September 23, 2020
Many Buildings, Two Churches, One Tower: 440 Hargrave Street
The First Baptist Church is as old as the City of Winnipeg itself, being founded in 1873. This is not a tale of that church, but that of the magnificent tower that stands tall on the corner of Cumberland Avenue and Hargrave Street. To properly tell this tale, it is necessary to go back in time, before that tower was even built.
The first baptist church in “Western Canada” was founded in 1873 and was appropriately named First Baptist Church with Reverend Alexander McDonald leading the flock. Like many churches in their infancy, the congregation originally gathered at a house. Only two years after being established, a church was built at 221 Rupert Avenue for the First Baptist Church. It officially opened on Sunday, June 20, 1875.
By 1890, the Church was already thinking of building a new larger church. Their congregation was growing much like the City of Winnipeg and the current church was at full capacity. The location for the new church was to be “Winnipeg South”, which given the size of Winnipeg in 1890 was roughly a kilometer away. In October 1892, a new church building was officially planned. The location for this new church was the corner of Cumberland Avenue and Charlotte Street (now Hargrave Street). It was estimated to cost between $25,000 and $30,000.
Henry Langley and Edmund Burke of Toronto designed the new church, with local architect Hugh McCowan overseeing the construction. Langley and Burke designed twenty-two churches together, with all being protestant churches and the vast majority being Baptist or Methodist churches. The First Baptist Church was the only church the two designed that was outside of Ontario. McCowan, as already stated was a local architect and he served as architect for a few notable historic buildings in Winnipeg, including Stovel Building and Odd Fellows Hall.
Baptist churches are generally designed to be simple. Along with many protestant churches, Baptist’s shy away from the interior ornamentation of Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox churches. It is commonly believed among protestant/non-Anglican churches that a plainly decorated church does not distract worshippers. There is also the belief that the decorations themselves can become an object of worship rather than God. All of this is done to keep the focus centered on God and not on worldly items.
The church was quickly built with its first meeting taking place in the basement of the new building on Sunday, February 19, 1893. Although the entire building was not yet finished, and it took until 1894 to be completed. The new church officially opened on Sunday, September 17, 1893, with a price tag of approximately $45,000.
“Massive red brick walls rest on a foundation of stone, with the trimming of red sandstone. A capped tower with side pinnacles rises 60 feet in the southeast corner of the building, with the two main doorways in its base. The raised basement is lit by a series of flat and segmented-headed windows while most of the upper floor windows have arched heads. The arches in the belltower are repeated in the long windows of all four sides of the auditorium, the windows north and south admitting most of the light. These windows were originally filled with coloured glass to lessen the glare and reduce the possibility of distraction from outside buildings; stained glass was not then part of the Baptist tradition.”
– The Colonist, June, 1895, p. 279-80
The old building on Rupert Avenue was sold to the Salvation Army, becoming the Salvation Army Citadel. The Salvation Army tore down the original church in 1900 and built the now vacant structure that can still be seen today on that corner. A designated heritage building with its fine architecture is currently protected from future demolition.
Over the years the new First Baptist Church underwent expansion and renovations. Most notably the 1904/1905 expansion allowed the auditorium to seat an impressive 1500 people. It was also repaired and refinished in 1910.
Fast forward 28 years to 1938. The First Baptist Church merged with Broadway Baptist Church due to the Great Depression. Together they formed Broadway First Baptist Church and gathered at 706 Honeyman Avenue, the home of Broadway Baptist. This meant the First Baptist Church on Hargrave Street had to be sold.
The sale of the church building was a quiet one and only once that sale was finalized did the information become public. It was sold to the Pentecostal Assembly of God Congregation of the City of Winnipeg in the fall of 1938. The Pentecostal church outgrew its old church at 520 William Avenue. The purchase price was $19,500 and the sale has been quoted as “We sold you the organ and gave you the church” (Celebrating 90 Years: Calvary Temple 1907-1997). The final service of the First Baptist Church was October 16, 1938. The Pentecostal Assembly of God Congregation of the City of Winnipeg dedicated the building on November 13, 1938. The church was renamed Calvary Temple at the suggestion of Dr. Charles Price, a famous preacher. Although, legally Calvary Temple held on to its original incredibly long name for many years.
It took until the 1950s for Calvary Temple to alter the building in any significant way. They built an expansion in 1955 onto the north side of the church to allow for extra space for activities such a Sunday school. This might have been the same expansion that was originally planned by First Baptist likely in the late 1920s, but it never came to fruition. There was also an expansion on the west side for the Christian Education Centre in 1962.
For many years, the building was never given a number according to the Henderson Directories, but it was always on Cumberland Avenue where Hargrave Street intersects. The first time the church’s full address appears in a Henderson Directory is in 1958, listing it as 353 Cumberland Avenue. The church also very briefly had the address of 390 Hargrave in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
A massive expansion took place in 1974 that shifted its address once again to 440 Hargrave Street. This expansion involved the church buying up properties north of the church at the corner of Notre Dame and Hargrave. According to Calvary Temple, one of those businesses was a car wash. This expansion saw a sanctuary built that could seat a whopping 2500 people. It is the same sanctuary that is used by Calvary Temple today.
1985 was the final year of the original church. Calvary Temple wanted to demolish it to build a brand new expansion of the church. With the church itself being 90+ years old, the City of Winnipeg got involved. Calvary Temple and the City of Winnipeg were on opposite ends of the debate. Calvary Temple argued that the old church was in poor condition and repairing it was not a foreseeable option. However, the city argued the opposite and wanted the building to be saved. Both sides stood steadfast on their position but eventually, it was agreed that the historic tower was to be saved and repaired while the rest was to be demolished.
Calvary Temple went forward with the demolition of the old red brick First Baptist Church but they did save some elements. Some of the pews, stained glass, and the pulpit were saved and installed in the new Buntain Chapel. The original organ was disassembled and reinstalled in a new and smaller formation, also within the Buntain Chapel. This “renovation” is the final major one that Calvary Temple has undertaken and the results can be seen today if one visits the building.
Fast forward to today and the historic tower is in need of repairs. Nearly 130 years old, the tower is one of the oldest pieces of architecture in Winnipeg. It was once one of the “tallest buildings” in Winnipeg and it can be seen in many historic images of the city. The tower is equivalent to almost four stories, which by 1890 standards was extremely tall. Limited by technology, buildings back then were typically built out and not up.
The last major repair of the tower was in the late 1980s when the old First Baptist Church was demolished. Now the shingles desperately need replacing and the bricks need to be repointed. The neon side, although not historic, needs to be removed and ideally replaced with an identical LED sign. This repair will be extremely expensive but Calvary Temple is dedicated to preserving it.
Now, what about those bells? Surely a tower like that once was a functioning bell tower? A church of this scale back in the early 1900s very likely would have had bells, that would have alerted people to services and special events. Yet history says no, this tower never had bells. According to Broadway First Baptist Church, the tower was intended to have bells but it never came to fruition. It appears to have the infrastructure installed to support bells when looking at some archival photographs. There is no idea if that infrastructure still remains, as the bell part is now closed off with shutters. Opening the shutters to look inside likely will not happen until repairs are made as the wooden shutters are roughly thirty-five years old, and there is no guarantee they will shut again if opened.
It is incredibly sad that the original church is gone but regardless, it is good to see Calvary Temple willing to conserve the historic tower. In twenty-seven years the tower will celebrate its 150th birthday. Hopefully, it will still be faithfully serving the community, standing as tall and proud as it did in 1893! Who knows, maybe this tower will be on the list for Doors Open Winnipeg 2021?
Special thanks to Calvary Temple Archivist – Jason Kuffner, for his wonderful insights and help in the research of this blog!