Home to one of the oldest Presbyterian congregations in Canada, St. Andrew’s was founded in 1830 in connection with the “Mother Church of Scotland”. It was first located at the southwest corner of Church and Adelaide Streets but this building was abandoned when it became too small for the expanding congregation.
The present building was opened for worship in 1876. At that time the King and Simcoe Streets location was a busy place and most of the congregation lived within easy walking distance of the church. Across the street stood Government House, the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. Upper Canada College stood on a second corner and on a third was a popular tavern. With St. Andrew’s, the four corners were known locally as Legislation, Education, Damnation and Salvation!!
Over the years St. Andrew’s initiated features of Presbyterian Church life that are now regarded as commonplace. It pioneered in restoring liturgical form to the increasingly impromptu Presbyterian worship service of the 19th century. The introduction of instrumental music into worship, robing of the choir, and innovations in the service of Holy Communion marked St. Andrew’s as a leader in Presbyterian worship.
By the end of the 19th century St. Andrew’s had achieved national prominence in the Presbyterian Church in Canada. During the church union debates a generation later, St. Andrew’s again took the lead in maintaining a continuing Presbyterian witness.
In the area of social action, the period up to the First World War was a time of energetic community pioneering by St. Andrew’s. At its Nelson Street Institute—the first of its kind in Canada—it conducted educational work among the waves of new immigrants and the urban poor. Its Holiday House on Lake Simcoe gave needy children a chance to escape the summer city heat and its Penny Bank—later a government institution—gave families their first chance to save their earnings.
By the middle of the 20th century, life had become hard for St. Andrew’s. Increasing numbers of people were moving to the suburbs and the downtown core of Toronto was giving way to offices and warehouses. Many times the congregation considered leaving its downtown location for more promising parts of the city, but each time the congregation decided that St. Andrew’s witness belonged at King and Simcoe Streets.
The rebirth of downtown Toronto as a place to live in the 1970’s confirmed that St. Andrew’s decision to stay was right. While it is surrounded by the towers of financial institutions, hotels, theatres, concert halls, the Rogers Centre and the Convention Centre, there are also many people in new apartments and condos—and many homeless needing food and shelter. Once again St. Andrew’s is taking its place in ministry to a growing city.
St. Andrew’s to-day is a living church. Its congregation, drawn from across the city, represents the diversity of Toronto. Presbyterianism at St. Andrew’s crosses cultural, educational and social boundaries. The congregation is united by a common commitment to worship and to community service. This commitment is reflected in St. Andrew’s mission statement—”The people of St. Andrew’s are called by God to serve in faith, hope and love in the core of Toronto”—a commitment to minister to the needs of the wide variety of people who live and work in the downtown area.