St. John’s Presbyterian Church, Brunswick Street

As mentioned many times before Brunswick Street was one of the most religious streets in Halifax due to the fact that it had 6 churches located along its short three blocks between Cogswell and North streets. One of those churches was St. John’s Presbyterian Church and today being the 95th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion its very appropriate to look at the building of St. John’s Presbyterian church which was destroyed in that massive disaster.

Beginnings

The early history of congregations within the Presbyterian church in Halifax is a rather confusing affair but the congregation of St. John’s appears to have come out of the main congregation that made up Poplar Grove Church located on Poplar Grove street which is today under the Scotia Square facility. St. John’s congregation was formally brought together in September 1863 under the guidance of Rev. Thomas Cumming. The congregation grew rapidly throughout the mid 1860s and they quickly outgrew the small hall they worshipped in on Gerrish street.

St. John`s Church – Brunswick street

St. John's Presbyterian Brunswick

The church (shown above) was built in 1866 at a cost of $12,000. The pastor at the time was Rev. John Forrest who would leave in the early 1880s to become a professor at Dalhousie University. The Forrest building at Dalhousie was the only building on the Studley campus from 1887 to 1914 and is named after him. The building was located in what is now a field/parking lot to the North of St. Patrick’s Alexandra school on Brunswick street. The design of the church might look familiar to residents of Halifax today as it mirrors that of the Presbyterian Church of St. David on Grafton street at Pizza corner.

The history of St. John’s suggests that there was a need for a Presbyterian church in the Richmond neighbourhood to the north of the North End and it was decided that Poplar Grove Church, located in down town Halifax would relocate to the North to take up the charge – however that congregation decided to relocate to North Park Street – next to what would be the Halifax Armouries after 1894. This direct competition for the North End’s presbyterian residents didn’t immediately cause issues but by the early 1900s there was a need for the congregation to re-locate. They chose a location in the city’s newly developling West End on the corner of Windsor street and Willow.

Halifax Explosion, December 1917

The congregation laid the corner stone of their new church in October 1917 and were in the process of raising money to build the building. However, on December 6th the collision of the Imo and Mont Blanc caused what would be the largest man made explosion in history at the time. At 9:04:35 AM the Mont Blanc exploded levelling much of the community of Richmond north of the Church.

St. John's Presbyterian Brusnwick1

St. John’s Presbyterian showing damage from Explosion

Though in an area of town that sustained little structural damage St. John’s Presbyterian was damaged so extensively that the building had to be abandoned before the congregation’s new church could even be started.  The reason the church building was damaged so badly was due to its position on a hill unobstructed by any major structure – so it took the full brunt of the explosion’s shock wave. The building likely protected St. Patrick’s Boys school, St. George’s Round Church and other structures along that stretch of Brunswick Street from any serious damage.

The church lot was eventually sold and the congregation relocated to their new church on Windsor street after much delay in its construction due to the explosion. The new congregation of Saint John’s United Church on Windsor street was made up almost entirely of the congregation of St. John’s Presbyterian, Park Street Church which closed in 1925 and members of the various Presbyterian and Methodist churches of the city’s North End.

Source for photos and background research Saint John’s United Church Historical Committee. History of Saint John’s United Church, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1793-1975.

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