Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 10
The Architectural Heritage of the Rideau Corridor
by Barbara A. Humphreys
Churches of the Rideau
At the time of the settling of the Rideau Corridor there were five
major religious denominations in Upper Canada. The Church of England and
the Roman Catholic churches were, of course, well established when the
Province of Upper Canada was founded. It was assumed at that time that
the former religion would become the established church of Upper Canada,
reflecting the close association of church and state that existed in
England. This assumption was evident in the granting of the clergy
reserves, which set aside one-seventh of the land as an endowment to the
"Protestant" church. The assumption proved erroneous with the coming of
the United Empire Loyalists, for while they brought with them a loyalty
to the crown, this loyalty did not necessarily encompass, as was
expected, a loyalty to the Church of England. Many of them were
Methodists and, because of the strength of their religious beliefs,
their tenacity and zeal, they were able to establish the first Methodist
circuit in Upper Canada by 1790.
A second form of Methodism arrived in Canada with the coming of the
Wesleyan Methodist adherents as part of the post-1812 emigration from
Great Britain. Dissenters from both this form of Methodism and the
Episcopalian Methodism of the Loyalists formed still another Methodist
group, the Canadian Wesleyan Methodists, and not until 1884 were all
three united as the Methodist Episcopalian Church of Canada.
The Presbyterians, who became established in the Rideau area in the
early days of settlement (a Presbyterian church was established in
Merrickville in 1821), also suffered from dissension among themselves.
Reflecting various divisions within the Church of Scotland and its
American counterpart, these groups finally came together in 1875 to form
the Presbyterian Church in Canada.
The Baptists were considerably fewer in number than the other
religious groups, but at least one congregation was established in the
Rideau area in the 1790s. They too suffered internal disagreements which
were not finally resolved until 1851.
These several groups and their doctrinal differences led to the
erection of an unusually large number of churches in some areas,
considering the size of the population. Churches for all denominations
were built in the Rideau Corridor with, as might be expected, the
Anglican and Methodist predominating. These pre-1880 churches were
largely simple one-storey structures, although there were also some very
handsome (though not necessarily large) structures with tall spires and
intricate interior detailing.
Most of the churches recorded were built of stone and equally divided
between rural and urban sites. A few of the rural and village churches,
particularly the earlier ones, were of frame construction, brick being
used primarily in the villages and towns. Stone construction seems to
have been dominant until brick came into popular use in the 1870s.
Stylistically the churches belong to the Gothic Revival and with only
one or two exceptions all display the pointed window, the primary
distinguishing feature of this style. So established did this feature become
in the Rideau area (and elsewhere in Canada) that as Alan Gowans has
said, "People...still have no trouble recognizing a Gothic window as a
sign of church architecture, no less distinctive than a
The Gothic Revival period started in England in the mid-18th century
and was, in part, a reaction to the sometimes severe style of the
Classical Revival which preceded it, as well as an expression of the
desire for more decorative buildings. It was due also to a return to
fashion of the arts of the Middle Ages, receiving great impetus from the
writings of art lovers, architects and authors. By the turn of the
century, mediaevalism was very popular. One of the most influential of
these mediaeval enthusiasts was A. W. N. Pugin (1812-52), an architect
and writer who "not only admired the aesthetic and religious values of
the Middle Ages but saw in their structural principles and logical
ornament the true essence of architecture."10 This equating
of Christianity and architecture was received with great enthusiasm in
England. Under the aegis of the Ecclesiological Society, founded in
England in 1839 and devoted to the perfection of Gothic symbolism in
Anglican church building, the Gothic style of architecture became the
accepted style for churches and when, in 1832 its advocates defeated the
Classical Revivalists in the "battle of styles" that raged over the
rebuilding of the Parliament Buildings in Britain, Gothic
Revival became the national style as well. Its use in Upper Canada
thus contained an air of patriotism in addition to its religious
While, as Pevsner says, "no other country took so wholeheartedly to
the Gothic Revival in all its tendencies and shades as
England,"11 the style did become popular in America as well,
though to a somewhat lesser extent. Accepted more for its
picturesqueness than for moral or patriotic symbolism it was
popularized, particularly for domestic buildings, by the writings of A.
J. Downing whose book, The Architecture of Country Houses,
published first in 1850, was in its ninth printing in 1866. While the
Gothic Revival style did not become popular for domestic architecture
until mid-19th century in either the United States or Canada, its use
for church architecture was firmly established in both Great Britain and
the United States in the early 1800s. This dual influence was inevitably
reflected in Canada and consequently almost all the churches, regardless
of denomination those of the Rideau Corridor included were
constructed with some semblance of the Gothic Revival style.
In plan or form the churches in the Rideau Corridor, regardless of
denomination or material of construction, fall roughly in two groups:
those with towers and those without. Most of the small rural churches
are without towers and in many instances are distinguishable from
schoolhouses only by their pointed Gothic windows.
They are small, pleasantly proportioned buildings in stone or frame,
rectangular in shape with a medium to low pitched roof, a chimney at one
gable end, usually a small and simple entrance porch at the other, and
an invariable symmetrical distribution of three window openings on each
long side. The only decorative feature of these buildings lies in the
pointed Gothic design of the door and window openings and the design of
the sash themselves. The latter vary in size and design, sometimes
having a single small-paned sash, as in St. Augustine's Church at
Prospect (Figs. 91, 92), or a double sash separated by a wood mullion,
as in the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Salem (Figs. 93, 94). A more
decorative window, seen on St. John's Anglican Church in Storrington
township (Figs. 95, 96) has the paired sash separated by a stone mullion
and is one of the few recorded in the area having additional decorative
features such as the circular design in the gable and patterned
91-92 St. Augustine's Anglican Church in Prospect, Beckwith
township (Con. 3, Lot 26), built in 1854, is typical in size and
style of the early rural churches in the Rideau Corridor.
93-94 Wesleyan Methodist Church in Salem (Con. 12,
Lot 21), Bedford township, erected in 1865, notable for the size and
design of its windows.
95-96 St. John's Anglican Church in Storrington township
(Con. 7, Lot 6), built in 1863 with stone mullioned windows and
decorative bargeboard trim.
The more elaborate churches those with towers still
retain the rectangular, gable-roofed basic form of the smaller
buildings and the omnipresent Gothic windows but have a tower
integrated into the design. These towers are generally square in plan
and located on the centre front of the church. Some of the small
churches, such as the United Church at Battersea built in 1858 have
had the tower added at a later date so it projects fully from the front
elevation of the original structure (Fig. 97).
97 United Church in Battersea, Storrington township. The body of the
church was built in 1858 and the tower added in 1921.
A few of these central towers, such as the one on the Standard
Presbyterian Church in North Gower township (Fig. 98), terminate
without a spire in the manner of Norman or mediaeval Anglican churches.
On some of these towers castellated parapets are seen, as on St. James
Church in Manotick (Fig. 99) and the church in Sunbury (Fig. 100);
or there may be a combination of parapet and spires as at
Burritts Rapids (Fig. 101).
98 Presbyterian Church, North Gower township (Con. 1, Lot 25), a trim
design built in 1876.
99 St. James Anglican Church in Manotick, North Gower township, with
"Carpenter's Gothic" windows and a castellated tower, was erected in
100 Limestone church in Sunbury, Storrington township, built in 1852,
has buttressed Norman tower.
101 Christ Church, Burritts Rapids, Oxford township, erected in 1831
with wooden quoins on the crenelated tower and a decorative circular
window is the gable, is one of the earliest churches in the Rideau
The spires, some of which were later additions, vary considerably in
size and design from the rather squat style rising without transition
from the square tower as is seen on the Wolford Chapel United Church
(Fig. 102), to the rather fussy spire of St. Edward's Church in Westport
(Fig. 103) which soars to some 150 feet, quite losing sight of the main
roof below. This spire, whose actual height is visually increased by the
repetition of similar details in decreasing size, is a late replacement
of the original whose simple style and lower height were in rather
better proportion with the balance of the design.12 Well
proportioned and in the Gothic tradition is the spire of the Roman
Catholic Church erected in 1858 in Richmond (Fig. 104). Another, the
slender spire of the United Church in Seeleys Bay (Fig. 105), rises with
pleasant transition from the usual square tower which, in this building,
terminates in low-pitched decorated gables rather than the flat top
found on so many of the Rideau area churches. Finials and imitation
quoins are additional Gothic details of the Seeleys Bay church, which
was built in 1877 and whose general design suggests the slender
proportions and finely scaled details of the Perpendicular or late
102 Wolford Chapel United Church in Wolford township (Con. A, Lot
26), constructed in 1822 and renovated in 1860 and 1967.
103 St. Edward's Roman Catholic Church in Westport, North Crosby
township, a buttressed Gothic Revival design, was built in 1860 and has
an elaborate vaulted interior (see Fig. 117).
104 St. Philips Catholic Church in Richmond, Goulbourn township,
dates from 1858 and is a replacement of the original small wooden church
built in 1825.
105 Seeleys Bay United Church, rear of Leeds and Lansdowne, a
handsome frame church built in 1877 and detailed in the late Gothic
Spires that rise without transition from the towers often give the
church a curious mediaeval look. Such a design can be seen on the Knox
Presbyterian Church in Merrickville (Fig. 106). Here the tower is in
sharp contrast with the tall, slender late Gothic windows. On the Holy
Trinity Church in North Gower (Fig. 107) the spire sits, apparently
unanchored, on a Norman tower whose painted clocks remain unmoved by
106 Knox Presbyterian Church, Merrickville, Wolford township, erected
107 United Church in North Gower, North Gower township, built in 1870.
A departure from the single, centre-tower design is seen in the
off-centre towers of the Baptist Church in Smith's Falls (Fig. 108) and
St. James Anglican Church in Perth, both dating from the 1870s. The
latter is again in the Gothic tradition while the Baptist Church is in
the style of the Romanesque Revival. (The Romanesque Revival was part
of the Italianate or Round-Headed style which became popular for all
types of architecture in Canada in the latter half of the 19th century,
but this church is the only example of it recorded in the survey.)
108 First Baptist Church, Smith's Falls, built in 1872, in the style of
the Romanesque Revival.
Another departure from the central single tower is found in Perth in
St. John's Church (Fig. 109), built in 1848 and one of the most
elaborate of all the churches in the Rideau Corridor. The central tower
of this buttressed and pinnacled limestone structure is flanked on
either side by smaller towers of similar design. While unusually
elaborate in form, the detailing is severe, giving the whole a somewhat
109 St. John's Catholic Church in Perth erected in 1848 was an unusually
elaborate church for its time.
Built in a different idiom are St. John the Evangelist Church in
Oxford Mills (Fig. 110) and St. Augustine's in Oxford township (Figs.
111, 112). Both are again Gothic in detail with tall pointed windows and
even a simple rose window on St. Augustine's; but the high, steeply
pitched roofs on these buildings belong to the Anglo-Saxon period of
English mediaeval architecture rather than the period represented by
their Gothic details. The church at Oxford Mills, for example, with its
gable end terminating in a bell tower is very reminiscent of the Boars
Hants Church in England (ca. 1000). It is curious that this early
mediaeval style should appear in the Rideau at so late a date, all three
examples having been built between 1869 and 1879 after the Gothic
Revival style was well established.
110 St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church, Oxford Mills, Oxford
township, a mediaeval English design bullt in 1869 (see Fig. 115 for an
111 St. Augustine's Anglican Church at Acton Corners.
112 Oxford township (Con. 3, Lot 15), built in 1879 and carefully
detailed in an early Gothic Revival style.
A style feature which was more in keeping with the contemporary
developments of the post-1860 period is seen on two very similar churches,
both built in the late 1870s. These are both Methodist buildings, one at
Forfar (Fig. 113) and one at Eastons Corners (Fig. 114). While the
centre front towers on both are traditional, their termination in a form
of Mansard roof marks them as belonging to the Second Empire style.
(First popularized in Canada in the 1870s and used extensively
thereafter on all types of buildings, this style is distinguished by the
use of the Mansard roof.)
113 Methodist Church in Forfar, Bastard township (Con. 3, Lot 27), a red
brick building constructed in 1879, its tower terminating in the Mansard
roof of the Second Empire style popular in Canada in the 1870s.
114 Methodist Church in Eastons Corners, Wolford township. Built of
yellow brick, it combines Gothic Revival windows and a Second Empire
Mansard roof on the tower.
As might be expected the interiors of the small rural churches were
usually quite simple and unadorned; however, elaborate ceiling designs
were found in some, notably St. John's in Oxford Mills (Fig. 115) and
Holy Trinity Church in North Gower (Fig. 116), here examples can be seen
of exposed wood ceiling structures reminiscent of the elaborate wood
ceilings of the mediaeval parish churches of England. Most outstanding
of the Gothic interior designs in St. Edward's Church in Westport (Fig.
117), whose slender, beautiful vaulting is the more remarkable inasmuch
as it was erected in 1852.
115 The scissors truss ceiling of St. John the Evangelist Church in
Oxford Mills, Oxford township (see also Fig. 110).
116 Hammer beam ceiling in the Holy Trinity Church in North Gower, North
Gower township, a centre-towered stone church erected in 1879.
117 Tall vaulted ceiling of St. Edward's Catholic Church in Westport
(see also Fig. 103).
Regardless of design inside or out, of fabric or location, all of
these early churches of the Rideau Corridor bear witness to the devotion
and determination of the pioneers. Faced, as most were, with an almost
daily struggle for survival they nonetheless overlooked doctrinal
differences and found the time and devoted the energy to erecting
tangible and lasting symbols of their faith.