Houses of Holy | Knox Presbyterian Church (1833)

It is hard to miss Knox Church in Oakville; the tall spire is visible across the entire length of downtown and symbolises the church itself. It should be of no surprise that a Presbyterian congregation is among the oldest in downtown Oakville as William Chisholm, the town’s founder, was himself a Presbyterian.

Houses of Holy - Knox Presbyterian Church (1833)
Graflex Crown Graphic – Fuji Fujinon-W 1:5.6/125 – Adox CHS 100 II @ ASA-100 – Adox Atomal 49 (Stock) 5:45 @ 20C

The earliest Presbyterians arrived, like many within Canada, from the United States and in 1833, a small congregation associated with the American church quickly formed in the village. The congregation worshipped in a frame structure along the banks of the Sixteen Mile Creek. The connection to the American church only lasted a handful of years when the Rebellions of 1837/8 saw the congregation cut ties because of the solid Tory loyalty of the area. They associated themselves with the Presbyterian Church of Canada, a branch of the Church of Scotland, and in 1844 associated themselves with the Free Church. The congregation grew through this period and began to pursue a new building, purchasing a lot on William Street. Here under the supervision of James McDonald, a wooden frame church opened in 1850, and the congregation became the Oakville Presbyterian Church. A Sunday School wing was added in 1868, but the congregation continued to grow and decided they needed a much more significant presence in the growing community. The arrival of Temperance in Halton provided an opportunity. The White Oak Hotel located at Dunn and Lakeshore was known for its wild tavern, which would be forced to close under the new law. The owner gladly sold the property to the Presbyterians for a reasonable price. The church then sold the old hotel building and hired James MacDonald Jr to begin construction of their new brick sanctuary in 1887. MacDonald received the old church on William Street (converted into two buildings and three homes) as part of his payment. The brick sanctuary went up in the Gothic Revival style with a tall spire and a slate tile roof. The congregation dedicated their new building on 20 May 1888 and took the name Knox Presbyterian Church. The first major renovation to the sanctuary took place in 1919, creating the sanctuary you will see today at Knox. The renovations included the installation of a Casavant organ, a memorial window to the war dead of the church, and a church hall added to the rear of the sanctuary. The congregation voted against church Union in 1925, choosing to remain among the continuing Presbyterians. Further additions in 1968 added a basement, parlour, counting rooms, more Sunday School Rooms and kitchen improvements. A memorial garden was installed in the early 21st Century, and work has been planned to improve the accessibility of the front entrance off Lakeshore. I’ve had the honour of worshipping with Knox Oakville on several occasions, and some of my earliest steps in photography took place at a youth weekend I helped run here in 2002. It is a vibrant and welcoming congregation in downtown Oakville.

Knox Oakville has always proven a complex building to photograph. Its location downtown and the height of the spire meant that I would have to sacrifice some aspects of the composition to get an excellent overall view of the building. I ended up setting up diagonally from the building, using my 125mm lens and wished my 90mm was in better condition. Even cranking my front standard up as high as it will go, I had to cut off the top quarter of the spire. Plus, the trees obscured one side of the church. But you get a beautiful view of the front facade and a view of the 1919 and 1968 extensions to the building.

If you wish to worship with this congregation, they will be happy to welcome you! Please check out the congregational website for details on attending services worship either in-person on online streaming!

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