The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 18

LOCATIONS

REFLECTIONS ON A RENOVATION TO
ST. ANNE'S ANGLICAN CHURCH IN TORONTO
by LEO MIELES, B.E.S., B.ARCH., OAA

n 2015 and 2016, I had the opportunity and privilege to be the architect on a small renovation to St. Anne's Anglican Church in Toronto's west end, primarily to integrate an accessible
entrance and washroom at the side of the building. Prior to my involvement and despite
living a few blocks away, I was only vaguely aware that there was something of architectural
interest within, having noticed the plaque near the sidewalk.
St. Anne's Church is a designated National Historic Site, built in 1907 and 1908. At the request
of the church's rector, Rev. Lawrence Skey, architect William Ford Howland designed the church
in a Neo-Byzantine style, with references to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Other renovations
had occurred over the years including restorations of the front facade and roof by the architect
Spencer R. Higgins. Its historical significance, however, relates to the artwork within: surrounding
the central dome of St. Anne's, there are murals from three artists who would become members
of the renowned Group of Seven. J.E.H. MacDonald, Frederick Varley and Franklin Carmichael
painted a series of religious scenes, including the crucifixion, nativity and the adoration of the
magi, respectively. St. Anne's contains the only known religious works by this group of artists.
Adding to the uniqueness of the artworks, in the nativity scene located at the southwest
pendentive (the intersection of column and dome), Varley painted a self-portrait in profile. He
depicted himself as a shepherd, wearing a green tunic with a red cape, and carrying a staff - a
fact that was casually noted to me by a member of the church's board of directors. I was a little
shocked upon learning of the self-portrait, as it is essentially hidden in plain sight. I don't find
many Torontonians who are aware of the murals; perhaps our busy secular lives take us away
from appreciating these things.
Under the church dome is a rich hierarchy of colours within the artworks depicting the various
biblical scenes: greens, reds and browns indicating the earthly, blues for the celestial and white
for the heavenly. Reflective gold is used for halos surrounding the divine. This colour strategy is
in keeping with the tradition of historical churches from the Byzantine era and afterwards and
aligns with the canonical literature. The interior of the main dome is painted gold, with an array
of white decorative stars. The reflective quality of the gold finish helps brighten the space in
the winter months, a feature that original churches in southern Europe may not have needed,
given the intensity of the sun. The exterior of the building is much more neutral in colour, built
with a yellow brick that has blackened with time, and aged copper roofing.
The importance of the works within became acutely relevant one day while I was performing a
field review during construction. I was unhappy with the steel welding and finishes of the guards
and listed them as deficiencies. To be fair to the steel workers, it was about -16 ºC when they
began their installation, the kind of winter day that is not conducive to refined craft. Regardless,
I reminded the contractor's site supervisor during a frank exchange that this project was bigger than the two of us. As we were working on a building of national historical importance, we
were merely at its service. Pointing in the direction of the vault, I stated that we couldn't let the
church members - or those priceless works above us - down. In the end, the steel crew came
back and reworked most of it to a better finish.
While I can't classify my time on St. Anne's as a religious experience, it did bring me to a
greater appreciation for its history. A careful study of the existing context, including materials,
form, colour and light, helped to inform the decisions I made during design and construction,
even for a portion of the building distant from the main dome. It was a humbling experience,
realizing that we are all part of a larger continuum.
LEO MIELES is a Toronto Architect.

18 | Read The Right Angle Journal online www.therightanglejournal.com


http://www.therightanglejournal.com

The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019

Colour
Index to Advertisers
Locations
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - Intro
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - cover1
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - cover2
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 3
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 4
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 5
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - Colour
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 7
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 8
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 9
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 10
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 11
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 12
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 13
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 14
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - Index to Advertisers
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 16
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - 17
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - Locations
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - cover3
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2019 - cover4
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/BEFQ/BEFQ0320
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/BEFQ/BEFQ0220
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/BEFQ/BEFQ0120
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/BEFQ/BEFQ0419
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/BEFQ/BEFQ0319
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/BEFQ/BEFQ0219
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/BEFQ/BEFQ0119
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/BEFQ/BEFQ0418
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/BEFQ/BEFQ0318
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/BEFQ/BEFQ0218
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/BEFQ/BEFQ0118
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/BEFQ/BEFQ0417
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/BEFQ/BEFQ0317
https://www.nxtbookmedia.com