Our History

Humble beginnings

The parish of St. Nicholas was established in 1912 as a mission church of St. John’s Norway. The village of Birch Cliff needed a community gathering place. The Rev. Charles Luce met with George Davis, who offered the use of his stable (appropriately humble beginnings) at the back of his property to act as a meeting place. This church was called St. Nicholas, after the parish in England where Mr. Luce’s father served. Bishop James Sweeney officially dedicated the site on Aug. 9, 1912. There were 60 members at that time.

Birch Cliff saw rapid growth in 1912. Whole families were emigrating from the United Kingdom to establish a new life. The tiny church was growing and decided to expand the building at a cost of $1,500. The newly expanded church also received generous gifts from its parishioners: oak pews, a carved stone baptismal font and a lectern Bible. The church opened on Oct. 5, 1914.

Tragedy soon struck the Birch Cliff community. On Sunday, Jan. 16, 1916, parishioners setting off to prepare for Sunday services found the church ablaze. All that was saved was the baptismal font and a piano.


A new building

It was decided a new, more visible and accessible location was needed to better serve the community, and the present site was chosen for a new brick building.

The parish engaged Harold Carter, an acknowledged Gothic architect who was also local, to design the church. Through his work, Mr. Carter became an active member of the church and the Birch Cliff community. (The three stained glass windows behind the present church’s altar are a gift by the Carter family to commemorate his work.)

On July 22, 1916, the first service was held with the laying of the cornerstone. The service was officiated by many dignitaries, including the Governor General of Canada and the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. During construction, services took place on the lawn under a large marquee tent until after Thanksgiving.

On May 29, 1917, the new church was officially dedicated. The present pulpit was received as a gift from the parish of St. Nicholas in Gloucester, England. The matching altar was also received from St. Paul’s, Bloor Street.

In 1919, the St. Nicholas community was served notice of the Rev. Charles Luce’s resignation. He and his family returned to England, where he took charge of his home church St. Nicholas, Gloucester.


New ministries

When he arrived in Birch Cliff in 1920, the Rev. W.J. Taylor noted that the community didn’t have a library. Not long after he arrived, a library was established at the parish. Sunday was a busy time, as local students who also attended the church exchanged their books.

In 1923, St. Nicholas’s membership had grown to 380. It was decided to extend the basement hall, which would act as a foundation for the new section of the full church building as originally planned, which would eventually be completed in 1953.

In the late 1920s, the Toronto 2nd Girl Guide Company was established.

Another fire, by arson started with the choir’s robes, nearly gutted the east side of the Parish Hall, damaged the organ and scorched the church. Fortunately, the damage was covered by insurance and the fire did not put the church in financial distress.

In the 1930s, the Sunday School enrollment swelled to over 500, making the church a busy place on Sunday!

In the 1940s, the Rev. K.D. Whatmough established the Church Year Group, largely a fundraising group to help pay off the mortgage and complete the church building construction as originally planned. Forty feet of the land to the north of the church was purchased as a war memorial. A monthly newsletter was introduced to keep the parish and community informed of the church’s activities.


Changes to the building

In the late 1940s, a building campaign was launched to raise $80,000. The final phase of construction was completed on May 19, 1953.

In the late 1950s, the Rev. Canon J.E. Birchall formed the Junior Auxiliary. Stained glass memorial windows began to be placed.

In the 1960s, the Rev. E.R. Woolley introduced the processional cross and altar candlesticks. Gilbert and Sullivan operetta productions were popular events using talent from the parish and the wider community.


Recent history

In spring 1993, disaster struck – the organ loft was destroyed when water leaked from an overhead roof. A three manual Artisan Classic electronic organ replaced the two-manual T. Eaton pipe organ.

In 1995, the Rev. Canon Prue Chambers oversaw the transformation of the former organ loft into the Memorial Room. In 1996, nine stained glass windows were dedicated by Bishop Michael Bedford-Jones in the Memorial Room and funds were raised for the installation of an elevator.

In 1997, the parish celebrated the 85th anniversary of the founding of the congregation with a special service.

In 2012, St. Nick’s celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the congregation with special services and events throughout the year.


The Rev. C.E. Luce (1912-1920
The Rev. W.J. Taylor (1920-1927)
The Rev. T.W. Barnett (1927-1931)
The Rev. N. Clarke Wallace (1931-1940
The Rev. K.D. Whatmough (1940-1948
The Rev. Lewis Garnsworthy (1948–1956)
The Rev. Canon J.E. Birchall (1956-1966
The Rev. E.R. Woolley (1966-1974
The Rev. Ian Nichols (1974-1978
The Rev. Canon Edgar Bull (1978-1983)
The Rev. J.A. Roney (1983-1994
The Rev. Canon Prue Chambers (1994-2004)
The Rev. Kevin Robertson (2005-2011)
The Rev. Canon Janet Read-Hockin (2012-2020)


The Rev. E.G. Robinson
The Rev. William Wheeler
The Rev. Roy Shepherd
The Rev. Michael Deck
The Rev. Canon Edmund Der

Assisting priests

The Rev. Will Kenny
The Rev. Canon Douglas Candy

Honorary assistants

The Rev. Ian Nichols
The Rev. Joan Waters-Garner