Historic St. Paul’s is full of life

St. Paul's Anglican Church, Halifax Photo: Art Babych
St. Paul's Anglican Church, Halifax Photo: Art Babych
Published June 7, 2010

See related video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvNHd4Q7t0s

St. Paul’s in the Grand Parade is the oldest Anglican church in Canada. It is also the oldest surviving Protestant church in the country and the oldest building in Halifax.

But General Synod members will see more than the historic building that thousands of tourists see every summer. They will see “an ancient building brought alive,” says its rector, the Rev. Dr. Paul Friesen.

“It’s going to be full of worshippers,” he said. And they may get a sense of the history “just by being a living community, worshipping in the same place that people have been worshipping since the boats came into the harbor.” Friesen added that he thinks there will a “complementary contrast” between the historic building, parts of which look exactly as they did in the summer of 1750 when the church was first built, and some very 21st Century aspects of the service such as electronic projections of liturgy and music for a paperless worship.

Bishop Ronald Cutler will be the celebrant. Some aspects of the June 8 service will be unique to St. Paul’s, which has been given charge of the liturgy. It will be a contemporary liturgy based on the Book of Alternative Services with some variations including a sung African version of the creed, said Friesen. “All the responsive parts of the liturgy will be projected, but we also have a great affection for the liturgy as a participatory drama as it is. So we don’t always want to be having our eyes on the screen, so the celebrant and congregation are interacting with each other.”

It’s also going to be a silent sermon, thanks to the “encouragement of General Synod,” he said. “There [will have] been so much talking [that] the thought was a period of silent reflection on the scriptures might be a good thing.” To this end, a series of images will be projected on the screens.

The music will also be both historic and contemporary. “We’ll be using an organ that is 19th Century but we’ll also be using instruments and settings that are more contemporary and older than that,” said Friesen.


Fun Facts about St. Paul’s

Adapted from St. Paul’s in the Grand Parade by Sarah Baxter Emsley

St. Paul’s was founded in 1749. It is the oldest surviving Protestant church in Canada. (There was one in Newfoundland from 1699, but it is no longer standing.) It was the first cathedral of the Church of England outside Britain. And it is home of the oldest continuous Sunday school in Canada.

In 1786, the governor’s pew displayed the king’s arms and was covered with a canopy. It was upholstered in crimson, and comfortably furnished with tables, chairs and a desk.

All the pews downstairs had doors and were rented. Pew-openers made sure that only people who had paid their rent sat in their pews. The rent formed a large part of the salary for clergy.

The church has communion silver referred to as Queen Anne Silver. It was commissioned by Queen Anne and presented by King George I in about 1720. The set came to St. Paul’s from Annapolis Royal in 1759 on the order of Governor Lawrence.

Baron de Seitz, one of 20 people buried beneath the church, was in full military dress, with his sword, spurs, hat, rings. Since he was the last of his line, he was also holding an orange in his right hand. By 1931, when the wooden floor was replaced by concrete, it was discovered that the Baron’s possessions had been stolen.

If you look down the grate next to the royal box, you can see the tomb of Bishop Charles Inglis, first bishop of Nova Scotia.

In 1812, the narthex was added, extending the north end of the church by 15 ft, 6 inches.

The bronze memorial arch records the names of young men of St. Paul’s who died in the First World War. Above the arch is a relic from the 1917 Halifax Explosion, a piece of window frame that lodged in the wall from the force of the explosion that happened when a French cargo ship loaded with explosives collided with a Norwegian ship in the harbor and devastated much of the city. Injured and homeless took refugee in the church hall.

The original church as been added to on all four sides, and the plain Georgian building has, over the years, been transformed into a more elaborate, Victorian edifice. The main door that leads on to the Grand Parade was once the rear of the church.


  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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