Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral is the Anglican cathedral in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The church is located in the northwest section of the city's downtown at the western end of Sparks Street at the top of a promontory looking down to the Ottawa River.


Philemon Wright, a native of Woburn, Massachusetts, came to Canada in 1800. Making his way up the Ottawa River, and looking for a satisfactory place to settle, he finally came to the Chaudière Falls, and was pleased with the character of the land on the north side of the river, so he decided to settle there. In later years, the flourishing settlement of Wrightstown would become the village, then later the City of Hull, and finally the City of Gatineau. Following the War of 1812, the Township of March was set aside for retired military officers and men. It was situated further up river on the south side. In 1824, Nicholas Sparks crossed the river from then Hull and carved a home for himself out of the heavy timber on the high cliffs of the south shore. In doing so, he became the first citizen of what would later become Bytown, and much later, the City of Ottawa. Colonel John By and the Royal Engineers arrived two years later to build the Rideau Canal, connecting the Ottawa River with Lake Ontario.

The Early Church

In 1824, Reverend Amos Ansley, a native Canadian and the son of a United Empire Loyalist, arrived in Hull from England. Sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, his mission included the Township of March, and in later years, Bytown. Services were held in a schoolhouse in Hull, which proved to be very small and inconvenient. Through the generosity of Philemon Wright, a little stone church was built, and opened on the first of October 1826. From his headquarters in Hull, Reverend Ansley served the Church population of fourteen townships bordering on the Ottawa River. By 1827, he was serving eleven preaching stations in Lower Canada (Quebec) and Upper Canada (Ontario), visiting most places by water in bark canoes.

The Call

In 1828, the Bishop of Quebec, the Honourable and Right Reverend Charles James Stewart, paid a visit to Bytown. Later that same year, the Honourable and Venerable John Strachan, Archdeacon and later first Bishop of Toronto, also visited Bytown. The diaries of both these clergymen, record the fact that the Presbyterians, Roman Catholics and Methodists of Bytown were able to lay claim to small but significant places of worship to call their own; but those of the faith of the Church of England did not, "...yet (were) sufficient to deserve the attention of a missionary." Archdeacon Strachan and the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada paid a visit to the home of Colonel By, situated in what is now called Major's Hill Park. There, they discussed the problems of funding the building of the canal, and need for a place of worship for the large Protestant following in Bytown. Later, on October 6, 1828, Dr. Strachan was able to draw up a subscription list for the proposed church building. It was not until early 1832, after it was announced at a meeting in Bytown that Nicholas Sparks had donated a site for the church. He had already given land for the building of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, as well as for the Methodist church. The original church building was to be fifty feet by thirty feet in breadth, the inside wall twenty feet high from the level of the beams to the top of the wall plate, and a tower erected at the west end of the church.

The Old Church

Though formally established in 1832, it was not until 1833 that the congregation was formally organized. The first service in Christ Church Bytown took place on July 21, 1833. Due to decreased givings and pledges over the next two years, the parishioners found themselves seated on temporary rough planks for pews, and the walls and ceiling were not completed for a number of years. The Church had to be closed during the winter as two stoves were needed for sufficient heating, but only one was available. In spite of appeals, no funds were made available, and it was not until 1835 that the church finally owned its own property. By 1841, due to rapid growth in the population of Bytown, it was recognized that the church was not adequate in providing for the needs of the growing congregation. A proposed enlargement plan was drawn up, and Mr. Sparks gave the additional land required for the enlargement. On July 12, 1841, the cornerstone was laid. Subscriptions were received from far and wide, and the enlargements were fully completed by October 1843. The church was consecrated and given its name - Christ's Church. Over the next quarter-century, a number of attempts were made to begin the building of a larger church. In 1865, a rectory was completed immediately west of the existing church building.

The New Church

In January 1872, after many Vestry and committee meetings, it was decided that a new church be constructed on the site of the old church. The last service in the old church was held on March 3, 1872, and demolition and reconstruction started immediately. The cornerstone was laid July 3, 1872 with a timecapsule containing monetary denominations and other artifacts. The building was formally opened September 29, 1873 and the first service took place at 11:00 am that day.

The Cathedral

In 1896, the Diocese of Ottawa was carved out of the northern part of the Diocese of Ontario. The Right Reverend Charles Hamilton was elected the first Bishop of the new diocese. On Easter Day, 1897, it was formally announced that Christ Church would become the Cathedral of the new diocese. In November 1931, a special meeting of Vestry unanimously agreed to begin the construction of a new chancel, extended to the street line of Queen Street. The work of tearing down the old chancel began immediately after Easter 1932, and on December 22, 1932, a thanksgiving Eucharist was celebrated in the new largely expanded chancel. The completion of the new chancel marked 100 years since the establishment of the first church in Bytown.


Currently, the Right Reverend John Chapman serves as the Bishop of Ottawa. The Very Reverend Shane Parker serves as the Dean of Ottawa and the Rector of Christ Church Cathedral. The Reverend Canon Catherine Ascah serves as the Pastoral Vicar, the Men and Boys' Choir Chaplain, and an active member with the cathedral youth group, "The Holy Terrors". The Reverend Robert L. Graham, and the Reverend Dawna Wall serve as the Pastoral Associates and the Venerable William Wright serves as the Honorary Assistant. Matthew Larkin, who serves as choir director, and ultimate organist, is a world-renowned musician. The Choir of Men and Boys is one of the few remaining all-male choirs on this continent. They continue to set a high standard of vocal repertoire and musicality. To Quote Paul Trepte, Director of Music at Ely Cathedral: "This choir is already one of the greatest choirs in the UK." The choir consists of 24 boys, aged from 8 to 16, and 14 professional men. Timothy Piper is the associate organist of Christ Church Cathedral and Director of the Cathedral Girls' Choir. They have recently purchased a brand new Rodgers Trillium 958 as their primary organ. Although there's controversy of choosing Digital over traditional pipes, the cathedral has no funds for such an expensive instrument. (roughly $2 million) Please visit the website for more in information. While not having any official or unofficial status as a national cathedral, as with Washington National Cathedral in Washington D.C., it is nevertheless frequently the venue for state funerals for non-Roman Catholic notable persons, such as former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson (who was United Church) and former Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn (who was Ukrainian Orthodox).

Building Activity

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