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St. James Church
60 Promenade du Portage

St. James Church

In 1823, Philemon Wright ordered the construction of the first church in the entire region on either side of the Ottawa River. John Burrows oversaw the work of Montreal masons John Crawford and James Knox. The St. James Parish, located between the current Leduc and Saint-Jacques Streets, north of Wellington, opened its register on August 8, 1824. The church could hold 250 people. Amos Ainsley, a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, presided over the religious services. He also travelled throughout the Townships of the region until 1829, when the Ontario Townships were disassociated from that of the Hull church. He was removed from his mission in 1832. This church burned down in 1865.

Under the direction of the Reverend John Brock Glegg Johnston, the church relocated to the current site on the Promenade du Portage. The names engraved on the cornerstone, laid on October 25, 1866, included the architect, Thomas Fuller, architect of the Parliament Buildings, and the contractor, Charles Thomas. The church opened its doors in 1868.

Respected by both his peers and his superiors, Johnston was appointed Chaplain to the Senate in 1869, then Honorary Canon of Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal the following year. To show their appreciation, his parishioners build him a residence next door to the church. He died there on October 9, 1883. On November 12, Francis Robert Smith, Johnston's son-in-law replaced him. Unlike his predecessors, Smith was not a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, but a minister under the Anglican Bishop of Montreal, and so he became the first minister of St. James Parish.

In April 1900, Smith faced the same calamity that his former father-in-law had 35 years earlier: he watched, powerless, as his church burned down. This time, however, part of the walls remained. We know for sure that the third church was built on Fuller's foundations. The Great Fire of 1900 cast 56 families of the St. James Parish onto the street.

The church was rebuilt quickly. Smith and the parishioners of St. James took possession of their church on April 21, 1901. Meanwhile, Smith had celebrated mass for several weeks under an immense tent supplied by the local militia and raised in the garden of the Wright-Scott House at 28 Taché Boulevard, and then inside a rudimentary wooden shed baptized "The Tabernacle" by the faithful. By February 1901, the work was advanced enough for parishioners to attend Sunday services in the basement. A large portion of the cost of reconstruction was raised through the dedication of the Women's Guild of St. James Church, organized at Smith's instigation in 1883. Under the successive presidencies of Mrs. Kelly and Mrs. Garrioch, this volunteer association held numerous fundraising activities for several years to restock the parish coffers.

More recently, in 1977 St. James Church received a new group of believers: the Christian Community of Saint-Bernard-de-Clairvaux, a multi-ethnic francophone community that supports the ordination of women and the marriage of priests. This community includes about fifteen families in the area. St. James Church has become a real community centre while continuing to serve as a place of worship. Its doors are almost always open. Every day at noon, mass is celebrated for the civil servants. Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups also meet in the church. Regional vigils for peace and other Christian causes are held there, as well as concerts and performances open to the general public. In short, St. James Church has played a major role in the revitalization of the Promenade du Portage neighbourhood.