15 Aylmer Street (intersection of Aylmer Avenue and Bank Street)
Two congregations in Ottawa South, the Methodist and Presbyterian, united to build Southminster United Church in 1931 on the site of the former Methodist Church, which had been built in 1909 but torn down to make way for the new building.
The church is designed by Ottawa architect J. Albert Ewart, son of architect David Ewart, also of Ottawa, and one of the first graduates of the University of Toronto architecture program. He built his own residence in Old Ottawa South in 1909, at 114 Cameron Avenue, which today houses the May Court Club Convalescent Home. He also designed the houses located opposite his house, at 105 and 111 Cameron Avenue (see, Eric Minton, “After 50 years, mellowed but unbowed,” Ottawa Journal, August 5, 1972). In addition, Ewart was an artist, and the church vault holds over a hundred of his drawings.
The church is a Gothic Revival building. More specifically, it is an example of what Hucker, Maitland, and Ricketts refer to in their A Guide to Canadian Architectural Styles as the Modern Gothic Style, in which the Parliament buildings in Ottawa also were built. Such Modern Gothic buildings generally are symmetrical in their design, follow a clear system of overall planning, avoid ornate decorative features, and utilize uniformly-colored facades of limestone or brick. Moreover, they emphasize a sense of horizontality, in contrast to the strong verticality found in French Gothic architecture. The Modern Gothic style was imported from England, and thus is often referred to as the English Gothic Revival. It generally was widespread in Britain and North America during the first three decades of the twentieth century.
The church exterior was constructed of cinder blocks sheathed in 300 tons of Nepean sandstone, the same stone used for the Parliament buildings in Ottawa.* The moldings and arches around the church windows and doors are made of cast stone, and the roof is covered with slate.
Upon entering the church from the east, one ascends a set of stairs ending at a pointed arched gate that leads into the church porch. The porch houses the cornerstones of the previous Ottawa South Methodist Church and the 1914 Calvin Presbyterian Church. The layout of the church is aligned along an east – west axis, as is common in medieval churches. Unlike medieval churches, however, its front doors, rather than the altar area, face east.
The porch leads to the church narthex, which consists of a low room with a shallow barrel vault. Above it is a balcony furnished with pews from the previous Methodist Church. The narthex is followed by the church nave, which consists of five bays and is bordered by a single aisle on each side. The bays form an arcade of pointed arches with a triforium level above it, but no clerestory. A molding line provides a clear separation between the arcade and triforium. Instead of a vault, the ceiling is sheathed in wood panels and its shape is defined by the underside of the building’s sloping roof. The decoration of the nave generally is based on that of the fifteenth-century Sherborne Abbey in England, considered an important example of what is known as the Perpendicular Style in architecture. Plaster works on the pillars and around the windows include decorated Gothic arches, four-petalled flowers, and ovals that enclose the letter “S.” A few steps lead from the nave to the choir area (chancel).
In plan, the church follows the shape of a Latin cross, with the northern and southern projections of the transept area forming the two shorter sides of the cross. The transept projections include additional seating.
The church’s Christian Education Wing, also designed by Ewart, was added along the western side of the church in 1955. The design of the wing emphasizes continuity with the architecture of the church, particularly in terms of materials and scale. The addition shows mid-century modernist influences such as the use of rectangular window openings rather than pointed arched ones. It also incorporates a small memorial window salvaged from the previous Ottawa South Methodist Church.
* The same stone also was used for the construction of the Sunnyside branch of the Ottawa Public Library, which is located opposite the church, across Bank Street. As with the church, the 1951 library building is built in the Modern Gothic style and is designed by Ewart. The library, however, shows the effects of mid-twentieth-century modernism, as evident in the use rectangular window openings rather than historicist pointed arched ones. In this, it presents similarities to the Christian Education Wing that Ewart designed as an extension to the church (see, Colleen Anderson Kong, “Ottawa South walkabout,” The Ottawa Journal, November 7, 1975).
Notes pertaining to Southminster's exterior building stone:
The main façade is Ordovician age (ca. 480 Ma) Nepean Formation sandstone that has been used in many buildings around Ottawa, and was originally quarried from exposures just east of Kanata to the north and south of the present Queensway. The rusticated blocks of Nepean Formation consist of fine to medium grain quartz-rich sandstone where the grains have been naturally cemented together by glassy quartz and red hematite cements. Many blocks display laminatation that is inclined to the bedding; referred to as cross lamination that was developed by water currents during sand deposition. The basal blocks of the exterior façade are bossaged grey fossil-rich limestone, the Gloucester limestone, which was likely originally quarried near Montreal Road.
The front steps of the church are honed and bushammered fossil-rich limestone that locally exhibit wavy bedding and jagged lines (termed stylolites). Fossils identified in the limestone include gastropods (snails), brachiopods (clams) and straight-shelled orthocones (related to modern nautilus). The floor of the entrance alcove is comprised of layered travertine (limestone) and fossil-rich limestone. The roof is comprised of slate tiling, and copper trim has been used around doorways (hence green copper oxide staining of some façade blocks).
Contributed by Geologist Quentin Gall, Ph.D. December 2008
Southminster United Church Scribes Committee. Sixty Years at Southminster United Church Ottawa, Ontario: 1932 - 1992. N.p. N.d.
Photos and transcriptions of the military memorial plaques inside the church can be found here:
- A memorial plaque erected by the congregation of Calvin Presbyterian Church dedicated to the memory of the members of Calvin Church who served and gave their lives in The Great War
- A memorial plaque erected by the Ottawa South Methodist Church dedicated to the memory of the members of Ottawa South Methodist Church who served and gave their lives in the Great War
- A memorial plaque erected by the congregation of Southminster United Church dedicated to the memory of the members of the Parish who made the supreme sacrifice in the Second World War