History from Here: St. James Church at 405 Merritt Street

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St. James Anglican Church

A building dismantled and relocated to a different community, then destroyed by fire and rebuilt, only to be met with a treacherous tornado a few years later. The story of St. James Anglican Church is a story of grit.

Built in 1841, St. James was the first Anglican Church in Port Dalhousie. The original church was built of a wooden-frame and painted white. By the 1860s, the small church could no longer accommodate the growing community and a new, larger church named St. John’s was built out of brick in a different location.

The structure was still in excellent condition, so the wooden frame of St. James Church was dismantled and shipped by barge down the Welland Canal from Port Dalhousie to Merritton in November of 1871. The materials were taken ashore and reassembled at the current corner of Oakdale Avenue and Merritt Street.

The original white wooden frame church stands at the corner of Merritt Street and Oakdale Avenue. Credit: St. Catharines Public Library.

The church was a symbol that Merritton had become a lively community of families and neighbours, growing beyond the industry and manufacturing at its centre.

Over time, the Merritton congregants also outgrew the wooden church. In March 1892, a warden’s meeting was called to finalize plans to replace the frame structure with brick. Not long afterwards, the building had caught fire and burned to the ground.

A new brick building was constructed shortly after in the same location.

A large group gathers to lay the cornerstone of the new brick building in 1892. STCM 4783-N.
St. James Anglican Church, 1937. STCM S1937.23.5.1

In the afternoon of September 26th, 1898 a deadly tornado tore through the village. Four people were killed, and 20 injured. With a path of about 300 feet wide, the tornado left a mass of ruin in its wake – including several homes and barns, the schoolhouse, part of the powerhouse, and severely damaging the Lincoln Paper Mill, a major employer to the area. It is said that trees and buildings quite a distance away from the mill were covered white with paper after the storm. Yet, the new St. James Church escaped the wreck with only some damage to its tower. The church directly across the street was demolished.

Onlookers assess the damage to the Lincoln Paper Mill after a deadly tornado ripped through the industrial town in September 1898. STCM 1353-N.

Though its last worship service was held in 2017, the grit of the St. James Anglican Church building endures. The historic building was sold and has been repurposed into loft condos.


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