Rectors & Deans of St. John's

  • 1902-04 W.E. Edmonds
  • 1904 A. Fraser
  • 1904-05 D.T. Davies
  • 1905 C.H. Coles
  • 1905 Bertram W. Pullinger
  • 1906-07 D.T. Davies
  • 1907 Harry J. Likeman
  • 1907-23 Ernest St. John Brock Smith
  • 1924-25 Ernest C. Earp
  • 1925-26 E.H. Maddocks
  • 1926-40 William Leslie Armitage
  • 1941-49 Wilfred Eastland Fuller
  • 1950-55 Norman Douglas Beer Larmouth
  • 1956-62 Shirley Arthur Ralph Wood
  • 1962-65 Elwood Harold Patterson
  • 1966-70 Douglas Albert Ford
  • 1971-82 Roland Arthur Wood
  • 1982-91 Robert J. Blackwell
  • 1992 Howard Edward Green (interim)
  • 1993-2000 John Allan Kirk
  • 2000-01 Colin Peter Clay (interim)
  • 2001-06 Susan Marie Charbonneau
  • 2006 Thomas Oliver Morgan (interim)
  • 2006-11 Terry R. Wiebe
  • 2011 Thomas Oliver Morgan (interim)

A Discussion of the Cathedral's History


St. John's Cathedral was begun, as a parish church, in 1912. Understanding how such a large building came to be constructed on the bank of the South Saskatchewan requires a look back to the first settlement here in 1883.

Almost all the original settlers were Temperance Colonists. Most were Methodists from Ontario, the remainder mainly Presbyterians; there were only a few Anglicans. The first Church of England services in the area were held in the school at Five Corners, which was built in 1887. The school was later moved to the University of Saskatchewan campus, where it may still be seen.

Between 1888 and 1891 Canon E.K. Matheson, the incumbent in Battleford, periodically came 90 miles by trail to conduct services. Services resumed between 1894 and 1896, when they were performed by Rev. S. Mahood, the incumbent in Duck Lake, who came 60 miles by train. Then, in 1902, the Rev. W.E. Edmunds arrived from St. John's College, Winnipeg to begin a parish in Saskatoon. The new parish was named after St. John's Cathedral in Winnipeg.

There were only about 200 people living in Saskatoon at the time. Constable Clisby, the local North West Mounted Police constable, opened the subscription list for the new parish. The completed list only had eight families and individuals.

The Old Church (1902)

The original St. John's Church was built in a wolf willow bush in the 200 block of 3rd Avenue South, where the Traveller's Block now stands. The property cost $40, which was raised by the ACW, who sold ice cream and lemonade at sports events. Most of the labour was donated; the total cost of the frame building was $800.

The church was dedicated on January 18, 1903 by William Cyprian Pinkham, the Bishop of Saskatchewan and Calgary. Additions were made to the building in 1904, 1906 and 1909. A rectory was built in 1906 for $2,300, and a hall was added later.

St. John's had a set of tubular chimes that were purchased by the estate of Mrs. Russell Wilson, an early Saskatoon pioneer and wife of a rancher and mayor. They rang for the first time, for a wedding, on February 5, 1907. They were said to be only the second set of tubular chimes, as opposed to bells, in Canada.

Saskatoon's population was booming. It was called "The Fastest Growing City In The Empire," and the local Anglican community grew very rapidly. The parish soon needed a much larger building, despite the additions to the original one. In 1910 parishioners W.J. Bell and A.H. Hanson bought a site for a new church at 24th Street and 4th Avenue. They sold the lot to the parish at their cost of $12,500. Bell was active in downtown real estate, while Hanson had just developed the nearby townsite at Sutherland.

It was soon decided that a riverside location would be better than 24th and 4th for the new church. Bell and Hanson again acted on behalf of the parish and bought the present 2 acre Spadina Crescent site in 1911 for $19,000. They traded it for the site at 24th and 4th and "swallowed" the difference in cost as a contribution to the parish. The original 3rd Avenue site, including buildings, was sold for $40,000 -- an enormous profit in just 10 years!

It soon became apparent that the new church would not be finished before the winter of 1912. The parish then bought back the old church, hall and rectory for $1,500. They were hauled by teams to the new site and at least the church and the rectory were put on new foundations at an additional cost of $1,434.70.

The city population reached 16,000 people in 1912, and land prices rose to match the population growth. For example, in 1912 the congregation of Knox Presbyterian Church paid $80,000 for their riverbank lot which, although it is on a corner, is smaller than the lot occupied by St. John's.

The New Church (1912-17)

A Saskatoon firm of English-trained architects, Thompson, Daniel and Colthurst, were retained to design the new building. Their firm existed from 1911 to 1914. Norman L. Thompson came to Saskatoon 1907 with the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Brammal Daniel came to Saskatoon in 1910. G. Buller Colthurst, born in Toronto but educated in England, came to Saskatoon in 1909. This firm also designed the original YWCA at 24th Street and Third Avenue, the first YMCA at 20th Street and Spadina Crescent, St. James' Church, the Barry Hotel, various office blocks and many houses on Saskatchewan Crescent. The contractors for St. John's were George Archibald and Co. of Winnipeg.

Bishops of the Diocese of Saskatoon

  • 1874 John McLean
  • 1887 William Cyprian Pinkham
  • 1903 Jervois Arthur Newnham
  • 1922 George Exton Lloyd
  • 1931 William Thomas Thompson Hallam
  • 1949 Wilfred Eastland Fuller
  • 1950 Stanley Charles Steer
  • 1970 Douglas Albert Ford
  • 1981 Roland Arthur Wood
  • 1993 Thomas Oliver Morgan
  • 2004 Rodney Osborne Andrews
  • 2010 David Irving

Design and Construction

St. John's is said to be built in the "early English/Gothic" or "Gothic Revival" style after John Crowther, a prominent church architect from Manchester England active in the mid 1800s.


The cathedral has a cruciform shape. It is aligned east and west and is 48m (157') long overall. The walls are Redcliff brick from Alberta with English (Doulton, Staffordshire) terra-cotta. The original foundation is of granite fieldstone, except that the foundation under the steeple is reinforced concrete. The steeple, almost 44 m (145') high, is located in the southeast corner of the transepts. It includes the 1907 tubular chimes taken from the old church. The entrance stairs are Tyndall stone with many fossils, the same "Greystone" as used at the University. There is a terra-cotta false "gargoyle" over the southeast entrance. Altogether there are over 50,000 pieces of terra-cotta in the building.

The terra-cotta cornerstone, located at the Sanctuary or east end, was laid by the Governor General, H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught, on September 12, 1912. The contents of the stone include a Bible, a Book of Common Prayer and a history of the parish.


The nave is 40 m (121') long and 14 m (47') wide. The original seating capacity was about 1100 including pews in the transepts, where the nave altar is now located between the transepts, and at the font (west) end. Current seating capacity is less than 800.The pews now in the transepts are some of the originals. When the Cathedral was built the interior was of Manitoba brick. Some of the Doulton terra-cotta used in the interior is an imitation white marble called "Carrara Ware." The mill work was done by Traversy of Montreal. The roof supports were originally to have been a "hammer-beam" design in Georgia pine, as shown in the architect's painting of the planned interior that now hangs in the north transept.

Completion Delayed

The world financial collapse of 1913 hit western Canada especially hard. New construction throughout the city was suspended or abandoned. Many parishioners who had pledged to support construction of St. John's left Saskatoon. The steeple was not capped until October 1st, 1913, which symbolically ended the outside work, but left the interior unfinished.

Between 1914 and 1918 financial support dwindled even more as most of the Americans in the parish returned to the USA and as many other parishioners enlisted. Reportedly, 257 parishioners enlisted, although there are only 189 names on the memorial tablet in the north transept. At least 37 died in the Great War.

Cost-cutting and Completion

The poor finances of the parish meant savings had to be made in the new church. The architects had estimated the original cost of St. John's and a new Rectory at $116,000. Prices had risen in the meantime, however, and even after major cuts the cost was still $103,000 without furnishings.

The major saving was that the rectory was not built. It had been intended to build the rectory to complement the architecture of the church, at a cost of $21,000. Some of the terra cotta for the rectory was stored in the crawl space under the building for many years.

A decision not to install a pipe organ saved $11,000. Other cuts to save costs in construction included a new unornamented design for the roof trusses, the use of single-glazed windows instead of double, installing only partial electric lighting, not installing the clock in the steeple (although the circular spaces for it are still there on each side), not putting pews in the chapel and not finishing the basement robing room for the choir.

Fifty of the cathedral's windows have stained glass. This is the largest collection of stained glass in the city. The first stained glass windows, those of David, Solomon, Eli and Samuel, arrived at Canada Customs together in 1914, suggesting that they came from the same English maker.

The first services in the new church were held October 7, 1917. The old church then became the parish hall. There is a painting of it in the north transept. The original hall was moved again and became the Great War Veterans "hut."

Later Improvements

In September 1925 the 65 choir members donated their labour, and with $40 worth of materials "finished" the robing room in the basement. A deanery was built in 1951, the original rectory then becoming the verger's residence. The original brick interior was insulated and covered in stucco, and the boiler converted from coal to natural gas, in 1954. New interior lighting (provided by the ACW) and new nave pews and kneelers were installed in the 1950s. At some point five tennis courts were built at the west end of the property. Known as the finest in the city, they were rented by the Saskatoon Tennis Club. The tennis courts disappeared in 1961 when a new church hall and the parking lot were built there. The old hall (former church) and the old rectory were torn down in 1962.

A physical restoration costing $350,000 was begun in 1985. This included work on the roof and drains, walls, windows, choir rooms, and construction of a wheelchair ramp in the northeast corner of the building. A Civic Heritage Award was received in 1987 when the restoration work was completed.

A new foyer accessed from the outside, a Chapel of the Good Shepherd, and a new columbarium with the potential to include 6,000 niches were officially opened on 23 May, 1997. This work, and the installation of a new heating system, cost more than $1,000,000. Construction of the columbarium required that the whole cathedral be supported on jacks while the crawl space below was excavated to form a complete basement. The Saskatchewan Architectural Heritage Society gave two awards to St. John's, one for the exterior work associated with the columbarium and one for the columbarium itself ("adaptive reuse").

Music and the Organ

In 1908 the choir presented H.M.S. Pinafore, the first light operatic performance in Saskatoon. The St. John's choir was later the basis of the Saskatoon Amateur Operatic Society, the Philharmonic Society and the Orpheus Society. The choir was enrobed 1908, the first in the Diocese. On 13 April, 1925 the choir sang on the local CFQC radio station on Good Friday evening. This was the first Anglican radio broadcast in the city. Subsequently the cathedral took part in a rotation of broadcasts from Saskatoon churches (about eight per year per church) and for a time the choir broadcast daily for two hours to listeners on CNR trains in the area. The choir won trophies at the provincial music festivals in 1923, 1926, 1932, 1933 and 1943. Choir members won many individual medals between 1911 and 1933.

The decision not to put a pipe organ into the new St. John's meant that a small reed organ was used. In 1931 a combined pipe organ and piano (previously used in a theatre) was donated. It was only used as a piano. The reed organ apparently continued to be used until 1956 when a Hill, Norman and Beard three-manual organ made in England was purchased as a war memorial. It had been made for export in 1953.

The present two-manual Casavant organ was installed in 1981-1982 at a cost of over $120,000. The Hill, Norman and Beard organ was then sold to a United Church in Whitehorse Yukon, which later burned down. The Casavant was first played publicly at a concert by the visiting Westminster Cathedral boys' choir from England to an audience of about 800.

Other History

Cathedral Status

In 1924 St. John's became a pro-Cathedral, recognising the growth of Saskatoon. The Cathedral at that time was in Prince Albert. St. John's became a full Cathedral when the Diocese of Saskatoon was created in 1932.

Parish Events

Mission churches formed from St. John's were St. George's (1906), St. Matthew's (1908) and St. Mark's (1913). In 1910 parishioners formed the first Boy Scout troop in the city.

Notable Visitors

H.M. the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have worshipped at St. John's three times, once when H.M. was Princess Elizabeth (1951), and twice as Queen (1959 and 1987). Governor General Viscount Alexander of Tunis and his wife worshipped in the Cathedral in 1948. Two Archbishops of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher and Michael Ramsey, have visited the Cathedral, in 1954 and in 1966, respectively.

Sources of Information

Szalasznyi, Kathy: "Legacy of Faith: St. John's Anglican Cathedral", Saskatoon History Review, 1989, pp. 1-5. Other sources used were the records of the Diocese held in the Saskatchewan Provincial Archives, scrapbooks and photographs in the Local History Room at Saskatoon's Frances Morrison Library, and some files still in the possession of St. John's Cathedral.