St. Jude’s Church began its life as a mission on August 12, 1839 when the Rev. Tom Greene arrived on horseback from St. Luke’s (Burlington), with his sacramental vessels and robes in saddle bags, to celebrate the first recorded Eucharist. At that stage in its development, Oakville was a tiny, but lively village of some 500 souls. (Today, of course, it has multiplied over 200 times).
From 1842 to 1884, services were held in a frame building, once the property of early Methodists, which stood at the corner of Lakeshore Road and Thomas Street, site of the present Bank of Montreal. Six rectors led the flock in those first 4 decades, notably the first incumbent, George Warr; Saltem Givens, whose one-year stay was the briefest of all; and Canon J. B. Worrell, who served for 34 years, double the tenure of Canon D. R. Smith, whose career with St. Jude’s was the second longest.
The present building has been the church’s home since the first service on December 16, 1883, though many changes have been made. In 1887 the parish hall was completed to consist of what is now the main hall with a vaulted ceiling, featuring a beautiful Queen Victoria Jubilee window, the gift of a long-time warden, Christopher Armstrong. The bell tower was completed in 1896. In 1924, the parish hall was enlarged by adding a large room and a kitchen to the west with three rooms and a small kitchen on the second floor as well as classrooms in the basement. The church itself was extended (in 1956) thirty-six feet to the north from its original wall (where the baptismal font is now located), and includes a gallery over the narthex. The parish hall had also been extended northward to provide office space and a new choir vestry. The sanctuary was enlarged by moving the communion rail to the steps of the chancel and the choir stalls to the floor of the nave.
Over the years, concomitant with its own growth and that of the burgeoning town of Oakville, St. Jude’s has been instrumental in the establishment of St. Aidan’s (1952), St. Cuthbert’s (1956), St. Simon’s (1957), St. Hilda’s (1959), and, more recently, the Church of the Incarnation, in Glen Abbey. It also helped nurture the Church of the Epiphany in Bronte, back in 1930.
An amusing side note. In 1875, at the first Niagara Diocese synod, lay delegates Hugh Pullen, was devastated to learn that St. Jude’s apportionment had been doubled … from $2.50 to a whopping $5.00! Fifteen years later, this figure had jumped to $9.00. By 1947, the amount was $1,500. Today, our outside giving, including the apportionment, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, and other charities is many thousands of dollars above that figure.
The first organ at St. Jude’s, built by Richard Coates, of Oakville, was installed in 1899, and remained in service for 38 years. It required pumping by hand. De Coursey Fletcher was then choirmaster and organist and Cecil Gillan was the pumper. A Casavant organ replaced this antiquated instrument in 1937, at a cost of $5,000. An Allen electronic organ replaced the Casavant instrument in 1968 when Melbourne Evans served as choirmaster and organist also for 35 years. The Casavant pipe-organ found a home in St. John’s Church, Elora and is still in use today. April 2012 saw the installation of a new Phoenix electronic organ incorporating the latest digital sampling technology. The new instrument has a much more realistic sound and greater versatility for solo playing and accompanying than its predecessor.
Although countless men and women have had key roles in St. Jude’s development over the years, a few should be singled out. One is W. S. Davis, Churchwarden for 51 years (whose sons are still parishioners). Howard Kelley is another: he faithfully climbed the tower ladder and tolled the church bells for weddings, funerals and church services for 53 years. Mrs. J. S. Williams was president of the Chancel Guild for 40 years and E. T. Lightbourne was Sunday School Superintendent for 30 years.
For many years, when Canon J. A. M. (Rusty) Bell was headmaster at Appleby College across “The Sixteen”, where the chapel could not seat the whole student body and staff, the young men of those days (co-eds came later) “marched” to and from the school to services. Under the direction of their organist, Leslie Bott, a select group of these boys journeyed to London to sing at the Coronation of today’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, in 1953.
On December 18, 1913, in the afternoon, the floor of the nave caught fire from an overheated furnace. The Oakville Volunteer Fire Brigade saved the building , from total destruction but damage was very extensive. Services had to be held in the parish hall in the midst of alterations already underway before the fire, while the necessary reconstruction took place.
Another sidelight – amusing in retrospect, but probably quite frightening when it happened. During his long stint as minister at St. Jude’s, Canon Worrell lived in the Rectory, then located a mile and a half west at the foot of Holyrood, beyond the cemetery. During a wild winter blizzard, when the good reverend was returning home from Sunday evening vespers, he became totally disoriented and had to be guided to safety by the family dog. This near tragedy prompted the vestry to move the manse to a much closer site, at Dunn and William (a house that was sold several years ago.)
One hundred and ninety-eight members of St. Jude’s were in the armed forces in the First World War. Eighteen did not return. The Rector in those years was a volunteer. He was wounded in Belgium, but not seriously, and returned to his duties here after the armistice. Three hundred and forty-one parishioners served in World War II; 32 of these are memorialized on a tablet near the Thomas St. entrance. A Memorial Garden for all who have been laid to rest, which is on the church’s west lawn, was consecrated in 1982, donated by Jean Mulholland in her husband’s memory.
Lest we think that social upheavals are strictly modern-day phenomena, here is a paragraph from the Rector’s report to the vestry in 1907:
“With the advent of trolley cars, will come the danger of Sunday desecration, for Oakville will likely become the dumping ground of the Sunday excursionists from both Toronto and Hamilton at either end of the rail line … generally the worst element. Sunday is primarily intended for rest and worship and I cannot look “4th any feeling of pleasure at the prospect of having our quiet days disturbed by crowds of noisy, irreverent and perhaps drunken excursionists.”
Thankfully, these untoward circumstances did not come to pass … then or in the decades since. Fifteen members of St. Jude’s family have entered the ordained ministry, including a son of Canon Worrell, who later became Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.
St. Jude’s Cemetery (on the Lakeshore Rd. across the Sixteen Mile Creek at Brookfield Road) has been the final resting place for many parishioners since the late 1850’s, when the land was purchased for this purpose. In 1979, with the staffing management to run the cemetery placing a growing burden on the church, it was in our best interest to surrender the property to the Town of Oakville, but the title remains “St. Jude’s Cemetery.”
St. Jude’s today … a far cry from the log building on the bank of the creek, where its missionary existence began … now seats 435 people, including the balcony and the choir stalls.