Bells toll for anniversary

Published September 1, 2003

Bell tower of St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Saskatoon – recently completed after 90 years.


The world was in a state of financial collapse in 1913 when the 44-metre spire of Saskatoon’s Cathedral Church of St. John the Evangelist was capped on Oct. 11, symbolically marking the end of construction. The interior would not be completed for another five years, but a bell tower remained unfinished until this year.

To prepare for the 100th anniversary of the parish, the congregation of St. John the Evangelist is finishing the long-neglected bell tower.

The newly installed clock now peals the notes of Big Ben to mark the hours. Said Bill Latshaw, a parish member who conducts tours of the cathedral, “The chimes are the tubular ones from the original St. John’s Church where the parish began in 1902.”

Archbishop Tom Morgan said the cathedral looks like it was designed for India, but somehow it found its way to Saskatoon. “With its red brick and terra cotta exterior, it could easily have fit in India. There is certainly nothing like it anywhere else in Canada,” said the archbishop.

The cornerstone of the building was laid Sept. 2, 1912, by then-governor general, the Duke of Connaught. The first services were held in the church on Oct. 7, 1917. At that point, said St. John’s current rector, Dean Susan Charbonneau, the building was not yet a cathedral. “That designation comes when a church is the see or seat of the bishop. That happened in 1932,” said Ms. Charbonneau.

Mr. Latshaw describes the design of the church as early English/Gothic or Gothic Revival. The exterior is finished with red brick from Redcliff, Alta., and Doulton terra cotta from Staffordshire, England. The Tyndall stone entrance steps exhibit numerous fossils.

The interior of the cathedral is adorned with many examples of Doulton Carrara Ware, which imitates white marble. Most notable are the rood screen, lectern, pulpit, baptismal font, and high altar.

Mr. Latshaw said the original cathedral design was meant to accommodate 1,100 people, but with the present new arrangement, it seats about 450. Some of the largest gatherings have been during Queen Elizabeth II’s three visits and the attendance by two archbishops of Canterbury.

St. John’s began as a parish in 1902 with only eight families plus individual members on the parish list. The first church was a wood frame building. The parish was named after St. John’s Cathedral in Winnipeg.

The cathedral site, on Spadina Crescent, overlooking the South Saskatchewan River, was purchased in 1911 for $19,000 and construction of the cathedral began soon after.

Ms. Charbonneau is impressed by the spirit and vision of the early pioneers who built the structure.

“I’ve been told that if this cathedral were to be built today, given the size of the city then and now, the building would be approximately the size of our sports arena, SaskPlace,” said the dean.

Darlene Polachic is a Saskatoon writer.


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