Ottawa's Historical Churches Walking Tour, Ottawa

Ottawa's Historical Churches Walking Tour (Self Guided), Ottawa

The city of Ottawa has a number of notable religious sites fit to spark interest in both ardent believers and those keen on ecclesiastical architecture. With most of the churches located in the downtown area or nearby, one can visit these locations without trouble.

The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, a splendid Gothic Revival masterpiece, is a centerpiece of Ottawa's spiritual landscape. Its intricate stained glass windows and grand arches inspire awe, making it an iconic destination for anyone interested in Ottawa's religious scene.

St. Paul's Eastern United Church, on the other hand, represents a unique blend of architectural styles. This church combines Romanesque and Gothic elements, creating a striking facade that has been welcoming worshipers for over a century.

St. Alban's Anglican Church is a fine example of Gothic Revival architecture. Its somewhat squat structure and elegant interior make it a cozy and cherished site for its congregation and those who appreciate historical ecclesiastical design.

Saint Joseph Parish, a picturesque Catholic church, embodies a more modest yet charming architectural style. Its simple beauty and serene atmosphere offer a peaceful retreat from the bustling city.

First Baptist Church, another architectural gem, set against the backdrop of contemporary high-rising buildings, evokes tender feelings and reminds us of a bygone era.

Knox Presbyterian Church stands proudly with its stunning Gothic Revival design and castle-like stonework – a testament to the city's commitment to preserving its religious heritage.

The Church of Saint John the Evangelist, with its Victorian Gothic style, is yet another architectural treasure. Its red-brick appearance and historic significance make it a compelling stop for architecture and history enthusiasts alike.

The aesthetics and heritage of Ottawa's historical churches offer a glimpse into the diverse culture of Canada's capital. Whatever your interest – architectural marvels, historical significance, or spiritual ambiance – be encouraged to explore these landmarks for a chance to connect with the city's storied past and meaningful present. You won't regret it!
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Ottawa's Historical Churches Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Ottawa's Historical Churches Walking Tour
Guide Location: Canada » Ottawa (See other walking tours in Ottawa)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 Km or 2 Miles
Author: helenp
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica
  • St. Paul's Eastern United Church
  • St. Alban's Anglican Church
  • Saint Joseph Parish
  • First Baptist Church
  • Knox Presbyterian Church
  • The Church of Saint John the Evangelist
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

1) Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica (must see)

Set in the place where the first Catholic chapel once stood, Notre-Dame Basilica is the oldest church in Ottawa that has survived for many centuries. In 1978, the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Ottawa was officially marked as a historic building by the City Council.

In 1832, a small wooden church, known as Saint Jacques Church, was erected on the site. In 1841 it was demolished with the plan of being replaced by a larger church. The latter was designed in a Neo-classical style by Antoine Robillard and Father Cannon. After the completion of the church's lower section, the construction was handed over to Father Telmon who redesigned it in a more famous Neo-Gothic style. As a result, the building features a combination of styles: Neo-classical in the lower section and Neo-Gothic in the rest of it.

The interior of the church is more brightly painted and more elaborately decorated than the exterior. There are superb stained glass windows and a large number of statues of different religious persons, the most notable of which is the gold-plated statue of Madonna with twin spires. The church and its characteristic architectural features are clearly visible from the nearby Parliament Hill.

Among the notable events that have taken place at Notre-Dame Basilica are the funeral ceremonies of Governor General Georges Vanier and Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Visitors are free to enter the church and offer their prayers during the week. Many of the visitors, however, are attracted by the majestic grandeur of the building itself.

Why You Should Visit:
There is no charge to enter and you can have a free English/French tour of the church both upper and down in the hall with another chapel (check out the schedule online).

Pay attention to the details of things such as the marble pillars, which are actually made of wood made to look like marble.
St. Paul's Eastern United Church

2) St. Paul's Eastern United Church

Saint Paul's-Eastern United Church, located in Ottawa, is a historic congregation that holds a significant place in the city. Situated in downtown Ottawa's Sandy Hill neighborhood, at the intersection of Daly and Cumberland Streets, the church building is a striking example of Romanesque architecture, constructed using stone. It was originally built in 1888-1889 by architect S.R. Badgley for Saint Paul's Presbyterian Church, featuring a prominent steeple.

Unfortunately, the church was built on sand, and the steeple side started sinking into the ground. The steeple was therefore removed early in the 20th century, leaving the building as a relatively squat stone structure.

In 1925, with the establishment of the United Church of Canada, Saint Paul's merged with the neighboring Eastern Methodist Church and adopted its current name.

In recent years (2003-present), there has been a resurgence of activity, membership, financial stability, and Sunday school involvement at Saint Paul's-Eastern. The church has attracted many young families and singles who have brought new energy and life to the community. Saint Paul's-Eastern serves as a hub for various groups and partners who utilize the church's facilities. These include organizations such as Jericho Road and Touch of Love, as well as external groups like the Girl Guides and Alcoholics Anonymous.
St. Alban's Anglican Church

3) St. Alban's Anglican Church

Saint Albans Anglican Church is a historic Anglican church located in the Sandy Hill neighborhood of Ottawa. It holds the distinction of being one of the oldest surviving church buildings in Ottawa. The church was established in 1865, and its original design was created in 1866 by Thomas Fuller, who was also the architect behind Canada's original Parliament Buildings.

The construction of Saint Albans began in 1867, following the laying of the cornerstone on May 9 of the same year. It was completed in 1868, with the chancel and vestry being finished later by King McCord Arnoldi in 1876-77. The church's location on a steep hill at the corner of King Edward and Daly posed challenges, resulting in Fuller's initial plans being significantly scaled back. Nevertheless, the church attracted prominent figures, including early political leaders of Canada like Sir John A. Macdonald.

Saint Albans Anglican Church is named after Saint Alban, the first British Christian martyr, who was known for providing refuge and support to the oppressed and terrified.

Recognizing its historical significance, the building holds a Municipal designation under the Ontario Heritage Act, Section 29, and is subject to an easement agreement with the Ontario Heritage Trust.
Saint Joseph Parish

4) Saint Joseph Parish

Saint Joseph's is a small, traditional Roman Catholic parish located in Ottawa, known for its stone-made structure. The church was established in 1856, believed to have been built on what was once a burial ground for the laborers who lost their lives during the construction of the Rideau Canal.

The Roman Catholic Church received portions of the land in 1845, which were allocated for the construction of a church and college. This area later became the site of Saint Joseph's Parish and the College of Ottawa.

The church was consecrated in 1858 and boasted unique architectural elements such as a clock above the entrance and the first church bells in Ottawa. Initially, it could accommodate 230 parishioners. As Ottawa became the capital of Canada, the population in the area increased, and more people began attending church services. In 1866, additional benches were added to increase the seating capacity of Saint Joseph's.

In 1893, a new church was constructed to replace the original Saint Joseph's. This new church had a seating capacity of 1100 individuals and was built in the Roman Renaissance style. Unfortunately, it stood for only 37 years before being destroyed by a fire on December 27, 1930.

A third church was then constructed on the foundations of the second Saint Joseph's, incorporating some parts of the previous structure. However, the architectural style shifted from Roman Renaissance to Neo-Gothic. The present church is known to be more inclusive, allowing greater participation of women in the services.
First Baptist Church

5) First Baptist Church

The First Baptist Church, located in Ottawa, is a Baptist church associated with the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec.

Established in 1857, it was the first Baptist congregation in Ottawa. The present-day church is prominently situated at the intersection of Elgin Street and Laurier Avenue West in Downtown Ottawa. It was designed by architect James Mather and constructed between 1877 and 1878. The cornerstone was laid by Alexander Mackenzie, who served as the Prime Minister at that time. Mackenzie, being a Baptist himself, attended services at the church during his stays in Ottawa once services began in 1878.

Over the years, the First Baptist Church Ottawa has commemorated the members of its congregation who served in and sacrificed their lives during the Great War and the Second World War. They have erected memorial plaques in their honor.

In 1916, the church underwent expansion, and in 1928, it underwent significant renovations. To mark Canada's Centennial in 1967, a large organ was installed. Restoration work was carried out from 1999 to 2002.

Throughout its history, the congregation has remained in the downtown area and has actively supported the establishment of new congregations, including McPhail Memorial Baptist Church in 1896, Fourth Avenue Baptist Church in The Glebe in 1899, and more recently, Kanata Baptist Church and Bilberry Creek Baptist Church in Orleans.
Knox Presbyterian Church

6) Knox Presbyterian Church

Knox Presbyterian Church, situated in Ottawa, is a Presbyterian Church that bears the name of John Knox, a prominent figure in the establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland.

The original Knox Church, designed by Donald Kennedy in 1845, was situated in Sandy Hill at the intersection of Daly Avenue and Cumberland. In 1874, the Knox congregation relocated downtown, leaving their building to Saint Paul's Presbyterian, which later became Saint Paul's-Eastern United Church (Eastern Methodist) following the church union in 1925.

The second Knox Church, located near the Second City Hall (Ottawa) on Elgin Street, now occupied by the National Arts Centre, housed the Regimental and King's Colours of the 207th Battalion in 1919. These artifacts are now displayed in the current church, along with a plaque honoring the memory of the 207th Battalion, CEF veterans.

In 1930, the City of Ottawa expropriated the area to widen Elgin Street, compelling Knox Church, which had remained part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada since 1925, to move a few blocks away to its current location at the corner of Lisgar and Elgin. The second church was subsequently demolished in 1932.

The present-day Knox Church building, designed by John Albert Ewart and Henry Sproatt in 1931, was opened in 1932. The church has had the honor of hosting the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada on three occasions.
The Church of Saint John the Evangelist

7) The Church of Saint John the Evangelist

The Church of Saint John the Evangelist is an Anglican temple in Ottawa. Its history goes back to the 19th century to a church built in 1853 for Anglican soldiers posted in Bytown. In 1861, it was replaced with a small Chapel of Ease whose name was then changed to Saint John's in 1871, courtesy of Bishop John Lewis, who wished to set up a pro-cathedral of the Diocese of Ontario.

In 1889, an uproar broke out in the neighbouring Saint George’s Church on liturgy, following which a group of thirty people left the congregation with a plan to build a church of their own. Architect Mr. J. Hames was hired to do the design and the construction got underway with the cornerstone laid on October 21, 1890. Within a year, the church was completed and sanctified as Grace Church.

In 1912, a terrible fire ravaged Saint John’s church. After that, Saint John’s and Grace Church were merged in 1913 to form what's since been known as The Church of Saint John the Evangelist. The interior of this church is clad totally in wood and embellished with several stained-glass windows, while the outer walls feature brick- and stonework.

The Church of Saint John the Evangelist has been long known for its benign attitude toward gay people. Its first rector, Canon Gorman, had a son who was gay, and was much loved and well remembered by the parishioners. Gay people were energetic members of the local community in the 1960s and 1970s. When the epidemic of AIDS stroke in the mid 1980s, the gay community were given full support by Saint John’s.

Saint John’s is equally dedicated to both prayer and the community work. Its activities include arranging political meetings, organizing concerts, housing art festivals along with many other events beneficial to the whole community.

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