable Wm. McMurray, D.D.||1857 – 1894|
|The Rev. Canon John C. Garrett||1894 – 1917|
|The Rev. Charles H.E. Smith, MA||1918 – 1954|
|The Rev. C.N.P. Blagrave B.A., L.Th.||1954 – 1958|
|The Rev. H.N. Mansfield BA, L.Th.||1959 – 1965|
|The Rev. Hugh Donald Maclean, S.Th.||1965 – 1978|
|The Rev. Canon D.Thomas, B.Sc., Dip Th.||1979 – 1985|
|The Venerable Peter H. Ford, MA||1986 – 1991|
|The Venerable Ian Dingwall, BA, L.Th., B.S. T.||1991 – 1998|
|The Rev. Canon Dr. Robert S.G. Wright, M.Div., Ph.D.||1998 – 2016|