The History of St. Peterâ€™s |
The story of how St. Peter’s Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Toronto came to be is similar to that of many other Estonian congregations in exile.
Following the escape to the West from Communism in Estonia in 1944, church services were organized in Displaced Persons camps in Sweden and Germany as early as the fall of the same year. Pastors ministered to their fellow refugees during those troubled times by preaching the word of God and offering solace through the faith of their ancestors.
Thus, the roots of St. Peter’s extend by way of Sweden and Germany back to the congregations in the homeland that still exist today and in which many of St. Peter’s founding members were christened and confirmed.
When Canada opened its borders and the first Estonian post-war refugees started their new life in this country, thoughts turned to the creation of an Estonian language church.
In Toronto, this was spearheaded by reverend Oskar Puhm with St. Peter’s being founded in 1948. Since pastor Puhm had been a Chaplain in the Sons of Finland (Soomepoisid) movement and had fought alongside countless others, a brotherhood was ready to lend a helping hand. In the early years, the congregation rented rooms from other churches. But a growing congregation with large confirmation classes and an active children’s program encouraged the building of our own church.
On February 7, 1954, the General Assembly voted to accept architect Michael Bach’s proposal for the building of the church at 817 Mt. Pleasant Road. St. Peter’s was designed in the modern sacral style of the day. The sanctuary’s interior, reminiscent of an overturned boat, symbolises the boat refugees’ reaching safe harbour. The wood construction along with the high gable roof and the low eaves is reminiscent of an old Estonian farm house.
The agreement to proceed was signed in the fall of 1954 and on March 20, 1955, the cornerstone was laid with pastor Puhm blessing the event. The completed church was consecrated on September 25, 1955 with ministers E. Lootsma, G. Borneman, O. Puhm, R. Kiviranna and O. Gnadeteich presiding. In attendance was also the Mayor of Toronto, Nathan Phillips.
At the time, St. Peter’s served as a unique example of modern Scandinavian sacral architecture in all of Canada, thereby being featured in Peter and Douglas Richardson’s 2007 anthology "Canadian Churches, an architectural history".
The building was designed to be able to house all of the church’s possible activities under one roof. As the need grew, additions were made: the Ladies Guild Room added beside the administrative office; the Assistant Pastor’s official apartment was built above it and downstairs the Scout troop had its own activity room, that for many decades was in use each Saturday. A columbarium was built on the church grounds, where many of our founding members have their final resting place. Thus St. Peter’s has been the source of happy memories for many generations.
The most recent addition was carried out during 2012-2013 with the installation of a lift operating between the ground floor and the basement.
In terms of interior design, the most significant change occurred when the east-facing window was bricked in and the organ pipes were moved from that wall to the organ loft. This overhaul was necessitated by the predominating high apartment buildings immediately to the east of the church. The altar space was also renovated at that time and today it remains as it was then. The simple lines and fine craftmanship of the altar and altar rail evoke Estonian log architecture. Even the christening font is made of wood with a ceramic basin. The three sided font and basin pay homage to the Holy Trinity while Estonian culture is honoured through the octagonal recessed pattern, which is our national cross.