Report by Bill Stevens:
At our October 23, 2008 Society meeting Rev. Dr. Phil Cline spoke to an audience of 40 about the Silver Spire United Church. In January 2008, Memorial, Welland Avenue and St. Paul Street United churches voted to amalgamate at the St. Paul Street site. The amalgamation took effect on July 1, 2008 and a new church congregation with over 700 members was established. The Welland Avenue and Memorial church buildings were vacated and sold off.
The history of St. Paul Street United Church begins with the first known record dated 1816 showing people being called “Methodists” meeting at the home of Rufus Wright, at the corner of Ontario and Trafalgar streets, for the worship of God and spiritual fellowship. Brothers Rufus and Gershom Wright were staunch Methodists and they played a large role in promoting the faith in St. Catharines.
During 1822-24, when Rev. Ezra Adams was the Pastor, the land on St. Paul Street was purchased and a frame chapel was erected. The settlement of St. Catharines continued to grow and so did the congregation and St. Catharines became an independent circuit in 1832. Egerton Ryerson, the founder of the public school system in Ontario, became the first superintendent. The St. Catharines Circuit extended many miles in every direction, including Thorold, Beaver Dams, St. Johns, etc. In 1854, St. Catharines and its immediate vicinity were made a separate circuit, and the remainder was set aside as another circuit with two preachers, a married man and a single one, being appointed.
The continued growth of the congregation saw the chapel expanded with an addition in 1845. Eventually a new building, the present church was built between 1860-63. The building contract was given in March 1861, to Mr. Henry Burgoyne. The new building was ready for use in 1863, and its cost was approximately $12,000. Subsequently, in 1870, a spire was added at a cost of $2500.
In December 1870, a meeting of the Quarterly Official Board was called to consider building a new Wesleyan Methodist Church on Welland Avenue. A resolution to that effect was unanimously carried, and a Board of Trustees for the new church was recommended.
Early in 1871 the lot for the building was selected, and the Board of Trustees chosen. In 1875 a new Wesleyan Church on Niagara Street was also built (the predecessor of Memorial Church) and in 1876 it was united to St. Paul Street Church, the connection lasting for several years.
On January l0th, 1876, the St. Paul Street building was nearly destroyed by fire. Thanks to the efforts of the fire brigade the flames were kept inside the walls and roof, and while the damage was great, the building was not destroyed. Restoration, however, cost a large sum, ($10,000) at a time when there was a financial depression in Canada. The Welland Avenue Church became independent in that same year, and in 1879, Niagara Street, Louth and Grantham churches were made into a separate circuit.
In 1890 the present Sunday School was erected, and the old church was removed to make room for the new building. Over the next century many improvements were made to the interior of the building. In 1909 an organ was installed. The building survived yet another fire in 1962 and was once again restored. The building has received a heritage designation and a brief description reads as follows:
“366 St. Paul Street: Built of red brick, favoured by the Methodist Church, the structure was built in 1861 having rounded windows, pinnacled and centre towered Italianate style. Although the church was seriously damaged by fire, the original structure was retained in the reconstruction of the building. The exterior of the original church remains as constructed in 1861 with the exception of change of the front entrance in 1956.”
More information on the Silver Spire Church can be found on the web site http://www.silverspire.ca/