History from Here: Memorial Chapel at Ridley College

In honour of Remembrance Day, History from Here host Sara takes you inside Memorial Chapel at Ridley College. 🌹

Built of stone and gothic in design. Standing distinguished on the campus of one Canada’s oldest and most prestigious boarding schools. A monument to the memory of those who lost their lives in the First World War. Memorial Chapel at Ridley College reflects the spirit of Ridley students past and present.


Founded in 1888, Bishop Ridley College began as a private, all-boys boarding school that sought to prepare their students for entrance into the professions of law, medicine, theology, and the Royal Military College. While its first site was at the former Springbank Hotel on Yates Street, a devastating fire in 1903 forced the school to find a new home. With land purchased just above the western banks of the Welland Canal, Ridley College built the foundations of its current campus. Growth came quickly; the campus ballooned in both population and buildings, and the steady success of its graduates only strengthened its reputation and prestige. By the time of the school’s 25th anniversary in 1914, attendance was at an all time high, and so was its school spirit and morale.

The year 1914 also marked the outbreak of the First World War. Ridley’s school spirit took on a patriotic tone as over half of its 800 graduates enlisted to serve in the war. By the war’s end in 1918, sixty-one Old Ridleians gave the ultimate sacrifice, and dozens more came home wounded. Efforts to organize a commemorative monument were immediate. By the end of the year, alumni proposed a chapel to honour Ridley’s fallen soldiers, and by the Spring of 1919, nearly $50,000 was already raised to support the build. The school acquired the Toronto-based architectural firm Sproatt and Rolph, known for their gothic architecture, to design the chapel.

A gothic style chapel built of stone, with arched windows and doorways and ornate stonework trimming the roofline.  The chapel faces kitty-corner, giving a perspective of its imposing size.
Memorial Chapel at Ridley College, c. 1920s. STCM 2006.77.953j

In June 1923, Memorial Chapel was officially dedicated with a ceremony. In attendance were many dignitaries, including the Bishop of Niagara; the Reverend and Provost of Trinity College; rectors of St. Catharines’ churches, St. Catharines leaders, and Principal emeritus Dr. John Ormsby Miller, Ridley’s first Principal. At the ceremony, a somber alphabetical reading of the names of Ridley’s war-dead was followed by a moment of silence and the bugles sounding the Last Post. The dedication reads,

Ridley Chapel in the morning,

Incarnation fresh and pure

Of those soul who, this life scorning,

Fought to make the issue sure.

Ridley Chapel, hallowed dwelling

Of the spirit of the dead:

We have made you as a temple

For the sacred flame they fed

The design of Memorial Chapel reflects its commemorative purpose. Built of grey Georgetown stone in a perpendicular gothic style, the building stands in contrast to the others on campus, yet it is not meant to be overbearing. Inside, nine mullioned, stained-glass windows line the side walls, and a large chancel rises above the altar. The seats are made of solid oak, and several furnishings were given in memorial, including an oak eagle lectern, archer’s desk, organ screen, and communion table. Later, Dr. Miller reflected that Memorial Chapel was a House of Sacrifice, stating “it owes its building to the blood of a little band of Canadian soldiers who once attended Ridley.”

Ridley College campus taken from the back of a field. The stone chapel stands to the left, distinct from two other brick buildings of the school to the right. The trees are bare, suggesting the image was taken in the winter, though there is no snow.
Ridley College campus, June 1923.
STCM 1976.46.2.6

Once dedicated, Memorial Chapel came to symbolize the heart of Ridley College. Alumni and supporters continued to donate towards the Chapel’s care and maintenance, and families gifted additional furnishings in memory of other Ridleians who had passed. Today, Memorial Chapel remains a stark landmark on the Ridley College campus, and each Remembrance Day, the school community continues to gather here together to honour all those who sacrificed for our freedom.

The interior of a long and narrow chapel, stone walls from floor to ceiling and tall arched windows reaching to the ceiling. Wooden pews form two columns of rows up to the alter, where there is some wooden furniture and a chancel window rising above. At least 8 ornate chandeliers hang from the ceiling in two rows along the length of the chapel.
Memorial Chapel interior, c. 1920s.
STCM 2006.77.953k

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