You Asked, We Answered: The Centre Street Church Settee

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

While on tour, our Visitor Hosts are often asked questions that they may not be able to answer in that moment. This wasn’t one such question as I happened to know the answer, but I thought it could make an interesting post for the blog nonetheless.

I was recently on tour in Henry House when I was asked about the story of the settee in the parlour. It has an interesting provenance.


The museum acquired the settee in 1973; before donation, it was used in the Centre Street Church, the same church that Thomas Henry preached at decades before.

Centre Street Church A982.64.3

Centre Street Church’s origins lay with the Christian Church, officially organizing in Darlington in 1821. A decade later in 1831, Elder Thomas Henry organized the Oshawa Christian Church and served as its pastor. Meetings were held in homes and schoolrooms until 1843 when the first church was built in the area of Richmond and Church (later Centre) Streets. This church served the needs of the congregation for 30 years, during most of which time Rev. Thomas Henry was its minister.

The Christian Church soon became too small for the congregation; a section of land was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Cade, and a new church was built in 1874 on Centre Street, just south of King Street. It was reported that more than 400 worshipers were turned away from the opening service due to lack of room, indicative of the interest and support for the new building. Four services were held on the dedication day on September 5, 1875.


The church, known as the Oshawa Christian Church, was known for its beautiful lofty spire, and it was constructed with white brick with the roof and spire covered with slate.  Installed in the spire was a bell, a ‘crowning touch’ as reported by the Oshawa Times in 1967.

In 1928 the church joined the United Church of Canada and was renamed Centre Street United Church.

Photo from the Oshawa Times, April 29, 1967

In the 1960s, City Hall was looking to expand, and the church trustees agreed to sell the property to facilitate construction of the Rundle Tower.  The last service at the Centre Street United Church was held on April 30, 1967, conducted by Rev. A.W. Magee.  The congregation merged with the Westmount United, forming Centennial United. Eventually the congregation merged once again with Albert Street United to form Centennial Albert United Church which stands today on the southeast corner of Rosehill Blvd and Bond Street.


Other vestiges of the Centre Street United Church remain, besides the bench and amalgamated congregation.  The ‘crowning touch’ bell can still be found today outside the Rundle Tower at City Hall, where the church originally sat, and a keystone bearing the date 1874 is a feature of the Henry House Heritage Gardens.

Gardens May 2017 (10)

Student Museum Musings – Stained-Glass Windows into the Past

By Mia V., Summer Student

Since my last update, I have been continuing to research and work on the design for next year’s exhibit on the resettlement of displaced people and immigration stories in Oshawa. Following the threads of research has led me to the significant network of Ukrainian churches that were found in the city. Despite sharing the designation of Ukrainian, it was clear enough that they all belonged to different branches of Christianity – one was Eastern Catholic, others were Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist, and… two were Orthodox? Herein lay the confusion, since both Orthodox churches co-existed in time and on the very same neighbourhood block.

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“Oshawa’s Churches: Greek Orthodox;” image appeared in Oshawa Daily Reformer, 30 June 1927, p 25.

The ground on the corner of Bloor-Ritson was first consecrated for an Orthodox church in 1916. This church was alternately called Russian, Ukrainian, and Greek Orthodox in street directories and newspapers. Often the key descriptor of Orthodox was omitted and it was only called Greek – making it easy to confuse with the Greek Catholic church from just a few streets over. In fact, the Ukrainians of the (Greek) Orthodox Christian faith first called the Bloor-Ritson church home. The name confusion did not stop there, however, since the full name of the church differs greatly in translation. The Ukrainian would be “Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God.” However, in colloquial English it was known most often as “St. Mary’s.”

PicMonkey Image

This Ukrainian Orthodox church was built by an early wave of Ukrainian immigrants to Oshawa, many of whom came from the area of Bukovina which borders (and finds itself partly in) Romania. Since religious life was inseparably intertwined with cultural and social life, the choice of a parish was central to how one would find friends and generally engage with their culture. Fortunately, Oshawa had many options.

Greek Cath
“Oshawa’s Churches: Greek Catholic;” image appeared in Oshawa Daily Reformer, 30 June 1927, p 25.

Just a few streets over was the Ukrainian (Greek) Catholic church. In 1935, the majority of the congregation followed their priest into the Orthodox Church after his dispute with the presiding bishop (surrounding his ordination and time of marriage).


Just a few months later, the first building for the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church was built on the same location where it stands today – on the corner of Bloor and Simcoe streets. All of this is to say that, for several years, there were two Ukrainian Orthodox churches on Bloor Street. According to one participant in the Museum’s ongoing oral history project, both churches were consistently full, and members of each parish would attend the same events. It certainly seems there was need for both of them in this period in order to help service the influx of Ukrainian immigration to Oshawa after World War II.

“Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God in Oshawa, Ontario;” image appeared in Богослуження православної церкви: Підручник для недільних шкіл [Services in the Orthodox Church: A Sunday School Textbook], 1956.
In 1953, St. Mary’s was enlarged and rebuilt completely, on the same location as before. It now had, as the Toronto Star called it, “Byzantine-style domes” and overall resembled “a castle in a kingdom of bungalows.” Eventually, however, numbers dwindled significantly. Deciding against joining St. John’s from down the street, the aging congregation chose to accept no new members and sold the church only on the condition that they could still use it. Their designated service is in Ukrainian once a month, with a priest driving in from Scarborough.

In 1987, the church was sold to the Greek Orthodox community – making the church genuinely Greek for the first time. In 2012, the Greeks sold the church to the Romanians since they needed more space for themselves. This is, in fact, another kind of full circle since the original founders of the church would have been from the Ukrainian-Romanian border region of Bukovina.


Focusing on this one church, then, provides a great window into the past from which it is possible to see the interactions between the various Ukrainian religious communities and other cultural communities in the city. The way that the church changed ownership provides great insight into immigration trends as well – from the earliest Ukrainian, to the Greek, and the Romanian here in Oshawa.


Gerus, Mitrat Fr. S. Богослуження православної церкви: Підручник для недільних шкіл [Services in the Orthodox Church: A Sunday School Textbook]. Winnipeg: Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada, 1956.

Leong, Melissa. “Time takes its toll on congregation.” Toronto Star, April 13, 2003.

Momryk, Myron. Mike Starr of Oshawa: A Political Biography. Ottawa: Canadian Museum of History and University of Ottawa Press, 2017.

Additional research from the Oshawa Museum archival collection.

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