A Brief History of St. James

In 1875, the Ottawa Citizen called St. James a "remarkably handsome building," and indeed, the same can be said more than 140 years later. 

Honoured with a rare Royal Charter status in 1830 by William IV, this beautiful Gothic church was to be designed by William Thomas of Toronto, Ontario, but his plans were altered in the early 1860s and the building was completed by Fuller and Jones, architects of the original Centre Block on Parliament Hill.

The church features Gothic Revival features such as stained glass window tracery, pointed arches, crenellations and crockets, and in an effort to reinforce its image as a garrison church, the side walls were buttressed.

St. James's striking spire and tower were added in 1888 as a gift from Senator Peter McLaren. The beautiful rectory, constructed in 1875, was designed by Ottawa architect King Arnoldi.

In addition to its exterior beauty, the high vaulted Gothic ceilings, towering Corinthian columns and inspiring altar make St. James the Apostle Perth a place of peace and reflection.



“Long before reaching Perth, visitors arriving from any direction can see the steeple of St. James’ Church.”(1) In 1826, one of the earliest confirmation services recorded in the Diocese took place in the first church built on this site. Sir John Colborne, the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, made St. James’ a “Crown Rectory” in 1836. From this designation stems the authority for the Choir to wear scarlet cassocks. Of the present building, constructed six years before Confederation, it was reported at the time: “There is kneeling capacity for 800 worshippers on the floor. The Church is not deformed by galleries.”

The first clergyman to officiate in Perth was Major, the Reverend Michael Harris, M.A., a veteran of the War of 1812, who was ordained in Quebec by Bishop Mountain in 1819 and came to Perth immediately afterwards. He also served ten preaching stations in adjoining townships and visited settlers as far east as Packenham and Fitzroy. In the absence of a suitable building when Mr. Harris first came to Perth, services were held in “an upper room” in the house of John Adamson on Craig Street. This “Upper Room” also served as the Officers Mess for the half-pay officers who were the senior citizens of Perth in its earliest days.

The first church was built on this site in 1822. It was a plain wooden structure, fifty by forty feet. Among the donors were His Excellency, the Earl of Dalhousie, the Bishop of Quebec, Sir Peregrine Maitland and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel of England. Church Wardens were Staff-Surgeon N.F. Thom and C.H. Sache, Esq. Vestry records also state that “one William McGrath was appointed Parish Clerk at a salary of 10 pounds per annum.”

After serving for 34 years, Mr. Harris retired in 1853 and was succeeded by the Rev. A. Pyne, B.A., under whose leadership plans for a new church building were obtained from a Toronto firm of architects. However, construction estimates and lack of funds brought the project to a standstill. Mr. Pyne resigned in 1857 to accept a curacy in England. In the same year, the Rev. R.L. Stephenson, M.A., became Rector and, in 1858, the Ottawa architects, Messrs. Fuller and Jones, were appointed to modify the plans so that work could continue. This firm also designed the original centre block of the Parliament Buildings. On November 14, 1861, the new church was opened for service. A basically Gothic Revival design, the building is of local sandstone and features substantial wooden columns, arches and trim. It was consecrated on October 10, 1873, by which time the debt for the construction costs had been discharged. The tower and spire were added in 1888 by Senator Peter McLaren at a cost of $5,500.  The bell was presented in 1895 as a memorial by the family of Miss Rose Thyme Matheson, the youngest daughter of Senator Matheson and his wife, Anna Russell, and her older brother, William Marshall Matheson.

In 1875, the present Rectory was built on church property. It was designed by Mr. King Arnoldi, Architect, of Ottawa.

In 1950, Flight Lieutenant, the Reverend Arthur E.L. Caulfeild was appointed Rector. On his retirement from the Chaplaincy in the R.C.A.F. in 1944 and his appointment as Rector of the Church of the Ascension, Ottawa, he was presented with an altar by the Air Force. This altar now furnishes the Lady Chapel in St. James. Under his leadership, the Parish Memorial Hall was added in 1956 as a tribute to the parishioners of St. James’ who served in the two World Wars. More recently his children presented a communion box in his memory, which is in the chancel.  The Corporation of the Town of Perth designated St. James and the Rectory as heritage properties under the provisions of the Ontario Heritage Act in 1988. (2)

Sources: (1) Faith of our Fathers; The Story of the Diocese of Ottawa, by The Right Reverend Robert Jefferson and Leonard L. Johnson; The Anglican Book Society, Ottawa, 1957; and various Diocesan Archival records. (2) Heritage Designation Register, Town of Perth. (3) Pamphlet published locally in 1911 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary.



A clear indication of the importance of a church in the hearts and minds of its congregation is the extent to which the building is adorned with symbols of remembrance given as gifts to honour the memory of past parishioners. St. James is particularly blessed in this regard. There are approximately 100 memorials in the church and Parish Hall, which is a memorial in itself.

Perhaps the most outstanding, and certainly the most visible memorials are the superb stained glass windows, which fill almost every available window opening in the church.

There are a total of fifteen windows all of which bear inscriptions describing the person or persons honoured and often the donor. Most of these windows were installed in the first half of the 20th century and many of them were designed and fabricated by the Toronto firm of Robert McCausland Ltd., the pre-eminent Toronto designer of stained glass. The window, which is a tribute to Colonel the Honourable Roderick Matheson and Anna Russell, his wife, is particularly fine and was created by Percy Bacon, 11 Newman Street, London, England, in 1913. It is on the south side of the nave toward the front of the church. All of these windows depict biblical scenes familiar to everyone and, in addition, provide a special quality of light, particularly on a sunny morning or evening. The only original (1861) window in view is the window in the women’s choir vestry at the rear.

Mounted within the fine wooden screen (reredos) on three sides of the sanctuary are brass plaques commemorating many of the past Rectors and, in some cases, their wives.  A number of the altar furnishings are also memorials and I would note particularly the brass cross behind the altar. It is in remembrance of Andrew Ronald Gamble, age 18, and George Alfred Leggett, age 20, “Chums who fell together at Passchendaele, November 3rd, 1917”, presented by their parents.

 Between the stained glass windows on either side of the nave are a number of brass plaques, which are memorials to members of many well-known Perth families. McLaren, Hogg, Shaw, Matheson, James and Stewart to name a few. Note particularly the plaque on the south side in memory of Flora Shaw, which modestly states that she was the Director of the School of Graduate Nurses at McGill. She was in fact the driving force in establishing this School, which was the first of its kind in Canada. In addition to these plaques there are three icons in various locations, the most prominent adorning the Lady Chapel. Of note also, is the fine wooden screen and vestries, which divide the Narthex and the vestibule, a memorial to John A. Stewart, for whom Stewart Park is named, installed in his memory by his wife in 1928.

Churches are often the repositories of military memorials and St. James’ is no exception. On either side of the nave are three sets of Colours [flags]. The closest of these to the chancel are the King’s Colour (on the left) and the Regimental Colour (on the right) of the 130th Battalion, Lanark and Renfrew Scottish. Formed in Perth in May, 1916, the unit went overseas in September of the same year, and, before it left, its Colours were placed in St, James’ for safe keeping. On arrival in England, the unit was disbanded and its members assigned to different active units in the field, which was the norm at that time. The second set is the Colours of the successor unit to the 130th, which was designated as the 1st Battalion, The Lanark and Renfrew Scottish Regiment. The Regimental Colour in this case bears the motto “Fac et Spera” and four battle honours. The final set of flags are those of the Perth Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. As well as these tributes, there are plaques which commemorate those who served in both World Wars.

I think it is important to note that this fine tradition of memorials is not just a thing of the past but continues in our time. For example, just a few years ago, the Mara family funded the cost of placing the baptismal font in its original position and refurbishing the Narthex in memory of their parents. No doubt this practise will carry on in the future to enhance our place of worship.


Sam Kingdon, July, 2011