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Architecture Religious

Canadian Churches

An Architectural History

by (author) Peter Richardson & Douglas Richardson

photographs by John Visser

Firefly Books
Initial publish date
Oct 2007
Religious, General, History
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2007
    List Price

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The first definitive guide to Canada's most beautiful and significant churches.

In every city and town in Canada, churches stand as monuments to our spiritual, ethnic and architectural heritage. With as many styles as there are denominations of faith, these buildings tell the story of 250 years of immigrants bringing their Old World traditions into a New World landscape, and of how these traditions changed over time as the country moved west.

These magnificent buildings were constructed by many different denominations and in very different styles, but they all have in common the desire to create a lasting and suitable monument to their faith.

Canadian Churches: An Architectural History is the first definitive guide to more than 250 of the most beautiful and significant churches across the country. Peter Richardson and Douglas Richardson provide the history of each church, including its construction, subsequent alterations or additions, the early congregation, and any architectural details that make these churches unique and noteworthy.

Packed with more than 400 photographs, this book is as beautiful as it is informative. The authors have captured the essence of the buildings as well as the human drama and passion that led to their creation. The rich history and beauty bring a romance to the "architecture of religion" that will leave readers captivated, regardless of their faith.

Canadian Churches is a must for anyone interested in Canadian architecture, history and religion.


About the authors

Peter Richardson is the author of three collections of poetry: Sympathy for Couriers, which won the 2008 A.M. Klein Poetry Award, An ABC of Belly Work, and A Tinker's Press. His poems have also appeared in magazines and journals such as Descant, Poetry, Sonora Review, the Malahat Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and the Rialto (UK). He lives in Gatineau, QC.

Peter Richardson's profile page

Douglas Richardson's profile page

John de Visser, R.C.A. and the Grand River Conservation Foundation

John Visser's profile page

Excerpt: Canadian Churches: An Architectural History (by (author) Peter Richardson & Douglas Richardson; photographs by John Visser)

Excerpted from Chapter 1:

Canadian Churches is divided into chapters covering Atlantic Canada, Québec, Ontario, the West and North and a final chapter entitled "Changes." Within those chapters the material is organized chronologically, thematically or geographically. We have made deliberate efforts to include famous churches alongside less well-known buildings: St. Paul's, Halifax, is juxtaposed with the less well-known but contemporary work of the Moravian Brethren in Labrador; the concrete structure of the Oratoire Saint-Joseph in Montréal is compared with 1950s and 60s concrete-shell churches in Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean; Toronto's famous Group of Seven art in St. Anne's (Anglican) sits alongside icons by Mount Athos monks in St. George's (Greek Orthodox), also in Toronto; Manitoba's Cathédrale Saint-Boniface is compared with Saskatchewan's often overlooked Silton Chapel.

The challenge was always to limit the number of churches. Lists grew and shrank, grew and shrank again and eventually stabilized. Decisions were rethought. Yet many churches we hoped to include had to be left out because of lack of space, not lack of enthusiasm.

Some denominations may seem over-represented, some under-represented and, regrettably, others not represented at all. There are several reasons for this. Church buildings are not distributed across the country in a balanced way. The different historical, social and religious conditions under which the various parts of the country developed means that Québec is dominantly Roman Catholic while Ontario is strongly Protestant and the Prairies are especially rich in Ukrainian churches. Some ecclesiastical traditions have pursued architectural excellence more consistently and more creatively as they have built for their spiritual needs. Two examples of such creative activity are the important 19th-century developments within the Anglican Church and the late 20th-century implementation of the Second Vatican Council's reforms within Roman Catholicism.

Authorial preferences, of course, have also skewed the selection. Still, we have aimed to present a representative group of somewhat more than 250 churches, without attempting to shoehorn all denominations into the table of contents. The book reflects different periods, regions, denominations and styles. Our comments are driven by the architecture of the buildings -- this is "an architectural history" -- but we comment on historical, social, religious, theological and artistic issues as they seem relevant to understanding the buildings as places of worship.

Architecture matters in two fundamental and complementary ways. What architects fashion, and this is especially true of church buildings, both shapes and is shaped. There is a reflexive relationship between a building and its users, between a church and the congregation. On the one hand, a building gives visual form to what is important to a particular religious group and underscores that group's values and priorities. Architecture speaks directly to the relationship between an organization and the society within which it plays its role. To put it the other way around, society and the social order shapes the building. Architecture shapes the values, attitudes and outlooks of the persons who use the buildings. Buildings impose themselves subtly on their users, influencing their emotions, shaping their behaviours and affecting the quality of the activities and relationships within the structure. Each influences the other dynamically and reciprocally.


Editorial Reviews

Simply incredible...visually satisfying... insightful, interesting and meticulously researched.... This book would be a huge hit for anyone interested in Canadian history, architecture and religion.

The Wayback Times (

Sumptuous ... a veritable feast of colour.... The many rewarding hours readers are sure to enjoy with this book make it a wonderful addition to anyone's library.

Built Heritage News

Delightful for historians and architectural buffs.

Muskoka Today

Over and over John de Visser's stunning and mind-swallowing photographs illustrate architectural imagination as a unique height of human capability. The authors' fresh and engaging text informs with intriguing h istorical and architectural detail and delights sylistically too.

On the Arts

In Canadian Churches, religious historian P. Richardson and architectural historian D. Richardson (both, emer., Univ. of Toronto) strike a graceful balance between a broad range of types that represent chronological and geographic diversity while grouping the buildings into compelling narratives that center on historic and cultural context rather than the old-school approach to categorization by style.... First divided geographically, the book then unfolds in sections that highlight significant seasons of church design and construction, telling the stories of a wide range of places and traditions, from the egalitarian millenarians who built Sharon Temple to the Ukrainian Catholics of Ontario. The refreshingly contextual historical narratives are made more enjoyable by the book�1/2s beautiful production, with rich color photographs by de Visser and occasional plans, sections, and period drawings. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through graduate students; general readers.


Oversized, in full colour, this book is an important reference for Canadian Christian architecture.

Escarpment Views

Sumptuously illustrated ... The Richardson brothers provide us not only with a comprehensive geographical and chronological survey of Canada's Christian sacred buildings but also place these monuments to faith in both a theological and sociological context... [They] have produced a remarkable document that deserves the widest possible audience.


There are plenty of beautiful, famous and historic churches worth visiting in Canada, a point made emphatically [in this book.]

Ottawa Sun

Richardson's book has not been out more than a month, and already five of its featured churches have been lost.

Ottawa Citizen and

The beauty and religious diversity of the profiled churches illustrate how architecture shapes a congregation's worship service.... Christopher Wren said, "Architecture aims at eternity."The churches visited in this book bear out that observation.

American Reference Books Annual 2008

Whether you consider yourself a religious person or not, Canadian Churches: An Architectural History is a most moving experience.... What one will take from this book is a profound sense of reverence for these sacred buildings.

Shelf Life

There are plenty of beautiful, famous and historic churches worth visiting in Canada, a point made emphatically by [this] new book.

The Nugget (North Bay ON)

The rather dry title...only hints at the riches within this enormous, comprehensive, stunningly beautiful survey of Christian houses of worship in this huge northern country.... It is a dangerous book to open if the reader only has a few moments to spare.

Anglican Journal

This 448 page masterpiece dedicated to the art of ecclesiastical architecture has left out very few of the vast number of churches from coast to coast. Richly documented with vivid colour photography ... this is a must have to those who live in decommissioned churches as inspiration to [their] care and restoration, or to those who love our built ecclesiastic heritage.

Edifice Old Home Magazine

This beautifully illustrated book, which includes the history of each church and its construction, is a must for architecture and history buffs.


[reviewed with Canadian Cemeteries] It is de Visser's images that really make both books sparkle, with heavenly sense for new angles and shafts of light. For their part, the authors of both books manage to keep up with de Visser's brilliance, covering their respective topics with impressive passion.

Quill and Quire

Canadian Churches is a remarkable achievement, conveying the richness of the spiritual heritage of Canada, expressed in its built form.

Catholic Insight

But for its size and weight, [Canadian Churches] would make an indispensable vade-mecum for travellers.... The prose captures and teases out the pictorial content of the splendid illustrations, in which often enough only two pictures stand for the monument.... Accessible to the amateur, there will also be enlightenment for those well versed in Canada's ecclesiastical built heritage. The organization of the book, a difficult in such a broadly ecumenical cross-country survey, has been achieved with great success.... In a time of accelerating church closures, changes in use, or even demolition, the Richardsons' work can educate and inform the actions of church officials and congregations.

Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 37/3-4

A striking and thorough journey into the history and architecture of Canada's religious buildings.... Stunning photographs.... This full-color tome should satisfy anyone seeking enlightenment in Canada's architectural and religious history.

Up Magazine (Westjet)

Recommended for its breadth, engaging and informative text, and discriminating selection of representative church architecture.

Library Journal

A compendium of detailed descriptions and stunning photos of churches from across Canada ... some of them almost too incredible for words.

Star Phoenix (Saskatoon)

An impressive and timely coffee table book... a worthwhile overview of the country's religious architectural heritage.

The Gazette (Montreal)

The first definitive guide to more than 180 of the most beautiful and significant churches across the country.

University of Toronto Bulletin

Illustrated throughout with specially commissioned photographs, artwork, drawings and illustrations, this book is a must for anyone interested in history, architecture and religion.

Heritage Matters, Vol 6 Issue 3, publication of Ontario Heritage Trust

[reviewed with Old Canadian Cemeteries] They are generous banquets for both eye and mind, architectural field guides for the curious, treasuries of information aobut realms of Canadian material culture that, to my knowledge, have never before been give popular treatments more ample.... Canadian Churches succeeds as a worthwhile overview of the country's religious architecture.

The Globe and Mail

Takes us on a mammoth photographic tour of 180 places of worship.

Quill and Quire

The book is a significant contribution to the history of architecture in Canada. Packed with gorgeous photographs, plans and elevations, it is a handy reference work and the kind of book anyone can consult before a weekend drive.

The Hamilton Spectator

Other titles by Peter Richardson

Other titles by John Visser