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St Barts

The History and Architecture of St Barts

It was in October 1866, just after the government of the province of Canada had moved to the new capital of Ottawa, and the Governor General into Rideau Hall], that a meeting was held to organize a mission in the suburban village of New Edinburgh. Soon after this, under the aegis of St. Alban’s, Sandy Hill, the first service was held in a schoolhouse in Crichton Street. With the encouragement of the Governor General and his wife, Lord and Lady Monck, who held a benefit concert at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the spring of 1867, the parish was formally organized at a meeting on St. Bartholomew’s Day (14 August), six weeks after Confederation. On the strength of donations from the Governor General, the estate of Thomas MacKay (which gave the land) and the St. Lawrence Railway - all property holders in the village - an architect was engaged. He was Thomas Seaton Scott of Montreal, who was later to become Public Works architect and designer of the West Block tower on Parliament Hill. His drawing for the proposed church was engraved on a prospectus soliciting further subsriptions.

Scott's Drawing of St Barts
Scott's drawing of the original design for St Barts

The corner-stone was laid by the Governor General on 9 May 1868, and on Christmas Day of that year the first service was held in the unfinished interior.

The Cornerstone - situated in the south-east exterior wall of the church

For some years the parish remained in debt and was so sparsely furnished that Lady Dufferin on her arrival at Rideau Hall in 1872 could only describe the church as “very primitive”. But she and her husband regularly trod the Church path that led through the grounds to MacKay Street. In 1874 they held a concert in the ball-room of Rideau Hall "in aid of our little church" and in 1878 a bazaar in the Tent room which raised $2000 to payoff the debt. The next Governor General, the Marquess of Lorne, and his wife Princess Louise, the talented daughter of Queen Victoria, further established the viceregal patronage which has lasted until today. Over the years their subscriptions, gifts and entertainments have encouraged the permanent, if less affluent, parishioners. Their families, Households and staffs have had their children christened, acted as sidesmen, read the lessons, sung in the choir, taught in the Sunday School and been married and buried from St. Bartholomew’s.

Several events over the years figure prominently in parish history. On Easter Day 1874 the Dufferins’ friend the clergy-man novelist Charles Kingsley preached “an excellent sermon appropriate to the day”, controlling his stammer; and in April 1875 their son Frederick Temple Blackwood was baptized. In December 1915 the Duke and Duchess of Connaught’s guest, the great coloratura soprano Dame Nellie Melba, sang at a morning service. In the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire’s time their friend Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, British ambassador to Washington, died in Ottawa in 1918 and was buried from the church; and Edward Prince of Wales unveiled the Connaught window in 1919. The infant son of Lord and Lady Bessborough, George Ponsonby, was christened here in 1932, with Sir Robert Borden standing proxy for his godfather King George V.  The Queen and Prince Philip visited the church in 1982, and Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Richard of Gloucester have attended services. All governors general, whether Anglican or not, have frequently occupied the royal pew, as have lieutenant governors of the provinces. For many years the Sunday School enjoyed an annual Christmas party in Rideau Hall, at which the children were given the traditional gifts of plum cakes and crackers. Two rectors of the parish, Canon Hanington and Archdeacon Christie, regularly conducted services in Rideau Hall for Governors General, their Households and staffs.

First Rector, George Noel Higginson
Photo believed to be of Reverend George Noel Higginson, First Rector of St. Barts

Part 2: The Church Exterior
Part 3: The Church Interior