Church celebrates 200th anniversary

A map pointer with the image of a church
 on September 1, 2016

St. John, York Mills will celebrate its 200th anniversary with two special services of thanksgiving on Sept. 18. At 9 a.m., there will be “19th Century Morning Prayer,” a service featuring the 1815 Prayer Book, period music and a hymn on the 1840s barrel organ – with the church set up as if it were 1816. At 10:30 a.m., there will be a contemporary Eucharist with Archbishop Colin Johnson. All are invited.

The history of St. John’s began around 1800 when Seneca Ketchum of north Toronto grew tired of walking down Yonge Street every Sunday to St. James Church (later cathedral) on King Street to attend morning services. He began conducting evening prayer services in his home for friends and neighbours.

After Mr. Ketchum’s congregation grew too large for his little log house, they decided they could support a proper church. Joseph and Catherine Shepard donated about three acres of land for a church and churchyard. Mr. Ketchum donated time and money for a building. On Sept. 17, 1816, a cornerstone was laid and by Dec. 30 the church was ready to welcome its first worshippers.

Once a month, the Rev. John Strachan of St. James Church (later Bishop John Strachan, the first Bishop of Toronto) came north to conduct a service. On other Sundays, divinity students like Derwyn Trevor Owen delivered sermons and prayers written by Mr. Strachan.

By 1840, the congregation needed a larger, more permanent church. Adjacent land was donated by William and Dinah Marsh and architect John George Howard, who had also designed Christ Church in Holland Landing. In 1843, the church was officially dedicated and named St. John’s, York Mills.

Over the years, St. John’s has seen many changes and has been served by prominent clergy who have become bishops and archbishops. The Canon Rev. Lewis Garnsworthy served at St. John’s until he was elected a bishop. Derwyn Trevor Owen, who also became a bishop, enjoyed his time at St. John’s so much that even though he was not a rector there, he asked to be buried in the churchyard. His wish was granted.

Two women who served as Sunday School superintendents are also well remembered for their contributions to St. John’s. After each Sunday School class, Kathleen Sladen drove down Yonge Street to conduct more classes and comfort children at the Hospital for Sick Children. When she retired in 1955, Margery Pezzack took over the role, serving as a deacon and assistant preacher until she was ordained a priest on May 22, 1977.

St. John’s is located at 19 Don Ridge Dr., Toronto. For more information on the anniversary celebration, visit the church’s website at

Submitted by Jeanne Hopkins.


Keep on reading

Skip to content