A Historic Church in Kingston, The Story of The Spire

The Spire, also known as the Sydenham Street United Church, is a community hub that promotes the arts and over 20 community and cultural groups. This historic church has been part of the Kingston skyline for more than 160 years and continues the vision of the pioneers who built this piece of history. Like many historic churches in the area, the Spire has undergone many renovations to repair and modernize the structure. So how different is the Spire of today from the original building?

The Historic Church of Sydenham Street

The Sydenham Street Methodist Church

Originally built in 1852, The Spire was known as the Sydenham Street Methodist Church. During this time, many of the larger houses of worship catered to Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Presbyterians. With no local grand places of worship, the Methodists in the area contracted English-born builder and architect William Coverdale. Notably, Coverdale was also the master builder behind Kingston Penitentiary from 1836–1840 and oversaw the construction of Kingston City Hall. Coverdale’s crew of stone masons, roofers, carpenters, plasters and painters worked together to build the striking Gothic-style church.  

Once the initial building was complete, worshipers could admire the church’s beauty from both inside and out. The limestone exterior featured tracery, (a term that refers to the stonework elements that support the glass in a window) and the elegant build of the bell tower (also known as a belfry). The double door entrance featured a beautifully styled Gothic arched transom (a window that can be found above a door). Inside the worshipers would have found a large rectangle nave. The congregation would sit there during the sermons and high above them, was the elegantly decorated ceiling. Gothic influence was prominent throughout the original design. Which is understandable, as it was a popular style at the time.

By 1888, almost 40 years later, significant changes had been made by the new architect in charge, John Power. Power made noticeable changes (and improvements) to the interior of the church by enlarging the building to accommodate more people. Two large wings were added to the exterior, giving the building crew more space to create Powers’ vision. Some of his interior additions included; curved pews (which were unconventional for the time), a set of stairs to enter the bell tower and the narthex (a term used to describe a gathering area outside the main worship space), and a second set of stairs from the narthex that led to either side of a newly designed balcony. Even though these additions were not consistent with Coverdale’s original Gothic design, they made a significant difference to the building. And can still be seen in the structure today.  

The Sydenham Street United Church

In 1925, the United Church of Canada was formed, merging the four Protestant denominations including the Methodist Church. From that point on, the Sydenham Street Methodist Church was known as the Sydenham Street United Church. Fast forward to 1929, and the church was due for another renovation. This new round of renos was led by Colin Drever who, similar to John Power, focused on updates to the interior of the building. The main focus of Drever’s design was on the church’s sanctuary. Updates to the woodwork, the reredos, and a Casavant organ were completed, as well as the addition of a movable pulpit. The ceiling also received an update incorporating different architectural embellishments making the ceiling itself a beautiful piece of art.

In 1962, practical changes were made to the building and additional office, and socializing areas were added. Spaces that once had been the living quarters for the church custodian became offices and community rooms.  

While the historic church that currently sits at 82 Sydenham St. only slightly resembles the original build, you can still spot the distinctive spire from neighbouring streets. 

The Community and The Spire

For many decades the Spire has been a safe space for all people within the Kingston community, notably, within Kingston’s Chinese community. During the 20th century, the church developed a Chinese department to welcome and support Chinese immigrants. The department (and congregation) helped to acclimate the new residents by providing them with English lessons, and other essential services. In the 1960s the church introduced a Chinese Sunday service along with Chinese-inspired activities that included traditional customs and the celebration of Chinese New Year. This department is an example of the importance of inclusion and community-building for the congregation at the Spire.

Today, not only can Kingstonians and tourists alike visit this historic building to marvel at its beauty, but they can also support the church and the organizations that they foster by attending events or participating in the many programs they help to organize. With over 1,200 people in attendance every week, the church is not only a historical landmark but an essential part of the community

Images credited to The Spire

Visiting the Spire Today

The Spire is located at 82 Sydenham St in Kingston, Ontario with a by-donation admission. Tour the building and the grounds to admire the craftsmanship of the stonemasons and carpenters who built this historic church. Or attend one of their many events as the church also serves as one of Kingston’s best performance venues. Past productions include; Matthew Goode, The Good Lovelies, Donovan Woods, and local talent like the Cantabile Choirs of Kingston!

Learn more about the church and what they do by visiting their website or follow them on social media.

Written by: Kingston & Area Association of Museums

If you would like to learn more about the Museums, Art Galleries and Historic Sites of Kingston and the Area start by exploring the spaces around you!

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