In the heart of midtown Toronto’s Summerhill neighbourhood, this century-old former Baptist church on Macpherson Avenue is revered by the handful of residents who live there. The developer took a large church that had been gutted by fire, and carved out five massive luxury lofts – as opposed to trying to cram in as many small units as possible. This building is one of the most unknown, yet coveted, church conversions in Toronto. Features of these lofts include spacious suite sizes, multiple levels of living space and unique floor plans that preserve the brick building’s grand architectural features.
It’s believed that the congregation of the Century Baptist Church began meeting in members’ homes on nearby Birch Street in 1888. The group was formally organized in 1901 and decided to build a church that could accommodate 500, and a basement that could hold 400 Sunday school attendees.
Designed by J. Francis Brown, architect of MANY Baptist churches in and around Toronto. The church was first built in 1903 and named the Century Baptist Church by the congregation who, without the presence of a church, had been meeting in the basement of its members’ houses for nearly twenty years. The structure was expanded and renovated over the years until the parishioners left sometime around 1970. That same year it was sold and became the Lodge Headquarters of the Toronto Theosophist Society (who are now housed at 109 Dupont Street). I have also heard that the Theosophists moved into the church in 1967, but 1970 seems the more accepted date.
After a devastating fire in 1986, the building was sold to a developer, who renovated and restored it to its present state. The structure was ideal for a condo: The walls between units are solid concrete and completely sound proof.
The jaw-dropping lofts on Macpherson have units with features such as arched windows, 26-foot vaulted ceilings and exposed roof trusses on the top floor. The lofts can be 3 to 4 storeys and range in size from 2,600 up to over 4,400 square feet in size. These are almost houses. Marble, hardwood, built-ins galore, wine cellars… you name it.
They all have fireplaces, some have skylights, and each one has a unique outdoor space. They have ground-source heat-exchange systems, making them very energy-efficient. And each loft has multiple parking spots. Expect to pay $2.5-4 million for one of these rare beauties.
There is very little available surrounding the conversion and sale of the church. I cannot find the sale of the church on MLS, the date is right around the time records went digital, so they may simply exist only on paper. The units were sold by a numbered company in 1988, so there isn’t much to go on regarding the developer. But they were all north of $1-million even when new!
For much of the nineteenth century, Ontario Baptists struggled to establish a unified association of churches. Differences of ethnic origins – American, Scottish and English – helped exacerbate and foster theological differences, and these in turn hindered co-operation in missions and in theological education. The first Baptist churches in Upper Canada emerged at the close of the American Revolution and were planted by itinerant American missionaries. These were joined by a group of Scottish Baptist churches in the Ottawa Valley in the late 1810s, when a significant wave of Scottish emigrants came to that area after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
It was a Scotsman, Alexander Stewart, who started the first Baptist church in Toronto in 1818. Nearly a century later, in 1915, this one Baptist congregation – then flourishing as the premier Baptist church in Canada: Jarvis Street Baptist Church – had been joined by forty-eight other Baptist churches and mission stations in the city of Toronto. One of these churches was Century Baptist Church, then on Macpherson Avenue.
Macpherson Avenue was named for Sir David Lewis Macpherson, a Canadian businessman and political figure. He was a member of the Canadian Senate from 1867 to 1896 and was knighted for his service to the country in 1884.
Macpherson was a member of the arbitration board that dealt with the financial issues associated with the creation of the separate provinces of Ontario and Quebec after Confederation. He led the resistance in the Senate to John Rose’s proposed changes to banking legislation and some of Macpherson’s proposals made their way into the Bank Act of 1871.
He served as Speaker of the Senate from 1880 to 1883. To commemorate his time as Speaker, Macpherson, as well as other Speakers of the Senate, had his name crafted in stained glass in the ceiling of the front foyer of the Senate Chamber.
He and his wife lived in their Toronto mansion “Chestnut Park” for 40 years. His home also gave its name to a tony mid-Toronto street. He died at sea on August 16, 1896 on board the steamship Labrador, in mid-ocean, and his remains were buried at sea.