|St. Thomas’ Church dates back to the year 1836, when the need was felt for a second Anglican church in St. John’s to service the growing population in the east end of the city. An early painting of St. John’s shows the original St. Thomas’ as a little church with a prominent tower. This tower is the same one through which you now pass on entering the church by the west door.
If you walk from the back of the church as far as pew number 109, you will have walked the entire length of the original building, for at this point stood the east wall of that first church. Its width extended only to the present pillars along the sides of the church.
In the centre of the east wall, in common with many churches of the period, stood the pulpit, with a communion table below. Above was a gallery. Galleries were also provided at the back and along the sides.
Although the church escaped the ravages of the great fire, which destroyed much of the town in 1846, a violent storm that struck in the same year is said to have moved the whole building six inches. In an effort to stabilize the structure, wings, which characterize the present building, were added five years later.
In 1874 the need for more parishioners to be accommodated led to the lengthening of the church by some thirty feet. At the same time the east gallery and the side galleries were removed. The heavy brackets, which were installed when the galleries were taken out, may still be seen. The west gallery remains, a section of which was at one time reserved for the governor’s pew. The low temperatures in that part of the building were said to have led to the relocation of the governor’s pew to the front of the nave, where it is still found today.
The church was again enlarged in 1883 by extending the chancel and adding a vestry (sacristy) and additional space for the organ. The last major alteration to the building was made in 1903, when the chancel was again lengthened to provide seating accommodation for over 1,300.
From the opening of the church until 1870, St. Thomas’ served as the Garrison Church, and the seats in the side galleries were regularly occupied by the soldiers of the garrison. On the front of the west gallery, you may still see the Coat of Arms. It is interesting to note that this coat of arms is different from that currently used by the British monarch, as it predates the accession of Queen Victoria, when the current coat of arms was adopted.
Until the 1950s, many of the pews in St. Thomas’ were rented. On some of the pews, the old Victorian number plates may still be seen.
A set of tubular chimes, still in use today, was placed in the tower as a memorial following the First World War. An electronic chime system was installed after the Second World War
The oak doors and paneling at the west end of the church were placed as a Second World War memorial. Many other memorials are found throughout the church and museum, some of which date from the mid-nineteenth century. Other memorials include the chancel screen and the many beautiful stained glass windows.
Space under the church was excavated and a choir room was built in the early 1900's. This was restored in 2004 and an extension room was added, exposing the foundation walls. In 1922, a space was dug out by hand for a small chapel for the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, a men’s service group. This chapel was restored and rededicated in 1982.
Canon Wood Hall was built next to the church in the late 1800s to provide an area for meetings and other church activities. Sadly the building was destroyed by fire in 1966. Today’s Canon Wood Hall was actually St. Thomas’ School until the dawn of the public school system in Newfoundland led the school’s closure and conversion into a parish hall in 1976.
St. Thomas’ is a large Anglican parish serving about 600 families. It is an active parish with Christian outreach and mission extending into many areas of life in the community, the country and the world.
You are invited to look through the church, to sign the visitor’s book, and to join in the worship at St. Thomas’ on Sunday mornings at 8 and 10:30 am — The Old Garrison Church.
|Some Landmarks at St. Thomas’
- 1836—Dedication of the church
- 1851—Side “wings” added to the building
- 1874—First extension of the church
- 1883—Second extension
- 1903—Last extension
- 1910—Installation of pipe organ
- 1922—Dedication of tubular chimes
- 1924—First radio broadcast from St. Thomas - VOWR
- 1927—St. Thomas’ School built and opened
- 1958—Electric chimes installed in the tower
- 1965—The old tower bell restored
- 1976—St Thomas’ School becomes the Parish Hall
- 1992—Parish Hall renovated
- 1994—Installation of Casavant Pipe Organ
- 2001-2005—Renovations to nave and crypt
You may wish to read more about the history of St. Thomas’, “The Old Garrison Church”, at Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador or you can contact our own archivist, the Rev. Bob Chafe.