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St-Mary's Church: Hiram Walker's Spiritual Legacy

By Elaine Weeks

This church, with its pretty sylvan setting, and well-kept cemetery attached, is full of reposeful charm. Looking at this building, with its ivy-mantled tower, one might easily imagine himself England, and that when darkness descends on the scene, the "solemn stillness" might be broken by the voice of the "moping owl" complaining to the moon, Of such as, wandering near her secret bower, Disturb her ancient, solitary reign.  From Walkerville 1913, The Evening Record (The Record Printing Co.), Windsor, Ontario, compiled by H.W. Gardnerwt head plusThe Foundation : 1874 - 1902

The first organized congregation in Walkerville was the village church, built by town founder Hiram Walker at his own expense. His  wife Mary Abigail, who had died in 1872, had shared his great interest in the community and as she was an earnest and devoted churchwoman, it was largely through her that Walker's interest in the social and religious welfare of his people was awakened.wt bodyWalker erected the church in 1874 on Sandwich St. (Riverside Drive), the site of what later become the Walkerville post office and civic offices.

The church was originally Methodist as Walker had surveyed his workers as to their preferences of services. wt bodyEach minister appointed to the church by the Canadian Methodist Conference was "distinctly given to understand that no reference was to be made to the liquor traffic during his stay".

The first two ministers observed this stricture but the third, the Rev. Alex. Hardie evidently did not for Walker discontinued Methodist services in the church and closed it for two years. wt bodyIt is thought that Walker's actions were caused partly by business worries as his firm was feeling the effects of a general depression in Canadian trade and business.

The distillery was on the verge of collapse several times and was saved only by the tenacity of its founder and the patience of its employees.wt bodyWalker offered the church to the Anglicans but they were reluctant to undertake the expenseof a new church in such a small community and only amile and a half from All Saints in Windsor. However, Walker undertook to make up any deficit, and on this arrangement, Church of England services commenced, and the church was named St. Mary's. (The East Window, a memorial to his wife, was given to St. Paul's Church, Essex in 1904.)

By 1902, it became apparent that St. Mary's, lacking both chancel and vestry, was not large enough for the congregation and the Sunday school rooms were inadequate.

Passing trains also disturbed services.Times HelveticaWalker died in 1899, and three of his surviving sons, Edward Chandler, Franklin Hiram, and James Harrington, offered to provide a new church, Sunday school and rectory, in memory of both their parents.

A new edifice was erected on the centre of Devonshire Road, just north of Niagara Street. The cornerstone was laid on May 25, 1903, and the building was consecrated on April 10, 1904.

The visitor to Walkerville will find in St. Mary's Church a bit of 16th century England transplanted to North America. Here is reproduced the English scene of church, churchyard and rectory, and nearby is Willistead taking the place of the English manor house. Combined these buildings make a picture of peace and beauty found in England, rarely found in America, which will endure and grow in beauty with the passing years.

In architectural terms St. Mary's belongs to the Perpendicular period of sixteenth century Gothic when most of the smaller English churches were built. The joy of St. Mary's is found in the creative work of the artists who added their own personalities to what otherwise would have been at best a faithful reproduction of a by gone age. Ernest Wilby, 1868-1957, associate with Albert Kahn. Buried in St. Mary's Churchyard

A Solid Future

According to John Riddle, Reverend Canon of St. Mary's for the last ten years, Ralph Cram, the designer of the church,  "might not have taken on the work if it had been offered six months later. He had secured the contract to build Westpoint upon completion of St. Mary's and his reputation soared along with all of his artisans, Bertham Good hue, Henry Mercer and John Kershmire."

Since arriving at St. Mary's in 1989, Reverend Riddle's congregation has grown to two hundred families and the average age is younger. Riddle feels part of the reason may be because we are living in a religious renaissance.

"I think more people are looking for a faith. People are spiritual by nature and that's why many are seeking to add a spiritual meaning to their lives, whether it be new-age mysticism or something more traditional."

Hiram Walker, who was always concerned with the welfare of his employees and citizens, would have been pleased with the development of St. Mary's Food Cupboard. Founded in 1987 by Frank & Grace Hull, the foundation provides families in need from all areas of the city with a three day supply of groceries.

In 1998, they helped 13,000 clients and this number continues to rise. The food cupboard is run by volunteers and all donations are used to feed the hungry. No money is spent on administrative costs. St. Mary's Food Cupboard relies on the kindness and generosity of their congregation and the community.

If you or your business would be interested in donating food or funds, please contact Alexandra Snider at 253-5221.



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