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Heritage
Designation

APPLICATION FOR HERITAGE DESIGNATION

On September 28th, 2020, an Application was submitted to the City of Toronto to have St. Peter's Church designated as a heritage property.

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Please help save St. Peter's Church BuildingI

We need YOUR help to save the beautiful green-roofed architectural gem at 817 Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto, on the corner of Roehampton and Eglinton in mid-town Toronto.  An application for heritage designation has been submitted to the City of Toronto and we need your support. Please sign the petition to indicate that you support the Heritage Designation so that the building will be protected and will continue to serve its community.

St. Peter’s has great significance architecturally and historically for Toronto and Canada. It was the first modernist church in the city of Toronto. The church is an exquisite building that showcases the struggles and triumphs of the Estonian People and their hopes and dreams of a new life in Canada. It has been a central hub for the Estonian and surrounding community, supporting not only religious services, but also scouting, children’s daycare, clubs, choirs, etc. It is a symbol for freedom and democracy; a reminder of the European influence and legacy in the city of Toronto. It is a wonder for Estonians living in exile as it was headed by an Estonian minister, designed by a world class Estonian architect, funded and built by Estonian war refugees.

St. Peter’s was completed in 1955. It was designed in the modern sacral style of the day. The sanctuary’s interior, reminiscent of an overturned boat, symbolizes the refugees’ boat reaching safe harbour. The famous architect, Mihkel (Michael) Bach, endeavoured to create a style that reflected the pioneering spirit of the people. He said “no stereotyped style could reflect the forward-looking spirit of the congregation, whose struggle for freedom brought them to a new homeland from the political strife which was once their home. It was this freedom sought for, and this break from tradition on the part of the congregation, which led to the progressive design, and hence, some credit for the design must be given to the people for whom the church is built.” The interior of this church has been praised for its exceptional design by architectural historians from around the world. The interior layout differs from Canadian architecture of this time and was greatly influenced by Bach´s education and work experience in Estonia and in Sweden.

The church construction was so noteworthy that Toronto mayor Nathan Philips was present at its commemoration (1955). Every architect and engineer in Toronto was aware of, and followed its construction, as the architecture included completely new design elements and construction techniques. Bach played an influential role in developing a new generation of Canadian architects at the University of Toronto where he was a popular professor.

The beautiful stained-glass windows in the church were designed by Ernestine Tahedl who designed them as a celebration of Estonian heritage.

How can YOU help?

1.  Join the Friends of St. Peter's group looking to save the Church and congregation.

2.  Show the City of Toronto that you support the Heritage Designation by signing the Petition.

 

3.  Write to the City of Toronto expressing your support to save the Church building at:

     Heritage Planning
     Toronto City Hall
     100 Queen Street West
     17th floor, East Tower
     Toronto ON M5H 2N2
     Telephone: 416-392-1975
     Fax: 416-392-1973

     Email:
        Yasmina Shamji at yasmina.shamji@toronto.ca

        Tamara Anson-Cartwright at tamara.anson-cartwright@toronto.ca

        Gary Miedema at gary.miedema@toronto.ca

        Paul Maka at paul.maka@toronto.ca

        Mary (Planning) MacDonald at mary.macdonald@toronto.ca

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Historical Background

  • The lot was purchased in 1953, and the Church building completed two years later.  The building was blessed on September 25th, 1955.  Three services were held that day for a total of 2,500 attendees including new congregation members and guests.

  • The pastor at the time, Oskar Puhm, wrote in 1958 that although the Church holds 500 people, there have been as many as over a thousand in attendance during holiday services.

  • The Church halls were used by many organizations including Sunday School, Estonian Supplementary School, Pre-confirmation and confirmation classes, scouts,  and guides.  In addition to religious education, St. Peter's became known as a beehive of activity including celebrations, concerts, meetings, displays, and seminars.

  • By 1958, the congregation had grown to approximately 4,000 members.  The birthrate of members exceeded death by seven times!
    1971 - a side addition to the Church was completed which included the Ladies Guild room, an apartment, and the cross tower.

  • 1974 - Church membership is now at 4094.

  • 1981 - The Church altar is restored and the organ relocated to the balcony.

  • 1990 - Stained glass windows created by Ernestine Tahedl are installed and blessed.

  • 2012 - Lift installed for easy access to basement.

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Architectural Style

"The design of the church is not conventional.  The interior has been described as the modern sacral style of the day.  the sanctuary's interior, reminiscent of an overturned boat, symbolizes the boat refugees' reaching safe harbour. 

 

The architect, Michael Bach of Toronto, endeavoured to create a style that would reflect the pioneering spirit of the people, most of whom were forced to flee for their lives in small boats from their homeland.

 

The roof construction of laminated A-frame wood arches and wood roof deck is exposed to the interior. The arches are arranged in a crossing pattern to give the feeling of movement towards the altar in front.  Attached to the church is a brick building which houses the church office, meeting rooms, and an upstairs apartment.

In the courtyard there is a cemetery which consists of brick walls (columbarium) with niches into which are interened the cremated remains of over three hundred individuals.  This is the final resting place of many founding church members.

Architect/Builder/Contractor


Architects – Michael Bach & Ants Elken


Several Estonian architects who fled their occupied homeland in the late 1940s had a tremendous influence on Toronto’s postwar architectural style in midtown Toronto. The pioneer of the group was Michael (Mihkel) Bach. Estonian born, he studied in Berlin before World War II. “In 1949, while living in Sweden, he met a visiting professor from the University of Toronto’s School of Architecture. The professor encouraged Bach to come to Toronto to join the faculty of modern
architecture, which was still in its formative years. Bach brought modernist architectural style from Western Europe to Toronto.. and also encouraged other Estonian architects to come to Canada (Very, 2014).


“…Michael Bach and a handful of other architects quite likely accelerated adoption of modernist design in the city… Toronto is the only one where you can see this influence of Estonian diaspora on the physical space and architecture of the city.” (LeBlanc, 2017).


Further according to LeBlanc, Michael Bach was one of the Estonian architects who taught a generation of Canadian architects that oversaw Southern Ontario’s building boom of the 1960s and 70s. Architect Bach produced many churches, but his masterpiece is St. Peter’s church (LeBlanc).


Bach also recruited another Estonian architect with a modernist Scandinavian style, Ants Elken, to the University of Toronto. Elken would teach architecture at the University for 33 years. The architects for St. Peter’s church were Bach, Elken was the architect for the church addition (Very, 2014).

 

  • General Contractor – Leeds Construction Ltd.

  • Organ – E.F. Walcker & Cie., Ludwigsburg/Baier.

  • Organ Plan – Lembit Avesson

  • Organ Installation – Knock Organ Co., London, Ontario

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Stained Glass Windows 

 

The stained glass windows within the church were created by artist Ernestine Tahedl. The stained glass windows that adorn the north and south sides of the church represent the artist’s conception of the theme “Fruits of the Spirit”. “Parallel to the religious theme, the design should be seen as a celebration of Estonian heritage inspired by their weaving of both colours and simplicity of design. The windows can be viewed
as a woven belt encircling the congregation in their place of worship.

 

The close relationship of Estonians with nature is reflected in the colour harmonies of the four seasons - north windows,
Spring and Summer; south windows, early Spring, Winter and Autumn (Stained glass…, 1990).”


“Ernestine Tahedl was born and educated in Austria and received a Master’s Degree in graphic art from the Vienna Academy of Applied Arts. Following graduation in 1961, she collaborated with her father, Professor Heinrich Tahedl, in the design and execution of stained glass commissions until she immigrated to Canada in 1963.

 

Her work is represented in public, corporate and private collections and galleries in Canada, United States, France, Switzerland, Austria, and Japan.  Her awards include the Graduation Prize of the Austrian Government 1961, the Bronze Medal of the Vienna International Exhibition of Paintings 1963, the Allied Arts Medal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada 1966, and a Purchase Award, Concourse Artistique du Quebec 1966. In 1967 she received a Canada Council Arts Award, in 1999 the Mayor’s Prize at Kyoto ’99, Kyoto, Japan, and in 2000 the Kobe Sun Prize at Flora Art 2000 at Awaji Island, Hyogo, Japan.  She was elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1977 and of the Ontario
Society of Artists 1984. She received the Governor General’s Canada 125th Anniversary Medal in 1993. She was the recipient of the Arts and Letters Award from the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto in 2000, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 and the “In Celebration of Women” Long-term Achievement Award, Arts, in 2004. She was invited to participate in the Biennale Internazionale dell’Arte Contemporanea, Florence, Italy in 2003. She received the President’s
Medal of the Ontario Society of Artists in 2006. The Varley Art Gallery of Markham organized and presented a Retrospective 1946-2006, curated by Katerina Atanassova, Curator, Varley Art Gallery of Markham, in 2006 (Tahedl biography, 2020).”

Heritage Qualifications 

It is the opinion of the applicants, that the Church qualifies as a historic building within the definition of the Ontario Heritage Act, Ontario Regulation 9/06 (the Act) -

The church building property has design value or physical value because it:

  • is a rare, unique, representative or early example of style, type, expression, material or construction method (Act 1, i)

  • displays a high degree of craftsmanship or artistic merit. (Act 1, ii)

  • has direct associations with events significant to a community (Act 2, i)

  • yields, or has the potential to yield, information that contributes to an understanding of a community or culture (Act 2, ii)

  • demonstrates or reflects the work or ideas of an architect, builder, designer who is significant to a community (Act 2 iii)

 

The property could also be considered important in defining the character of an area (Act 3, i), is physical linked to its surroundings (Act 3, ii), and is a landmark (Act 3, iii).
:

Architectural Conservancy Ontario - Toronto. (2016). St. Peter's Estonian Lutheran Church Record.  Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://acotoronto.ca/show_building.php?BuildingID=4548


Pirosok, Alja. The bid to sell Peetri kirik. (2020, September 27). Estonian World Review. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://www.eesti.ca/the-bid-to-sell-peetri-kirik/print57167


Ernestine Tahedl Biography. (2020). Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://shaynegallery.com/artist/ernestine-tahedl/


LeBlanc, D. (2017, September 14). Postwar Estonians left their mark on Toronto. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/realestate/toronto/postwar-estonian-architects-left-their-mark-ontoronto/article36242592/


The Lutheran Witness, Ontario District Edition, LXXIV, St. Louis, MO No. 22. (1955, October 25).


Stained Glass Windows at St. Peter's Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Toronto [A description of artist Ernestine Tahedl's concept for church stained glass windows.]. (1990, December). St. Peter's Church, Toronto.


Tahedl, E. (n.d.). Ernestine Tahedl. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from http://pages.interlog.com/~etahedl/


Very, E. (2014, May 28). A Jane's Walk: Estonian Architects and Their Buildings in Midtown Toronto.  Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://ericvery.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/estonianarchitects-and-their-buildings-in-midtown-toronto/