St Alban the Martyr Anglican Church

St Alban’s, at 454 King Edward Ave.  is one of the oldest churches in Ottawa. Built in 1867 on a lot purchased for $600 by H.N. Bate from L.T. Besserer on what was then the edge of town, it was completed ten years later for $8,000. The lot had been purchased in mid-winter, when there was deep snow on the ground, and in the spring the builders quickly realized that soil conditions would not allow the construction of the large church designed by Thomas Fuller, the architect of the Parliament Buildings (and a St Alban’s parishioner), and had to settle instead for the simpler, more modest, church by Fuller’s pupil King Arnoldi that stands today.


The church was a “Free Seat Church,” that did not rent its pews to parishioners as did many others of the time and had to rely on weekly collections to ensure its survival. This mode of financing proved challenging and the first minister, Dr. Thomas Bedford-Jones, whose income was paid after all other expenses, suffered as a result earning less than $500 annually during the first several years of his office. To add to the challenge, he believed that parishioners should give to the Lord without inducements and decried “the amusements and questionable concomitants of a Fancy Bazaar with its lotteries and feminine attractions” (Bedford-Jones, 1901). As a result, the church was often in debt. In 1872, Bedford-Jones took a trip to England and his parishioners, led by Lady Macdonald, took advantage of his absence to organize a bazaar that raised $5,000, a very large sum at the time. Yet, it was not until 1925 that the church was debt-free. Lady Macdonald also gave the church a window in memory of her mother.


In its early days, St. Alban’s attracted the main members of Ottawa’s political elite: although nominally a Presbyterian and not religious but spurred on by his wife, Sir John A. Macdonald worshipped there, as did several of his cabinet ministers and members of parliament. These included several fathers of Confederation such as Sir Charles Tupper, Sir Leonard Tilley, Sir Alexander Campbell and William McDougall. Sir John A. Macdonald’s funeral was held here on June 10, 1891 but he is buried in Kingston.