Our Building and Some of Our Founding Members
St. James is a lively and growing congregation sharing a faith that sustains us in the present and helps us move into the future with hope. We also find ourselves in a church whose building and founders are part of a long and notable history.
As early as 1857, the year the Anglican Diocese of London was established, European settlers living on the south-west (Westminster) fringe of the City of London started holding worship services in each other’s homes. In 1873, on part of a 150 acre plot of land acquired by Colonel John B. Askin, the first modest, brick St. James Westminster Church was built – on Askin Street. The founding rector was Rev. Evans Davis. Four years later, in 1877, the current Gothic-revival church was erected; the old church became the Sunday School, and is now the Hall and Administrative Building.
On opening day, November 15, 1877, 2,000 worshipers squeezed into 3 services to celebrate the new church building. They were joined by the Governor General of Canada, the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, and Bishop Isaac Hellmuth, second Bishop of Huron and first principal of Huron College. Hellmuth was the guest preacher for the day.
Reverend Davis led the church for 44 years and became Dean of the Diocese in 1913. He was the first of just 8 devoted St. James Rectors to date. A beautiful stained glass window at the west side of the church was dedicated to him, depicting the story of Christ challenging the rich young ruler to a life of service: “Go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor.” That message of outreach and service became a cornerstone of this parish.
For 25 years, Reverend Davis was also Honorary Captain and Chaplain of the Seventh Fusiliers Regiment of London. His son, also named Evans, supervised the medical corps that ministered to victims of the Battle of Vimy ridge during the first World War – a war that claimed the lives of 17 of the 100 parishioners from St. James who enlisted. This Evans became the Director of Medical Services for Canada.
Among those 100 parishioners was Nurse Bertha Smith, of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. She was made a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by King George V for heroic service when her hospital in France was bombed in 1918. Later, she founded the Child and Welfare Association in London and served as its director. A stained glass window in St. James Church is dedicated in her honour; it depicts the Christ Child and Mary, an image of care.
At the heart of what became Wortley Village early in the 20th century, St. James was the home church for many busy Londoners. Rev. Davis travelled by horseback or carriage to help out at the fledgling church, St. George, on Wharncliffe Road, or walked over to the “Normal School” on Elmwood Avenue to teach classes to the student teachers there. Long-serving church warden, John Pope, would head north to the end of town for his faculty responsibilities at Huron College.
Parishioner Charles Hunt walked east to Hunt Mills, near the current London Hydro headquarters. Charles Hutchinson headed north and east to the old Middlesex County Courthouse at the Forks of the Thames to supervise tough issues like the famous Donnelly trial. Church Board Member and later mayor of London, Judge John Coulson made that trek too. Mayor Charles Smith Hyman, a successful fundraiser for St. James, gravitated among the church, the old city hall near the current Covent Garden market, Tecumseh Park where he played for the North American Championship ball team, and his home – now the Idlewyld Inn on Grand Avenue.
Parishioners made their living in banks, lumber yards, the London Police and Fire departments, retail (grocery and general stores, Kingsmills dry goods store), leather and tobacco factories, London Life, London Mechanics Institute, the London Free Press, the Advertiser, Tecumseh House, the Opera House, the Theatre Royal, the Imperial Oil district headquarters, etc. St. James then, as now, is the home parish for an eclectic group brought together by a shared faith.
–with thanks to our St. James Westminster historian, Wayne MacPherson