“Our Holy and Our Beautiful House”: Jarvis Street Baptist Church

By Taylor Murray

In March 2017, I visited the archives at Jarvis Street Baptist Church (JSBC) in downtown Toronto. While I was there I snapped a few photographs of the sanctuary.

JSBC has a rich history. For many years it was the most prestigious pulpit in the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec (BCOQ). In 1927, the pastor, T. T. Shields, led JSBC and over 70 other churches out of the BCOQ over charges of modernism within the Convention.

Unfortunately, in 1938, JSBC suffered a significant fire that destroyed the entire sanctuary. In the 10 March 1938 issue of The Gospel Witness, quoting the prophet Isaiah (64:11), Shields wrote: “Our Holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up, and all our pleasant things are laid waste.”

As the congregation met in Toronto’s nearby Massey Hall, construction companies worked to rebuild the church. Fortunately, with the plans of the original architect in hand, they were able to reconstruct the sanctuary with only one major difference: the chandelier in the centre of the ceiling was replaced with a beautiful stained glass design that doubles as a gas-powered light.

Built in the Gothic Revival architectural style, the “U” shape of the sanctuary ensures that there are no bad seats.


Today, JSBC continues to hold regular services and is home to Toronto Baptist Seminary.

If you are interested in learning more about the fire, click here to view the 10 March 1938 edition of The Gospel Witness.

For more information on the church, see their congregational history: Tomlinson, Glenn V. & Andrew M. Fountain, eds. “From Strength to Strength”: A Pictorial History of Jarvis Street Baptist Church, 1818–1993. Toronto: Gospel Witness, 1993.

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Taylor Murray is a PhD student in Church History at McMaster Divinity College. Before coming to MDC, he completed an MA in Christian History at Acadia Divinity College, Acadia University. He is a Member at Large with the Canadian Baptist Historical Society.

**The views of this Blog represent those of the author, and not necessarily the CBHS.**

2 thoughts on ““Our Holy and Our Beautiful House”: Jarvis Street Baptist Church

  1. Good morning! Just wondering what is the best researched and documented work on T.T. Shields, which places him within the context and issues of his time? My parents met, courted, were married by Shields in 1930, and were active in Jarvis Street Baptist from the mid-1920s until 1945. My father, Thomas, was the superintendent of the junior division of the Sunday School in the late 1920s into the 1930s. Apparently he also chauffeured Shields on a number of occasions throughout Ontario in the 1930s and during the war years during his speaking tours. Interested in how Shields intersected with the broader political issues from the 1920s until the end of the Second World War. A controversial yet fascinating individual!
    Thanks for any guidance you might provide,
    Peter Kear,
    Huntsville, ON


    • Hi Peter,
      Thanks for the comment!
      There have been a number of great studies on Shields written over the past few years. The most thorough is probably Doug Adams’ PhD dissertation at Western University. And, on Shields’ interaction with political issues during the 30s and 40s, take a look at Adams’ chapter in Baptists and Public Life in Canada. Hope this helps!


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