On this episode of History from Here, Public Programmer Sara Nixon takes you to Silver Spire United Church, located in downtown St. Catharines, Ontario.
Enduring as the first Methodist congregation in St. Catharines. Surviving two devastating fires separated by almost a century. Continually adapting to serve the needs of its community. Silver Spire United Church has long stood tall in the face of devastation and transformation.
The many iterations of what we now know as Silver Spire have stood at this location since the 1820s. However, its history extends back to 1816 when St. Catharines’ earliest recorded Methodist meeting took place in the home of Rufus Wright. It took only a few years for the parish to determine that a permanent place of worship was required. Under Reverend Ezra Adams, a large parcel of property was purchased from William Hamilton Merritt and the small frame chapel of Wesleyan Methodist Church was constructed, facing St. Paul Street.
The congregation continued to grow as St. Catharines grew, and in 1845 the church was rebuilt in brick and expanded. By 1858, talks had already begun to build an even larger church building and three years later, a building contract was given to fellow churchgoer Henry Burgoyne. The third church building on this site was completed in 1863 at a cost of $12,000. A silver spire, which would become the quintessential symbol of the church, was added in 1870. Around this time the congregation became known as St. Paul Street Church.
This brick structure has withstood not one, but two devastating fires. The first took place on a “frightfully cold day” in January 1876. The response of the fire brigade, stationed only down the street, had been quick enough to contain the fire to the interior – saving the walls and roof. Still, the damage was great, and restoration cost almost as much as the original construction some 15 years earlier, with a price tag of $10,000.
The second fire also occurred on a January day, this time in 1962. Thought to have begun in the boiler room, the building was quickly engulfed in flames and the interior gutted. The roof had collapsed, destroying the pulpits, pews, and balcony of the sanctuary. The stained-glass windows of the sanctuary, each dedicated to the memory of former parishioners, were shattered. Yet, its walls stood strong.
The church was again restored. The original walls were kept intact, as well as the intricate wooden doors of the church entrance. Erected in 1954, the doors are engraved with twelve symbols representing twelve saints. Other architectural features could not be salvaged and were instead reimagined. A new, singular chancel, designed in a modern art form, replaced the traditional stained-glass windows of the former sanctuary, and was rededicated to memorialize the church’s past congregation members.
In 2008, St. Paul Street Church was amalgamated with Memorial United and Welland Avenue United churches to become Silver Spire United Church. Over its many iterations on St. Paul Street, the church facilities have long been used for community support meetings, childcare services, downtown youth programming, and even to host graduation ceremonies, including for the Mack Training School of Nurses and the earliest graduates of Brock University. The Church had even opened its doors for Brock’s first classes in Fall 1964, after the university’s plans for its first campus were delayed. The congregation spearheaded the first Meals on Wheels program in the 1960s, and today, it runs a community shower program to give dignity to those without housing. In 2016, Silver Spire became home to Carousel Players, a well-established Niagara theatre geared towards young audiences.
Through name changes, rebuilds, and reorganization, Silver Spire has remained proud of its identity and long history as a downtown church. With an explicit vision to help create and grow a healthy and vibrant community, Silver Spire continues to stand by its stated values of reverence, welcoming, stewardship, reconciliation, learning, and inclusivity.