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Church of the Holy Trinity/Church of the Ascension
The very first church in Ottawa East was Anglican - the Church of the Holy Trinity. Built in 1877, it was the only church serving the Christian community until the turn of the Church of the Holy Trinity - built in 1877century. As such it served not only Anglicans but many other denominations that made up the Christian mosaic that was Ottawa East. Many of the founders of the church were also involved in the creation of the village in 1888 and played a major role in the evolution of the community. The original building still stands today at the corner of Main and Echo and is used by the Portuguese Community Association.
By the end of the Great War the congregation had grown to a point where a new church was required. Three lots on Echo Drive just south of Pretoria Bridge were purchased and construction began in 1919 with a dedication of the building the following year. The name of the church was changed as there was a similarly-named Anglican Church in the city) to the Church of the Ascension.
From the very beginning the Anglican Church of Ottawa East served all of the community. This tradition continues today with many interfaith gatherings and community leadership.
We are fortunate that a detailed chronicle of the church's history has recently been written by Janet Lunn, an award-winning writer (including the Governor General's Award for Children's Literature) and a member of the church. Janet has given her kind permission to allow her work to be included with this history. The work will be published shortly in book form with extensive pictures.
The story begins below. A chapter index with hotlinks has been included for convenience.

Chapter I - Beginnings Chapter VI - Within Our Memory
Chapter II - The New Parish Chapter VII - Changing Times
Chapter III - Church of the Ascension Chapter VIII - One Hundred Years
Chapter IV - Depression Years Chapter IX - Present Days
Chapter V - Second World War Clergy, Bishops, Bibliography
The History of
The Church of the Holy Trinity
and The Church of the Ascension
Janet Lunn

A church's history is the history of a place of worship. It is also, in a lot of ways, like a family's history, not only a chronicle of dates and events but also a collection of stories that holds its members together and gives it a collective memory. One of the difficulties in putting together this (and probably any other) church history is that it is hard to find the people and their stories behind the dry old account books and minutes of vestry meetings. It isn't any easier to discern the spiritual direction any one priest or generation of parishioners has taken. Only every once in a while is there a brief anecdote, a wry comment, a spurt of anger, of humour or joy, a sign of approval or an unexpected prayer to bring, for a moment, a person or a group sharply into focus.

However, two constants shine through the years of Ascension's records of financial ups and downs and differences of opinion about how the church should be run - from how much to pay for coal to whether or not to continue the service of evensong.

The first is that, from the beginning, our church has welcomed all comers. In a letter asking churchmen in Britain to donate money to the fledgling mission church in 1877, Thomas Phillips, wrote, "There being no other religious service in the village, members of other denominations attend Trinity church, and send their children to the Sunday School." Mr. Phillips, the church's first priest, had begun an outreach program long before that word had entered the English language. Throughout these one-hundred-and twenty-five years, our church has always welcomed everyone, from Thomas Phillips's shepherding to Gary Hauch's. The second is really only part two of the first. When Robert Jefferson came to be priest at the church in 1916, he said that one of his chief aims was to see that the people in his congregation should know and care for one another. Arthur Caulfield said much the same thing seventeen years later and it has been the unspoken wish of almost every priest who has served at Ascension. It is certainly true today. One of our parishioners said recently that Ascension is the first church in which he has felt he belonged, where he felt truly at home. "When I turn towards the congregation after taking communion," he said, "I see people I know, people I think of as friends."

The history of our church is a history of a collection of such friends, of a family.


The Church of the Ascension is not the same church in the year 2002 as the church that was "opened for divine service by His Lordship, the Bishop of Ontario, on the first of September, 1877." Not only was divine service infinitely more formal 125 years ago than it is at Ascension today, the church building was different; it was in a different location, and it had a different name.

This first church was called The Church of the Holy Trinity. It was a mission church of the diocese of Ontario built on the corner of Main Street and Echo Drive (then called Canal Drive) in the village of Archville.

Before this, before there could be a church, a group of Anglican men in the community, including John Lowe (the deputy minister of Agriculture for Canada), ___Bethune, James Webster and Dr. James Fletcher formed a committee and sent Messrs. Lowe and Bethune to the synod in Kingston to apply to have a church. They were granted permission.

With John Lowe acting as treasurer, they raised the money and bought the site for $875.00 from Archibald Stewart after whom the village of Archville had been named. The church, the little red brick building still standing on the corner of Echo and Main, cost $3,088.51 including furnishings - a lot of money considering that you could buy a pretty decent house in Ottawa in 1877 for about $1000, and the collection plate yielded only between seven and eight dollars every Sunday. The congregation, which had formed itself that January, raised some of the money; some was borrowed from the bank. Thomas Phillips, the priest of the new church, collected the rest from his friends.

Mr. Phillips must have been a truly dedicated man because, as well as soliciting his own friends, he donated his services to the church for its first three years, and in the summer of 1878, he went to England to plead for money from churchmen there for his "poor but promising mission." Two years later, he was earning the munificent annual stipend of $206.26. He kept body and soul together as "a mathematical master" at the Ottawa Collegiate Institute (later Lisgar Collegiate) and by tutoring students privately. Mr. Phillips was a popular and surely an energetic man because, in addition to his dedication to his church and his teaching, he was apparently a fine cricket player. (He was still playing cricket in his eighties).

For a few years, Holy Trinity was the only church in the village. In the letter he wrote in England to the British churchmen asking for money, Thomas Phillips told his hoped-for supporters that he conducted divine service both morning and evening four times a month with Sunday School for fifty children in the afternoons. They were not all Anglicans.

The church served people on both sides of the canal. During its first years, the nearest bridge was at Nicholas Street. (There was a buggy and footbridge across the canal by 1910; the Pretoria Bridge was not built until 1917.) So the church kept a rowboat and hired someone to row it (at the cost of fifteen cents "ferriage") so that the west-side members of the congregation (the larger number) could get to church during the summer months.

Imagine those churchgoers from across the canal. The men would be in their Sunday suits and high, stiff collars, the women in their starched, bustled dresses, hatted and gloved, sitting upright in the boat, doing their best to keep the children from falling - or diving - overboard. Were they solemn as one always imagines nineteenth-century churchgoers to have been? Or did they view the boating exercise as a lark?

It would most certainly have been hot and uncomfortable in the little church, and more than one person would, no doubt, have prayed for Mr. Phillips to preach a brief sermon. Conscientious man that he clearly was, he would likely have given it all he had, but he might have kept it brief as he had to preach a whole new sermon that evening before he could settle down to prepare his school lessons for the next day.

In winter, the over-the-canal parishioners could walk - or skate - to church, but the church was probably as cold then as it was hot in summer. And it was smoky. Ted Gunderson was nine years old when the church was built. He grew up in it, was married in it and later served as both peoples' warden and treasurer at Ascension. He wrote a memoir for the church's 100th anniversary booklet. In it, he described the long, pot-bellied stove in Holy Trinity's early years. It stood just inside the front door, and its stovepipe right angled near the ceiling and, held in place by wire, crossed the church, presumably to vent somewhere in the sanctuary wall. As the wood was "often times green," Mr. Gunderson wrote, "it caused dense smoke, and we choked, coughed and had red eyes, and sat in smelly clothes."

Heat and cold were the least of the difficulties people had to deal with. The 1870s and '80s were hard times, in some ways, even for the rich. Diseases, for which cures have since been found, regularly carried away more than one child in a family, and old graveyards give evidence of whole families dying in a single week. No matter how smoky the church was, those winter prayers must have been fervent. And the Christmas services, when all were well, must have been joyful - and wonderful for the children. There would be the pageant and the ever-new wonder of the Christ child's birth. Then, for some, there might be the magical midnight skate over the canal.

Between 1882, when Thomas Phillips left to settle in the United States, and 1885, when Holy Trinity became attached to St. John's on Mackenzie Avenue in Ottawa, the church was in such financial trouble and the stipend for the priest was so little, there was a succession of four priests (although the first one was only a six-months fill-in until Thomas Phillips' successor could be appointed). All the same, Holy Trinity was a lively church with an organist, William Carter, who led a choir that Henry Pollard, the priest from St. John's, called "the best and most efficient in the county of Carleton." The church also had a branch of The Brotherhood of St. Andrew, an entertainment committee, a Working Club, and, by 1884, an active Ladies' Guild. Ten years later, it had one of the first branches of The Women's Auxiliary to the Missionary Society.

The church must have seemed as promising as Thomas Phillips had told those British churchmen twelve years earlier because, in 1889, Mr. Pollard and thirty members of the Holy Trinity congregation met to discuss forming a parish. The result was that Holy Trinity became the parish of Archville that year with George Taylor as its priest. Still, when the annual vestry meeting was held on a rainy April evening, the vestry secretary wrote ironically in the minutes that it was held, "to the usual small attendance of six people" - one of whom was the priest (still Henry Pollard). He went on to describe a cozy scene of the six sitting around the box stove in the church basement engaged in "social converse" and "oral combat."

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