Doors Open: We welcomed Toronto

On May 28 and 29, we welcomed visitors to our church and churchyard for the Doors Open Toronto 2016 weekend. Here are highlights in words and pictures.

Months of planning and weeks of preparation resulted in a great weekend experience. Visitors came and wandered around the historic building and churchyard, and parishioners learned new things about their church home.

Welcoming volunteers – welcoming visitors

Organizer Venetia Cowie, in period costume, along with two volunteers from Doors Open Toronto who came to help.

Organizer Venetia Cowie, in period costume, along with two volunteers, Karen and Leighton, from Doors Open Toronto who came to lend a hand.

Thank you to all those who helped to make this a memorable experience for all the visitors who came through our doors.

Volunteers Cliffe and Mary at the information table ready to welcome visitors. With them is Bill Dennis, the verger, who doubles as a walking history book for St. John's.

Volunteers Cliffe and Mary at the information table ready to welcome visitors. With them is Bill Dennis, the verger, who doubles as a walking history book for St. John’s.

We offered brochures to visitors for self-guided tours. Other publications were also available, some free, including booklets about the stained-glass windows throughout the church, reprints of 150 Years at St. John’s York Mills (originally published in 1966), and a book about the artist E.B. Cox, a few of whose sculptures adorn St. John’s.

History on display

Visitors look at a display case with memorabilia of parishioners who served during World Wars I and II

Visitors look at a display case with memorabilia of parishioners who served during World Wars I and II

There’s a long and rich history behind the present-day St. John’s York Mills. It was the second Anglican church to be founded in York county (present-day Toronto and York Region), and whereas the first, St. James’ Cathedral, was a “high church” institution for the city folks, St. John’s was a “low church” for the farmers and millers that lived in the area at the time. At that time, travelling to Toronto meant an arduous trip eight miles along Yonge Street which was a rough toll road; hence the decision to plant a church at York Mills.

Sextons: then and now. Mark Anderson, our current sexton (church caretaker) standing next to a portrait of John Squire, who was sexton from 1863 to 1931 (66 years!)

Sextons: then and now. Mark Anderson, our current sexton (church caretaker) stands next to a portrait of John Squire, who was sexton from 1863 to 1931 (66 years!). Among his duties: stoking the stove for heat, tolling the bell, digging graves.

Since those days, the community around St. John’s has transformed and evolved until now when it is a prosperous part of a large, cosmopolitan city. Documents, mementos, and pictures were on display to show the church and the people over the years, and to give glimpses into the lives and times of the people who lived through them.

Putting on our Sunday best

Standing at the original door to the church are (left to right): Jay, Rev. Drew Macdonald, Venetia, and Peter. The keystone over the door reads "1843".

In period costume at the original door to the church are (left to right): Jay, Rev. Drew MacDonald, Venetia, and Peter. The keystone over the door reads “A.D. 1843”.

Several volunteers dressed up in period costume from the early 1800s. In those days, people wore their finest clothes (their “Sunday best”) to church.

The back part of the church dates back to the second building which was erected in 1844. If you step inside the door and look up, you will see some timbers taken from the first building which was constructed in 1816.

Keeping up with the times

Visitors look at a poster showing "before and after" photos of the 2014 renovation. Behind them is the chancel.

Visitors look at a poster showing “before and after” photos of the 2014 renovation. Behind them is the chancel.

The chancel – the elevated area at the front of the church from which the clergy conduct the services – shows off the most recent renovations at St. John’s. The chancel was renovated and expanded in 2014, and now has room for a band as well as the traditional choir and organ.

Patrick the music director playing the organ

Patrick, the music director, gives a demonstration of the organ. The organ, a Casavant, has over 2000 pipes.

These renovation to the physical building reflect changes that have been happening to how we worship. Sunday mornings begin with a service at 9 a.m. – The Sacred Table – that follows the traditional Anglican rites and hymns. Then at 10:30 we have The Open Door which has an emphasis on teaching and on contemporary Christian music with the band.

The Churchyard: hints of history in stone

Two visitors wander through the Churchyard.

Two visitors wander through the Churchyard.

In the past, it was usual for the local church to have an associated cemetery, or churchyard, and so it is with St. John’s.

Wander through the Churchyard and you can observe gravestones dating from the early 1800s to very recent. A number of notable persons are interred here, including Walter Allward, the designer of the Canadian Vimy Ridge Memorial.

Penny Potter chats with a visitor in the Churchyard

Penny Potter chats with volunteer Sue in the Churchyard

Penny Potter, who has researched and written about the early days of Canada, took visitors on tours of the Churchyard and recounted the stories of some of the more interesting people who have been laid to rest here.

Thank you for making it happen

0528 Doors OpenThank you to everyone who worked to make the weekend a success.

We especially thank Venetia Cowie and Penny Potter, the organizers of Doors Open St. John’s. Venetia worked tirelessly to recruit volunteers, find resources, make sure all the preparations were completed, and oversee things during the event. Penny not only helped Venetia with much of the organizing, she researched the history of the church and the community, and she ran the churchyard tours during the event.

We thank Linda Grasley and Doug Hart of the 200th Anniversary committee for getting things started, Bill Dennis and Mark Anderson for all the heavy lifting to prepare for the weekend (and for Bill’s extensive knowledge of the history of St. John’s), and Catherine Bryant and Laura Peetoom who took care of administration and of preparing written materials.

Finally, we thank the many, many other volunteers who took on roles – from taking photos to guiding visitors to appearing in period costume – that helped make this a fun and memorable weekend.

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