Our History

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of Chalmers United Church, and the 50th anniversary of the amalgamation of Dominion and Chalmers in 2012, Dominion-Chalmers presents a history of the church told in brief Vignettes. The Vignettes were first produced alongside the bulletin throughout 2012, and have now been compiled here.


  • The name “Dominion-Chalmers” encapsulates much of the history of this church, which has deep roots in two Protestant denominations – Methodist and Presbyterian – that strove to meet the spiritual needs of the pioneers of Bytown in the 19th Century.

    In the language of genealogy, the churches of these two streams of ancestors can be viewed as the generations of two families that were eventually united in 1962, thereby becoming a tangible expression of the founding concept of the United Church of Canada.

    Methodist Ancestors

    Generation #1

    • Methodist Chapels built in Lower (1826) and
      Upper Town (1830), Bytown.

    Generation #2

    Metcalfe Street Methodist Church, 1852-1874
    Metcalfe Street Methodist Church, 1852-1874
    • Merger of the two chapels (1852) as Metcalfe Street Methodist Church.

    Generation #3

    Dominion Church, 1876-1961
    Dominion Church, 1876-1961
    • Dominion Methodist Church opened on the site of The Metcalfe Street Church (1876) to accommodate the growing congregation.
    • Became Dominion United Church in 1925.
    • Destroyed by fire on 04 February 1961.

    Generation #4

    • Dominion-Chalmers United Church – 1962


    Presbyterian Stream

    Generation #1

    • St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church – 1828
    • Knox Presbyterian Church established in Sandy Hill in 1844 by St. Andrew’s members who were sympathetic to the tenets of the Free
      Church of Scotland.

    Generation #2

    • Bank Street Presbyterian Church built to accommodate the increasing population on the west side of the Rideau Canal.

    Generation #3

    • Chalmers Presbyterian Church at O’Connor and
      Cooper Streets inaugurated in 1914.
      Became Chalmers United Church in 1955.
      Chalmers Church rebuilt after major fire damage on 10 April 1955.

    Generation #4

    • Dominion-Chalmers United Church – 1962

    Records of Mrs. Audrey Hilborn, Dominion-Chalmers United Church Archivist, 1970s-80s.
    Dominion United Church – An Historical Sketch, 1876-1926, by J. L. Payne & Mrs. Peter Whelen
    The History of Bank Street Presbyterian Church, Ottawa, 1865-1911
    by Rev. William Moore, D.D.

  • Dominion Methodist Church and its Predecessors

    Dominion Methodist Church tower
    Dominion Methodist Church with the ornate tower that was later removed.

    The origins of Dominion Methodist Church, “the Mother Church of Methodism in Ottawa”, can be traced back to the second decade of the 19th Century.

    As early as 1816, itinerant Methodist preachers, known as circuit-riders, visited settlements in the Township of Hull and established “classes” that met in private homes. By 1822-23, this form of organized church life was extended across the river to Bytown. In 1827, a small wooden chapel was built on Rideau Street. When destroyed by fire a few months later, a brick chapel was constructed nearby. In 1830, a second Methodist Chapel was built on Sparks Street between Bank and Kent in Upper Town. These chapels were the first Methodist houses of worship in the settlement of Bytown, which was incorporated as Ottawa in 1855.

    In 1852, the Lower Town and Upper Town Chapels united and built Metcalfe Street Methodist Church. This church, described as “severely plain”, stood on the northwest corner of Queen and Metcalfe Streets. Rev. W. J. Hunter, the last of the 23 ministers who led the congregation between 1852 and 1874, had the vision of creating a great Methodist Church in Ottawa. A man of strong convictions and person skills, Rev. Hunter was able to inspire the congregation to raise the necessary funds in spite of the severe depression that Ottawa experienced in 1874. In 1874, the old Metcalfe Street Methodist Church was demolished to make way for a larger, grander building on the same site. For the next year, services were held in the Opera House of Albert Street.

    At the laying of the corner stone on 09 July 1875, the new building was named Dominion Methodist Church in recognition of the contributions from congregations across Canada that had helped to fund its construction. By 26 December 1875, the congregation was able to hold its worship services in the basement of their new church. The dedication service for the completed Dominion Methodist Church was held at the evening service on 15 October 1876. The total cost of the new building was $55,000, $30,000 of which was raised from the congregation.

    The membership of Dominion Methodist Church, which was 270 in 1876, increased during the next 50 years. Dubbed the “Mother Church of Methodism” in Ottawa, Dominion Church welcomed distinguished congregants, including two Prime Ministers (Sir John A. MacDonald and Sir Mackenzie Bowell), as well as prominent preachers and other speakers (e.g. Ralph Connor, Nellie McClung). Members of Dominion Church were actively involved in the First World War, both on the home front and in Europe (Vignette #6).

    On 10 June 1925, Dominion Methodist Church “whole-heartedly” entered the United Church of Canada.

  • Bank Street Presbyterian Church
    Bank Street Presbyterian Church

    The Presbyterian heritage of Dominion-Chalmers United Church began in 19th century Bytown, but was molded by events in Scotland. The first Presbyterian church in the area was St.Andrew’s, built in 1828. Because there was no Anglican church in the region at the time, St. Andrew’s, associated with the established Church of Scotland, benefitted greatly from the practice of clergy reserves. When the Free Church movement in Scotland, led by Rev. Thomas Chalmers, spread to Canada, some members left St. Andrew’s Church in 1844 and established Knox Presbyterian Church in the Sandy Hill district of Bytown.

    As the population of Ottawa (incorporated 1854) expanded, pressure mounted to meet the needs of the growing number of Presbyterians in the city. The enlargement of Knox Church in 1860 provided temporary relief but by August 1864, the Presbytery of Ottawa recognized the need for the establishment of a new congregation west of the Rideau Canal.
    The proposal came to fruition after a few months’ delay caused by actions taken in the church courts by a Nepean Township minister who feared the proposed new church would erode his congregation.

    On 27 August 1865, the unnamed congregation held its first worship service of in the Hall above the Mechanics Institute at 58 Sparks Street. The following evening, 19 members attended the founding Congregational Meeting at which a Committee of Management was elected. The Committee acted diligently and without delay. At the first Annual Meeting of the congregation on 28 December 1865, plans were presented for a new church to be constructed at the corner of Bank and Slater Streets. At the same meeting, a process for securing a full-time pastor was adopted. Within two months, a call was issued to the Rev. William Moore, who was ordained on 28 March 1866.

    In July 1866, the still-unnamed congregation moved from Mechanic’s Hall to a small frame building constructed on its lots at Bank and Slater Streets. Because the congregation grew rapidly, plans for their new stone church were accelerated. The laying of the corner-stone of “Bank Street Presbyterian Church” occurred on 08 May 1868; the building was opened and dedicated on 21 March 1869.

    Music in Bank Street Church was led by a Precentor until 1876 when the first organ was purchased. Growth slowed during the commercial depression of the late 1870s but resumed during the 1880s, related in part to the introduction of evangelical services. A near-disaster occurred in 1880 when, in the early hours of 04 April 1880, the church was broken into and set on fire. Although the fire was extinguished before the building was destroyed, the damage was severe enough that services had to be held in the Orange Hall for the next four months while repairs were made. Construction of a Sunday School hall was completed in 1890.

    Dr. Moore, the first minister of Bank Street Presbyterian Church who served the congregation for 36 years, retired at the end of 1902 and was succeeded by Rev. J.H. Turnbull. By 1907, the congregation recognized the need to relocate. This decision led to the building of Chalmers Church.

  • Robert McGiffin
    Robert McGiffin
    William M. Hutchison
    William M. Hutchison
    John Fraser
    John Fraser

    The 1907 Annual Report of Bank Street Presbyterian Church noted that increasing numbers of church members were residing at greater distances from the church. Other factors subsequently mentioned as threatening church attendance were the disruption caused by passing street cars and the limited seating capacity of the sanctuary. In response to this concern, the Managing Committee of Bank Street Church appointed a committee of six early in 1909 “to consider the question of securing another site”: Robert McGiffin, William M. Hutchison, John Fraser, William Stewart, J.H. Dewar, and Neil McKinnon.

    The “Special Committee” moved expeditiously to fulfill its mandate:

    • Two locations at the corner of Cooper and Kent Streets were selected but abandoned because of difficulty in securing options to buy from the owners.
    • Options were placed on three lots at the north-west corner of Cooper and O’Connor Streets and half of a lot on Lisgar Street.
    • The Managing Committee unanimously approved the proposal to purchase these 3 and a half lots at a total cost of $36,000 on 29 March 1909.
    • On 12 April 1909, the Congregation approved the purchase of the new church site with only two members dissenting. Motions were also passed authorizing the Trustees to obtain the necessary mortgage and requesting permission from the Presbytery to proceed with the several steps necessary to build a new church.

    The plan to sell Bank Street Presbyterian Church and to erect a new church at Cooper and O’Connor was approved at the May meeting of the Ottawa Presbytery. In June, 1909, a mortgage of $45,000 was arranged and the 3 and a half lots were purchased. However, for the next 2 and a half years there was no substantial activity on the project.

    There were two apparent reasons for this delay:

    1. The Bank Street Church property remained unsold during this 2 and a half year period. An offer was discussed by the Managing Committee in April, 2010 but was not mentioned in later minutes of the Committee. It is not known if this was the offer mentioned a newspaper item on the topic: “[One] sale was well-nigh completed when the churchmen found that the church was to be used a nickel theatre and the deal was frustrated” [Ottawa Free Press, 29 January 1912]. In October 1910, the Managing Committee decided to reduce the asking price for the Bank Street Church property to $100,000.

    2. Possible merger with other congregations. In April 1909, Rev. J.H. Turnbull reported to the Managing Committee that a joint meeting of the Sessions of Knox and Banks Street Churches had been suggested. When a possible union of the two congregations was raised again by Rev. Turnbull in November 1911, the Bank Street Session and Managing Committee approved the idea in principle. In December 1911, there were joint meetings of representatives from the two churches. Descriptions of these meetings are not recorded, but on December 26, the Bank Street Session and Managing Committee passed a motion resolving “That we proceed no further in the matter at the present time” due to “differences in the point of view and opinion of the two … negotiating bodies”.

    The prospects for a new church at Cooper and O’Connor were to improve dramatically in 1912.

  • At the end of January 1912 – more than three years after the decision to move to a new site, the Bank Street Congregation’s vision of a larger church in a quieter neighbourhood started to become a reality. On January 29, the Ottawa newspapers reported that Mr. C. Jackson Booth had purchased their old church property for $130,000. On 02 February 1912, Robert McGiffin presented details of the contract with Mr. Booth to a joint meeting of the Session and Managing Committee, which immediately:

    • Approved the sale to Mr. Booth;
    • Selected an architect to design the new church; and,
    • Elected a Building Committee, chaired by Robert McGiffin, to oversee the project.

    The architect chosen for the new church was Mr. Alex Hutchison of Montreal, a brother of William M. Hutchison, who was an Elder and a founding member of the Bank Street Church. Alex Hutchison had designed several churches and other buildings in Montreal. Some members of the Bank Street Congregation had inspected one of the churches designed by Mr. Hutchison (probably St. Andrew’s in Westmount) and expressed the wish that “the interior [of their new church] will be exactly the same”.

    At the Congregational Meeting on 26 March, the architect, described the new church: “The building is designed after the Romanesque Architecture of Southern France adapted to modern requirements. The auditorium of [the] church is square in plan with [an octagon shaped balcony] and has a vaulted ceiling and dome supported on eight massive columns. … The interior woodwork of the church is of chestnut, the pews and furniture for [the] pulpit and platform are oak.” “The exterior of [the Church and Sunday School Hall] are of Nepean stone, … , with trimmings of olive green Miramichi sand stone, with base of dressed limestone. The front is flanked by two towers.”

    Three issues dominated the meetings of the Building Committee over the next few months:

    The cost of the new church: On three occasions, the projected cost of the new church was revised upwards. The Building Committee, with input from the architect, managed to alter the building specifications to minimize these cost increases. What proved to be the final plans were approved by a special meeting of the Congregation held on 27 May 1912, which also imposed a total cost ceiling of $105,000.

    The location of the choir-loft in the new church: The architect’s design for the chancel placed the choir in front of pulpit. Some members of the choir objected to this location but the architect insisted reversing the placement of the choir loft and the pulpit “would make a number of seats in the church very undesirable as they would be behind the minister”.

    Choosing a name for the new church: Seven possible names were presented to the Congregation: Chalmers, Church of the Covenant, Calvin, St. Enoch, St. Stephen, St. Columbia [sic], and Central. Because none received a majority of votes in the first balloting, the three names with the most votes were presented on a second ballot: Central, Chalmers, and St. Stephen. A majority of the Congregation voted for the name Chalmers, which was formally ratified at a Congregational Meeting on 27 May 1912.

    As will be described in later vignettes, the corner stone of Chalmers Presbyterian Church was laid on October 27, 1912. The Sunday School Hall was opened for worship on Sunday, 04 May, 1913 and the first service in the new sanctuary was held on 22 March 1914.

  • On Saturday, 04 February 1961, Dominion Church, which had been an Ottawa landmark at Metcalfe and Queen Street since 1876, was destroyed by fire. Mrs. Audrey Hilborn, who was the archivist for Dominion-Chalmers United Church from 1974-1992 and a former member of Dominion Church, eloquently described the event in A Sketch History of Dominion United Church, printed in 1976.

    “… [the] fire broke out in the western part of the building that was rented to Robertson Art Galleries. The fire went up and across the roof, which fell in a few hours later, as huge crowds watched the destruction. Not much was saved but men carried out the pulpit, the communion table, plaques from the walls, and so on. Others rescued our silver tea sets that were in the kitchen in the basement, and the silver communion service. Later we got our linens and a few other things. A great many records and pictures were lost.”

    The Ottawa newspapers carried extensive accounts of the fire and its aftermath. The photograph, below, left, shows the burning church and the large crowds that the fire attracted.

    The day after the fire, Dominion Church held its morning service in the Capitol Theatre. Sunday School was held in nearby St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. Other churches, including Chalmers, provided space for meetings. Over the next few months, the congregation met at six different locations.

    Plans to rebuild the church on its former site were announced on the day of the fire by the Senior Minister, Rev. Dr. H.E.D. Ashford and other leaders of the congregation. However, as reported in the Ottawa newspapers, several obstacles arose to thwart the rebuilding plans, which were repeatedly endorsed by the congregation. These included:

    • efforts by the Presbytery and church leaders in Toronto to encourage amalgamation with another United Church;
    • the imposition of a municipal tax on the church property because the site was “not being used for religious purposes”, an order that prompted a “war of words” in the press between Rev. Dr. Ashford and Mayor Charlotte Whitton (The tax was eventually reversed by a court ruling but only after several anxious months);
    • a gradual awareness of the costs of rebuilding might be insurmountable because developers were not interested in a proposed church-commercial venture; and,
    • the difficulty in finding temporary premises that were satisfactory for worship services.

    By January 1962, it was apparent that developers were not interested in building a combined church-office complex at Queen and Metcalfe. At the Annual Meeting of Dominion Church that month, a committee was formed to discuss amalgamation “with Chalmers or any other United church”. The amalgamation process moved forward quite rapidly; both congregations had voted in favor of amalgamating by April. The Official Inauguration Services of Dominion-Chalmers United Church were held on June 10, 1962.

    The spirit of Dominion Church lives on at Dominion-Chalmers in the descendants of its members who were welcomed by the Chalmers congregation; a tangible expression of that spirit is the commemorative stained-glass window surrounded by the few memorial windows that were recovered after the 1961 fire. Other mementoes are located in the church’s Archives Room.

  • Dr. Wilbur K. Howard
    Dr. Wilbur K. Howard

    Dr. Howard was one of the ministers at Dominion-Chalmers United Church from 1965 to 1970. It is highly appropriate to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth during Black History Month, 2012. His story is both informative and inspirational.

    Wilbur Kenneth Howard was born on 29 February 1912 in Toronto, where he attended Brock Street Public School and Bloor Collegiate. In 1938, he earned a B.A. at Victoria College and in 1941, a B.D. at Emmanuel College. He subsequently took post-graduate studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He received a D.D. from Victoria University in 1969 and an LL.D from the University of Winnipeg in 1975.

    Little information is available about Dr. Howard’s family. His father and brother were railway porters. As described by his biographer, Rev. Adam Kilner, “the stirrings of his calling came to the young Wilbur in the form of a white family” who invited him to their church.

    Wilbur Howard was ordained by the Toronto Conference of the United Church in 1941 but was unable to find a congregation willing to accept a black man as its minister. Consequently, from 1941 to 1949, he served as Boys’ Work Secretary for the Ontario Religious Education Council.

    In this role, he travelled around Ontario counselling youth leaders and sharing his extensive knowledge. From 1949 to 1953, he was Christian Education Secretary for Manitoba Conference. In 1953, he returned to Toronto as Associate Editor of Sunday School Publications for the United Church of Canada, a role in which he promoted the use of the New Curriculum.

    In 1965, Dominion-Chalmers Church was searching for a third minister to join Dr. A. Frank MacLean and Rev. Douglas Lapp in a team ministry. Rev. Howard, with his extensive experience in Christian Education, was the unanimous choice of the Pastoral Relations Committee, the Official Board, and then the congregation, which approved the call on 03 February 1965. On 02 July, he was inducted by the Presbytery into the ministry of Dominion-Chalmers United Church and was warmly welcomed by the congregation.

    In 1968, Rev. Carl W. Zurbrigg succeeded Rev. Lapp. In anticipation of Dr. MacLean’s retirement in 1970, meetings were held concerning the advisability of continuing the team ministry model. Opinions on the matter were sharply divided, and angry words were expressed. In the midst of this situation, and possibly because of it, Dr. Howard accepted a call to Emmanuel United Church, Ottawa effective 01 December 1970. The Official Board acknowledged his departure “with regret” but did not mention the honourary Doctor of Divinity he had received from Victoria College. Several members of Dominion-Chalmers Church followed Dr. Howard to Emmanuel Church.

    From 1972-1973, Dr. Howard was President of the Montreal-Ottawa Conference. At the 1974 General Council in Guelph, Ontario, he was elected the 26th Moderator of the United Church of Canada. Addressing the commissioners after the vote, Dr. Howard reflected on the lack of acceptance he had experienced earlier in his ministry and declared that the decision of the General Council was “a high moment of acceptance”.

    Dr. Howard’s contributions as Moderator, as well as his pastoral and leadership strengths as recalled by present and former members of Dominion-Chalmers Church, are encapsulated in a statement by Anne Squire, who was Moderator from 1986-1988: “Wilbur Howard was an enigma: a very shy and diffident person who could hold audiences in the palm of his hand; a taciturn listener who could greet unwelcome questions with a deafening silence; a committee member to all appearances asleep in a meeting who could break through the posturing with an intervention with a cutting edge; a preacher who could change a solemn moment into a hilarious one with one of his famous one-liners.

    Dr. Howard continued to lead services at Emmanuel Church twice each month during his term as Moderator and returned as its full-time minister in 1977. He retired in 1980. He developed Parkinson disease in the early 1990s and moved to a retirement home in Toronto. He was named to the Order of Ontario in 1991. When he died on 17 April 2001, the Toronto City Council rose to observe a minute of silence in his memory. At his request, some of his ashes were buried in Beachwood Cemetery, where there is an appropriate marker.

    In an interview published at the time of his retirement in 1980, Dr. Howard emphasized the need for greater cooperation among all religions, his concerns about ecology, and the responsibility to address the needs of underdeveloped nations. He was a prophet ahead of his time.

  • On 01 March 1956, Woodside Hall, which has become such a vital meeting place for this church and community, was dedicated. Who was Rev. Woodside and why did Chalmers Church choose to honour him in this way?

    John William Woodside, the 7th of 8 children, was born on 26 May 1881 in the St. Sylvestre district of Lobiniere County, Quebec. His mother, Isabella McKee, was born in Ireland; his father, Alexander Woodside, a farmer, was born in Quebec of Irish ancestry.

    He received his elementary school education in Quebec, attended Carleton Place Collegiate, and graduated from the University of Manitoba, McGill University and Presbyterian College, Montreal with an M.A. and honours in Theology. During the summer months, he served “under the discipline of “Rev. Dr. James Robertson, Superintendent of Missions for Western Canada. (Dr. Robertson was a great-grand-uncle of the author of this vignette.)

    Ordained in 1907, Rev. Woodside’s first pastoral charge was St. Giles Presbyterian Church, Vancouver, where he served until 1914. From 1914-1918, he was minister at Chalmers Church Toronto. In 1918, he accepted a call to Chalmers Church, Ottawa, where he was Senior Minister until he retired in 1949.

    Rev. Woodside’s leadership qualities were recognized early in his career when he was elected chairman of the New Westminster Presbytery in British Columbia. In June 1919, only a few months after his arrival in Ottawa, he toured Western Canada to promote the interests of the Forward Movement, an organization that aimed to increase the involvement of men in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church. He was also an active participant in the church union movement, which required his being absent from his home church for eight months in 1924 and 1925. In 1924 he was an organizer of the union campaign of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. In 1925, after the voting was completed in Presbyterian churches across Canada, he carried out work for the church on behalf of “the minorities” – those “Unionist” members of Presbyterian congregations in which a majority voted not to join the United Church. 

    Rev. Woodside was a noted scholar and a powerful speaker. At the ceremony celebrating his being named Pastor Emeritus of Chalmers United Church, Dr. Woodside was described by Mr. W.G. Strong, Clerk of Session, as an “urbane, kindly, courteous Christian gentleman, a man of honour and integrity, of kindness and good will – a man in whom [there] is no bitterness or meanness of soul.” Accounts of his extraordinary kindness have been passed on to some members of the present congregation: for example, the way in which he dealt with a particular grieving family and his establishment of a ‘Maple Leaf’ lounge in Chalmers Church as a place of quiet for service men and women during World War II.

    Dr. Woodside was the recipient of many honours:

    • Doctor of Divinity, Presbyterian College, 1926;
    • Moderator of the United Church of Canada, 1938-1940;
    • Doctor of Divinity, Victoria university, Toronto, 1938;
    • LL. D., Mount Allison University, 1940;
    • President of the Montreal-Ottawa Conference of the United Church of Canada;
    • President of the North American Alliance of Reformed Churches;
    • President, Canadian Council of Churches, 1948-1949;
    • Pastor Emeritus, Chalmers United Church, 1951.

    Chalmers United Church also honoured Dr. Woodside on 01 March 1956 when the newly-constructed hall on Cooper Street was dedicated as Wood- side Hall. The auditorium that became known as Woodside Hall was constructed following the disastrous fire on 10 April 1955 but it had been planned for two years; the ground on which it was built was cleared only a few weeks before the fire. At the dedication of Woodside Hall, Rev. Leonard Griffith spoke eloquently about his successor at Chalmers Church. In his gracious response, Dr. Woodside concluded: “If I had my life to live over again, I would choose Chalmers Church, Ottawa, if they would have me, for my ministry. …. a minister could not have a better congregation to serve.”

    The Very Rev. Dr. John William Woodside died in the Civic Hospital on 09 January 1957 – less than one year after the dedication of Woodside Hall and fifty years after his ordination. He was survived by his wife, the former Lulu Marion Currie (whom he married in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on 02 September 1912), their son, Dr. Murray Woodside and daughter, Miss Marion Woodside , a third child, Joan Isabel Woodside, died in November 1929 during a fire at the manse.

  • April 10, 1955 – Easter Sunday – was a warm and sunny day. A congregation of 1700 had attended the Easter Morning service in Chalmers United Church sanctuary and there were about 400 children in the Sunday School Hall. At 4:30 pm, as the church sexton, Mr. William Hughes, was preparing for the evening service, he discovered a fire in the basement of the Sunday School Hall [Footnote 1].

    Two firemen on the roof of the burning Sunday School Hall (Ottawa Journal)
    Two firemen on the roof of the burning Sunday School Hall (Ottawa Journal)

    Flames and black smoke quickly engulfed the entire Sunday School Hall and its roof collapsed. Through the heroic efforts of the Ottawa Fire Department, the sanctuary and its domed roof were eventually saved from destruction, although there was considerable smoke and water damage[Footnote 2]. The walls of the Sunday School Hall remained intact.

    As the flames raged in the Sunday School Hall and smoke darkened the sanctuary, church members and other volunteers worked to remove as many items as possible. One of those involved in this effort was Richard Cowan. He had been out driving when he noted fire trucks heading towards Chalmers United Church. In 1995, on the 40th Anniversary of the fire, he wrote: “As the fire gained a foothold, I organized a group of friends and other onlookers to assist in carrying out the pulpit, pulpit bench and chairs, communion table, baptismal font from the sanctuary as well as the brass cross, which at that time was free-standing on a shelf on the organ screen, to the safety of a garage across the street. We were also able to save all the Minister’s and choir gowns stored in the area now occupied by the library. We then removed the personal effects from the Sexton’s apartment …. On Easter Monday, some friends helped me salvage the Hymn books from the pews in the church and, being a warm sunny day, were able to set them out on the sidewalk to dry.

    The pall of thick smoke that covered the centre town area did not deter thousands of citizens from gathering around the church. Police had difficulty maintaining clearance for fire department vehicles and hose lines. Nearly three hours after the fire started, the firemen began to win their battle and it seemed that the church sanctuary would be saved.

    In spite of these salvage efforts by Richard Cowan and others, there were major losses in other areas of the church. Rev. Leonard Griffith lost everything in his office on the mezzanine floor of the Sunday School Hall – church records, his sermons, manuscripts and valuable library. Almost all of the stained glass windows were broken by the fire, or deliberately to let the smoke escape. The carpets in the sanctuary were soaked in water but most of the pews were spared. Although there was a foot of water in the lower parts of the chancel, the organ, which had recently undergone extensive renovations, was spared major damage.

    The thick smoke, which officials attributed to varnish on the interior panelling, took its toll on the fire-fighters: twenty-one were taken to hospital suffering the effects of smoke inhalation. Sadly, while assisting one such affected fireman, Mr. Alex W. MacDonald suffered a heart attack and died at the scene. A window in the Chapel is dedicated to the memory of Mr. MacDonald, who was a senior elder of Chalmers Church.

    After the fire, the Sunday School Hall was open to the sky (Photo by Phillip Cowan)
    After the fire, the Sunday School Hall was open to the sky (Photo by Phillip Cowan)

    The fire, which started in a basement locker used to store Sunday School supplies, was presumed to have been deliberately set. In the
    early morning of the same day, there had been a suspicious fire in an apartment building across the street from Chalmers Church and in the
    previous weeks, smaller fires had occurred in St. John’s and St. Theresa’s churches.

    After the April 10, 1955 fire, the congregation of Chalmers United Church held morning worship services in the Capital Theatre, evening services in Dominion United Church, at Queen and Metcalfe, and Sunday School in the Kent Street Public School. Restoration of the Chalmers Church building proceeded rapidly. Worship services resumed in the sanctuary on September 11, 1955. The reconstruction of the former Sunday School Hall and the building of Woodside Hall and the Memorial Chapel continued for another year.


    Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Journal, April 11, 1955

    Richard Cowan, Recollections on the 40th Anniversary of the Chalmers Church Fire

    [Footnote 1] The Sunday School Hall was located on the north side of the sanctuary with the minister’s study and library on the mezzanine floor; Woodside Hall was not completed until 1956.)

    [Footnote 2] When Chalmers Church was built (1912-1914), windows on the north side of the sanctuary could be opened to connect with the Sunday School Hall. To prevent sound from the Sunday School Hall from disrupting worship services in the sanctuary, these windows had been bricked over in 1946, a feature that was credited with saving the sanctuary from greater damage by the fire.

  • World War II – V.E. Day – May 08, 1945

    The Second World War ended on May 08, 1945. As we approach the 57th anniversary of that day, it is appropriate to reflect upon the profound effects that it had on the congregations of Dominion and Chalmers United Churches. 

    On the home front, both churches had “War Service Units” whose annual reports summarized their work on behalf of the men and women from the congregation who had joined the armed forces. Each year these units contributed over one thousand knitted articles, packed Christmas comforts for service men and women overseas, prepared surgical dressings and other materials for the Red Cross, and collected new and used clothing for bomb victims in England. An Honour Roll naming members who had enlisted in the Army, Navy or Air Force Annual was presented at each Annual Meeting of the two congregations between 1940 and 1945 and those killed or missing in action were memorialized.

    The ministers and various committees of the two congregations were also active in supporting the greatly increased numbers of military and civilian personnel in Ottawa as well as the family members of those serving overseas.

    At Chalmers Church, Dr. J.W. Woodside made a room available for servicemen who wanted a quiet place to read, write letters or rest . Dominion United Church served as the headquarters for the Canadian Victory Loan Campaign.

    Photograph by George MacManus
    Photograph by George MacManus

    Many young men and women from Dominion and Chalmers United Churches served in all three branches of the Armed Forces during the 1939-1945 war. The names of those from both churches whose lives were sacrificed, as well as of those from Dominion Church who served in the Armed Forces are preserved in the Memorial Tablets that are now located in the sanctuary of Dominion-Chalmers United Church. The names of all service men and women from Chalmers are listed on the illuminated scroll in the narthex. An additional tablet, now in the chancel, was commissioned by the Chalmers Choir and dedicated on February 16, 1947 in memory of the four choir members who were killed in the war.

    In partial fulfillment of the pledge that “We will remember them”, brief notes have been prepared about the young men of our founding churches who died in the service of their country during World War II. These notes are based on the collection of War Service Records in the archives of Chalmers Church, some of which included informative newspaper clippings. The notes for servicemen from Dominion United Church were presumably destroyed in the 1961 fire.

    To preserve as much information as possible as memorials to the young men from Dominion and Chalmers Churches whose lives were sacrificed during the Second World War, Wib Neal or Garth Bray would welcome additional information about them or their families. The information will be preserved in the Dominion-Chalmers Archives.


    World War II Service Records, Chalmers United Church

    Annual Reports, 1940 – 1945, Dominion United Church

    Year Books, 1940 – 1945, Chalmers United Church

    Second World War Service Files: Canadian Armed Forces War Dead, database at Library & Archives Canada.

    Honour Roll

    Members or Adherents of Dominion United Church:

    Flying Officer James L. Eagleson, age 21, was killed on September 01, 1944. He was buried in the churchyard at Bezinghem, a small village in the Pas-Nord-de-Calais region of France. His parents and wife lived in Ottawa.

    Lieutenant Keith D. Faris, 31, was serving with the Canadian Army in Italy when he was killed on May 24, 1944. He was buried in the Casino War Cemetery. Lt. Faris was a B.A. (Hons) graduate of the University of Toronto. His parents lived in Bradford, Ontario.

    Flight Sergeant John B. Jamieson, 25, was killed on November 28, 1942. He was buried in the Burton- on-the-Woods Burial Ground, Leicestershire, England. His parents lived in Ottawa.

    Pilot Officer Ross E. MacFarlane, was killed on May 04, 1944. He was buried in the Breuvery-sur-Coole Churchyard, Mame, France.

    Captain William W. K. MacPhail, 24, was serving with the Governor General’s Foot Guards, R.C.A.C. when he was killed on August 22, 1944 during the invasion of France. He was buried in the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery, Calvados, France. His parents lived in Ottawa.

    Pilot Officer John R. Marriott, 26, was killed on April 27, 1943, presumably while on a mission over Germany. He was buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany.

    Flight Sergeant Robert L. Melville, 21, was killed on November 17, 1944. He was buried in Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey, England. His parents lived in Ottawa.

    Flying Officer Francis W. Moffit, 21, was killed on August 17, 1944, just 6 days after his birthday. He was buried in the Kiel War Cemetery, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. His parents lived in Ottawa.

    Warrant Officer Z. Manford Niblock, 20, of the Royal Canadian Air Force, was killed on February 18, 1943. He was buried in the Great Bircham (St. Mary) Churchyard, Norfolk, England. His parents lived in Ottawa. His father was the Clerk of Session at Dominion United Church.

    Flying Officer Orville S. Peck, 21, was killed on November 11, 1943. He was buried in the St. Desir War Cemetery, Calvados, France.

    Dennis V. Pickersgill is remembered on the Dominion United Church Memorial tablet but his name cannot be found in the records at Library & Archives Canada or in the on-line database of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

    Flight Sergeant David P. Roberts, 21, was lost in action on July 22, 1943. His name is recorded at the Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, England. His parents lived in Ottawa.

    Flying Officer Dennis E. Roberts, 23, was killed on June 01, 1944. He was buried in the Adegem Canadian War Cemetery, Oost-Vlaanderen, Belgium. His parents lived in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

    Warrant Officer Class II James A. Smart, 22, was killed on November 22, 1943. He was buried in the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery, Berlin, Germany.

    Pilot Officer John N. Treadwell, 25, was killed on February 26, 1943. His name is recorded at the Ottawa Memorial in Ottawa, where his wife and parents were living.

    Honour Roll

    Members or Adherents of Chalmers United Church:

    Captain Grant F. Amy, was 35 years old when he was killed in Italy on December 22, 1943 while serving with the Canadian Army. He was buried in the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery. His wife lived in Ottawa.

    Lieutenant Thomas E. Body, 27, was killed on April 13, 1943 while on active service in the Canadian Army. He was buried in Brockwood Military Cemetery, Surrey, England. He had been a member of the Chalmers Church Choir.

    Flying Officer Gordon D. Bowes, 23, was killed in a plane crash in England on May 31, 1945, shortly after the end of the war. He was buried in Brockwood Military Cemetery, Surrey, England. His brother, F/O Allan C. Bowes was seriously wounded in Italy in 1943 but recovered. Their mother lived in Ottawa.

    Flight Sergeant Carl S. Carruthers, 21, was killed in action on March 09, 1942. He was buried in the Apeldoorn General Cemetery, Gelderland, Netherlands.

    Flight Sergeant Ford R. Carruthers, 20, was lost on a flight over Germany on September 07, 1942. His memory in honoured at the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey, England. Carl and Ford Carruthers were brothers whose parents lived in Ottawa.

    John C. Edwards, 25, a Second Lieutenant in the Army, drowned accidentally on May 18, 1940. He was buried in Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa. His parents lived in Ottawa.

    Leading Aircraftman Joseph H. Golding, was accidentally killed in England on August 08, 1944. He was buried in Harrogate (Stonefall) Cemetery, Yorkshire, England. His mother lived in Ottawa.

    Flight Lieutenant Francis (Frank) A. Halpin, 38, drowned on May 28, 1945. He was buried in the Goose Bay Joint Services Cemetery, Newfoundland & Labrador. His wife lived in Quebec City.

    Lieutenant William H. Harrington, 26, was a graduate of Queen’s University in chemical engineering who enlisted in the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps in 1941. He had participated in the 1943 invasion of Sicily and was killed in action in Italy on September 13, 1944. He was buried in the Gradara Cemetery, San Giovanni, Italy. His parents lived in Ottawa.

    Warrant Officer Harold A. Healey, 24, was killed on a flight over Germany on April 09, 1943. He was buried in the Amsterdam New Eastern Cemetery, Noord-Holland, Netherlands.

    Warrant Officer Calvert H. Hunter, 31, was killed during flying operations on February 20, 1944. He was buried in Brockwood Military Cemetery, Surrey, England. He enlisted in the R.C.A.F. in November, 1940 receiving his wings as a sergeant-pilot in October 1941. He went overseas the following month and was attached to the R.A.F., piloting Spitfires prior to his transfer to Lancaster bombers. His mother lived in Ottawa.

    Captain Edward G. Jamieson, 42, served overseas with the Canadian Army from 1940 to 1944. He returned to Canada in September 1944 and died on May 09, 1945 after a lengthy illness. He was buried in Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa. His wife and children lived in Ottawa.

    Captain Edward H. W. Lambart was serving in the Canadian Army in Italy when he was killed in action on December 17, 1943. He was buried in the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery in Italy. Edward Lambart had been a member of the Chalmers Church choir.

    Flying Officer Frederick A. H. Lambart served with the R.C.M.P. for five years before joining the Royal Air Force in 1937. He was an R.A.F. flight instructor when he was killed at age 29 in an aircraft accident in England on August 13, 1940. He was buried in Bassingbourn Cum Kneesworth Cemetery, Cambridgeshire, England. Edward and Frederick Lambart were brothers; their father lived in Ottawa.

    Flying Officer Allan G. Lillico, 33, was employed at the National Research Council and was tenor soloist in the Chalmers Church Choir before enlisting in the R.C.A.F. in 1942. A navigator, Allan Lillico was killed in action at Abington, England on March 14, 1944. He was buried in Oxford (Botley) Cemetery, Oxfordshire, England. Two of his brothers also served in the Air Force; their father lived in Britannia.

    Flying Officer R. Norman McCleery, 28, worked for the Federal District Commission prior to his enlistment with the R.C.A.F. in 1941. In 1942, he went overseas where he was attached to the R.A.F. bomber command as an Air Observer. Initially reported as “missing”, the International Red Cross subsequently reported that he had been killed in action on December 17, 1942 and had been buried in a military cemetery in Holland, now listed as Texel (Den Burg) Cemetery, Noord Holland, Netherlands. His parents lived in Ottawa.

    Lieutenant Colonel Ruggles B. Pritchard, 44, was the Commanding Officer at the North Bay Training Centre when he died on February 07, 1941. He was buried at Pinecrest Cemetery, Ottawa. His wife lived in Ottawa.

    Flying Officer M. Esmond L. Scovell, 33, held a B. Comm. degree. He was killed in Wiltshire, England on February 19, 1945. He was buried in Brockwood Military Cemetery, Surrey, England. He was survived by a sister in Bracebridge and a brother in Toronto.

    Trooper Edward M. Stroulger, 28, was serving with the Royal Canadian Army Corps when he was killed in Holland campaign on January 21, 1945. He was buried in the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, Gelderland, Netherlands. His parents lived in Ottawa.

    Lieutenant John K. C. Wallace, 23, was a graduate of Queen’s University who had sung in the Chalmers Church Choir prior to enlisting in the Canadian Army. He was killed in action on April 25, 1944 while serving with an armored regiment in Italy. He was buried there in the Casino War Cemetery. His parents lived in Ottawa.

    Warrant Officer Godfrey P. White, 37, of the R.C.A.F. was presumed missing in January and February, 1944. His death was officially recorded as occurring on January 27, 1944 presumably during a flight over Europe. His memory is honoured at the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey, England. His mother lived in Ottawa.

  • The United Church of Canada was created by an Act of the Canadian Parliament that received Royal Assent on July 19, 1924. This was the culmination of a process that had been evolving intermittently since 1884, when another Act of Parliament joined three branches of the Methodist Church to form the Methodist Church of Canada. The movement towards church union was rekindled in the first decade of the 20th century. The 1912 Annual Report of Bank Street Presbyterian Church – the predecessor of Chalmers, reported that 85% of the congregation had voted in favour of “organic union” of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregationalist Churches. The “union movement”, as it was known, was halted during the World War of 1914-1918 but was taken up again in the early 1920s.

    The final step towards church union involved voting in the individual congregations of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches across Canada. On the basis of the amalgamated results of these plebiscites, the national governing bodies of the Methodist and Congregational Churches decided that their denominations would join the church union.

    There are no records concerning the vote at Dominion Methodist Church, presumably because they were destroyed in the 1961 fire. Church union is mentioned only briefly in the Annual Reports of Dominion Church for 1924 and 1925: “We must look forward to the United Church of Canada, a church that may more truly and efficiently carry on the work of the Kingdom in this country …” (1924); “The Church Union Movement has claimed much time and attention during the past year and now we close the chapter of Methodist history as a separate denomination in Canada. ….. we trust that in the United Church of Canada, Dominion Church may ever prove true to the trust committed to her and may enter upon a more glorious period of service” (1925).

    A different decision-making process was followed by the Presbyterian Church because “a substantial minority of Presbyterians remained unconvinced of the virtues of church union. Their threat to the entire project was resolved by giving individual Presbyterian congregations the right to vote on whether to enter or remain outside the United Church.” (The United Church of Canada, Wikipedia). In accordance with this approach, a committee of equal numbers of union and anti-union members of Chalmers Presbyterian Church worked out the voting procedures to determine the will of the congregation on church union. Voting began at the end of a special congregational meeting on December 22, 1924 and continued every day for the next two weeks (except Sundays, but including Christmas and New Year’s Days). On January 06, 1925, the ballots were counted by representatives from both sides of the issue. The result was: 651 in favour of union, 197 against. Thus, with the approval of 76% of the congregation, Chalmers Presbyterian Church voted to join the United Church of Canada.

    Rev. J.W. Woodside, senior minister at Chalmers Presbyterian Church, worked vigorously on behalf of the Union Committee of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, taking several leaves-of-absence from his pastoral duties. After the Chalmers congregation voted to join the United Church, he was particularly active in working with the “unionist minorities” from Presbyterian churches across the country who had voted against union.

    In the weeks and months following the Chalmers Church vote, there were numerous meetings the Session and Board of Managers to find ways to welcome the unionist minorities from St. Andrew’s and Knox Presbyterian Churches. Included in the minority from St. Andrews was their former minister, Rev. G.G.D. Kilpatrick, to whom the Chalmers congregation issued a call to be their Associate Minister. Another issue concerned the seating arrangements in the Chalmers sanctuary where pews were purchased or rented by individual members. This issue was resolved by declaring that “all seats were free”; the name-cards of Chalmers members were removed. The unionist minorities were officially welcomed into the Chalmers congregation at a service of Holy Communion on Sunday, 15 February 1925 (Annual Report, 1925).

    The United Church of Canada was inaugurated at a large worship service in Toronto’s Mutual Street Arena on June 10, 1925. As a symbolic representation of their union, members of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregationalist Church entered the Arena by separate aisles but intermingled as they left the service. The United Churches of Ottawa and district celebrated church union at “a great Inaugural Service … held in the [Ottawa] Auditorium [Footnote 1] on the 21st day of June. Over 8000 people … were present, and many were unable to gain admittance. … this was probably the greatest religious service ever held in Ottawa.” (Session Report, 1925 Chalmers Church Yearbook).


    Wikipedia – The United Church of Canada, accessed on 27 May 2012

    The Manual of the United Church of Canada

    Chalmers Presbyterian Church, Annual Report for 1925

    Dominion Methodist Church, Annual Reports for 1924, 1925

    Chalmers United Church Session, Report in 1925 Yearbook

    [Footnote 1] The Ottawa Auditorium, located at the corner of O’Connor and Argyle, was the city’s main hockey arena after 1923; in 1967, it was demolished and replaced by the present YMCA-YWCA building.

  • The Official Inaugural Services of Dominion-Chalmers United Church, held on June 10, 1962, marked the end of a momentous, sometimes heartbreaking, sixteen months for two of Ottawa’s oldest downtown congregations: Dominion United Church, which originated in 1852 as the Metcalfe Street Methodist Church, and Chalmers United Church, the continuation of the congregation of Bank Street Presbyterian Church formed in 1865 as an outreach of Knox Church.

    Dominion United Church,                             Queen & Metcalfe Streets, 1875-1961
    Dominion United Church,
    Queen & Metcalfe Streets, 1875-1961

    The sixteen months leading up to June 10, 1962 had been particularly difficult for the congregation of Dominion Church. Their beloved church building at Queen and Metcalfe was completely destroyed by fire on February 04, 1961 (Vignette #6). Within days of the fire, a Building Committee was formed to prepare plans to rebuild on their downtown site. Over the next few months, during which the congregation worshipped first in the Capitol Theatre and then the Ottawa Technical High School, the Building Committee presented at least two plans for rebuilding on theoriginal site; both were unacceptable to a majority of the congregation. At the Annual Meeting of Dominion Church on February 01, 1962, the congregation finally accepted the recommendation of the Building Committee that it would not be feasible to rebuild their church at Queen and Metcalfe. The Building Committee was empowered to explore other possibilities, including a possible merger with another congregation.

    Following the fire at Dominion Church in February 1961, Chalmers Church provided meeting space and other facilities for various groups of the Dominion congregation. (Such collaboration between the two congregations was not new; they had been holding joint summer services for several years.) Late in 1961, when the plans for the future of Dominion Church were still unresolved, the Chalmers Session and Official Board invited the Dominion leadership to form at Joint Committee “to discuss the desirability of the two congregations considering a basis for union.” The invitation was accepted most cordially by Dominion Church (Dominion-Chalmers United Church Year Book, 1963).

    Chalmers Presbyterian Church, 1912-1925.
    Chalmers Presbyterian Church, 1912-1925. Houses occupy the present parking lot and the site of Woodside Hall/Chapel.

    The Joint Committee held its first meeting on February 15, 1962. After only two more meetings of the full Committee and one meeting of a drafting sub-committee, the Joint Committee was able to submit its recommendations for the amalgamation of Dominion and Chalmers Churches by March 09, 1962 (Report in Vignette binder). At Dominion Church, the report of the Joint Committee was reviewed by the Building Committee. Based on the results of a detailed questionnaire submitted to members of the congregation and their careful deliberations, the Building Committee recommended that Dominion Church accept the invitation to amalgamate with Chalmers United Church. The Dominion congregation accepted the recommendation by a three to one majority at a special meeting on March 30 (Ottawa Citizen, March 31, 1962); the Chalmers congregation approved the amalgamation plan “in principle” on April 08 and gave its full approval unanimously after hearing the complete details of the merger at a special congregational meeting on April 25 (1963 Year Book).The amalgamation of Dominion and Chalmers Churches as “Dominion-Chalmers United Church” was approved by the Presbytery on April 26, 1962.

    The Inaugural Service of “Dominion-Chalmers United Church” was held on May 06, 1962 and the Official Inaugural Service one month later on June 10 – the 37th Anniversary of the founding of the United Church of Canada (Orders of Service for both can be seen in the Vignette binder). The significance of the amalgamation was captured in the closing words of the account of the events of 1961-1962 in the 1963 Dominion-Chalmers Year Book: “Such is the story … of how two historic congregations in downtown Ottawa resolved to become as one, symbolizing in their own purpose a unity which has been exemplified by the very existence of the United Church of Canada”.

    Ottawa Citizen and Journal, February 02, March 31, 1962
    Report to the Official Boards of Chalmers and Dominion United Church of the Joint Committee. March 09, 1962
    Dominion United Church Building Committee, Report March, 1962
    The Formation of Dominion Chalmers, Dominion-Chalmers United Church Year Book, 1963, pages 42-44