The All Saints Story

A Fashionable Beginning


All Saints’ Church at Sherbourne and Beech (now Dundas) Streets held its first worship service on Sunday, June 16, 1872, in a small


wooden structure that was later its schoolhouse.  Its first rector, the Reverend Arthur Baldwin, and the Lord Bishop of Toronto, the

Right Reverend Alexander Bethune, officiated.Planning and construction of the present church proceeded rapidly.  Built at an approximate cost of $21,000, it opened on Advent Sunday, November 2, 1874.

From its inception, All Saints’ welcomed both the rich and the poor.  There were no pew rentals, unusual at the time.

In large measure because the city’s population was growing rapidly (1851: 30,000; 1872: 60,000) All Saints’ quickly flourished and expanded  It started a mission on River Street.  This mission, opened in 1874, became later the Church of Saint Bartholomew.

With the establishment of St. Bartholomew’s as a parish, All Saints’ original boundaries changed.  Still running from Queen Street north to Carlton Street, its western border was moved west from Sherbourne to Jarvis Street, its eastern one to Parliament.

These new boundaries placed the church at the centre of one of the city’s most fashionable districts.  An 1880’s guidebook noted: “Of all the avenues extending south from Bloor Street to the Bay, the noblest are Church, Jarvis and Sherbourne.”

Further Growth and Outreach

In the early days, the church, which can seat more than 800, frequently was filled to overflowing.  There were two chief Suvictorian_all_saints_in_1884nday services and two large Sunday schools.  Late Sunday evening services in nearby Allan Gardens often attracted crowds of 900. As well as holding services in the park, parishioners supported the Church’s work in the Arctic and various foreign missions.

Over the course of its first thirty years, All Saints’ constructed two new buildings.  In 1884, the original schoolhouse was replaced with a new one that could accommodate upwards of 500 pupils. In 1903, the Arthur Baldwin Hall was erected between the church and school.  Now the site of an All Saints’ Church Homes for Tomorrow Apartment building, it housed a large gymnasium for the parish youth.

A Changing Neighbourhood

As early as 1912, the Reverend Southam, rector of All Saints, reported that “many neighbourhood families were moving to the suburbs, their places taken in the main by a fluctuating and necessarily transient people, namely the young men and women in the apartment and boarding houses of the district.”

This transition of wealthier people moving out and newcomers taking their place continued.  During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, All Saints’ rector Thomas Murphy noted that many newly unemployed had moved into the area.  A great number, he said, appeared hesitant to attend services because they had no offering to bring or decent clothes to wear.  All Saints’ ministry to the impoverished in the neighbourhood bourgeoned under the directorship of Deaconess Muriel Jackson.

1885-postcard-of-choirAfter the end of the Second World War, most of the parish’s church-going population had moved to the suburbs. Absentee landlords now owned most of the properties on the streets adjacent to the church.  To finance their purchases, they had subdivided the housing into rooms. The neighbourhood now had one of the densest populations of lower-income single people in the nation.

They were members of the seasonal and temporary workforce, laboring in the lumber camps and mines in the north, coming to spend the winters in Toronto when they were laid off.  Some worked as casual labourers, but most found their savings had disappeared before they could find work again.  In 1964, All Saints’ new priest, the Reverend Norman Ellis, found himself at a once-wealthy church that now lay in one of Toronto’s poorest districts, its “Skid Row.”

A New Focus for Ministry

Church authorities made various proposals through the sixties to demolish the church, but Rev. Ellis hade soon found all sorts of uses for the buildings to respond to the needs of the rooming house tenants in the district.

In 1970, All Saints’ opened its parish hall (the 1884 schoolhouse) to the Friendship Centre, a men’s club serving coffee and sandwiches, and offering TV and card games to roomers. The same year, the Queen Street Mental Hospital launched the Dundas Day Centre in the Arthur Baldwin Hall to provide counselling for its outpatients.  In 1972, part of the church nave itself became partitioned off to house the Open Door Centre.  Rev. Ellis called the drop-in centres “parlour space” for the roomers who would have had no other space in their residences to meet friends and entertain guests.

1970s-open-door-drop-inOver the years, other non-profit groups that are now well-established in the city made their start at All Saints’ in its facilities: Council Fire, Operation Springboard, Street Health and Homes First Society.

The owners who had assembled properties in the area in the 1960’s for high-rise development found their hopes stymied by the election of a new city council in 1972 that imposed a 45-foot limit on all new construction.  It seemed that Toronto’s rooming houses would remain for some time longer in the inner city than their owners had intended.

However, in October 1973, the Arab majority of OPEC plus Egypt and Syria declared significant production cuts and an oil embargo against the United States, Canada and other industrialized nations that supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War.  The sharp rise in gas prices in Toronto brought the attention of the suburban middle-class in Toronto to the rooming houses in the inner city.  These commuters realized that they could purchase houses from the rooming house landlords, convert them back to single-family housing, and suddenly have a commute-free residence close to their place of work.

The massive sell-off of flophouses and rooming houses that began in the mid-1970’s had led by the end of that decade to massive homelessness in Toronto as the single occupants of rooming houses suddenly found themselves without any affordable accommodation.  All Saints’ began to extend the hours of its drop-ins to allow its church and parish hall to remain open overnight during the winter months.  By 1982, up to 200 men and women a night were sleeping on the floor of the church.

Advocating housing over hostels, the Reverend Brad Lennon, along with many who spent overnights at All Saints’, worked to build housing on the property.  Because of their efforts, part of the parish hall was renovated and opened in 1987 as Cornerstone, a staffed residence for eighteen women.  One year later, on the site of the former Arthur Baldwin Hall, All Saints’ Church Home for Tomorrow Society opened a six-story singles’ apartment building.  In 1996, ASCHFTS completed a second housing project on nearby Pembroke Street.

In 2006 All Saints’ had some tough decisions to make.  The City of Toronto funded program was not staffed in a way that was answerable to the Church and, even more so, it was not accountable to the people using the drop-in. To be assured that the guests were respected for their capacities and contributions they made, the church took over directly the operations and funding of the church drop-in.  Under the leadership of the Reverend  Jeannie  Loughrey, a group of enthusiastic members of the congregation and volunteering clergy began to make themselves available to hold conversations with and befriend those who entered the doors for a cup of coffee.


But at the same time All Saints was having to make tough decisions about the inadequacies of the women’s residence at Cornerstone.  It had to develop new collaborations with All Saints’ Homes for Tomorrow Society next door, as well as the Fred Victor Mission, the United Church funded organization on Queen Street East.  Through these new partnerships, the women in Cornerstone were able to relocate into better housing.  Many of the former residents of Cornerstone still maintain their direct relationship with All Saints’ Church by continuing to come to the worship and drop-ins for ongoing support and friendships here. The volunteers who first staffed the now church-run drop-in gradually became supplemented by students in community worker programs and nearby colleges and universities.  The students, in turn, became paid part-time and full-time staff.

The Reverend David Opheim was the Priest-Director-Incumbent from 2010 to 2017. During that time, a number of new programs began. These programs included the Thursday afternoon and Friday morning Drop-Ins for women; “Take This Bread,” a bakery training program, which operated for three years; and a pilot project combatting human trafficking.  With this new programming, the All Saints staff expanded to include a registered nurse and social worker.


315 Dundas Street East (The southeast corner of Sherbourne & Dundas) Toronto, ON M5A 2A2


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