The Early Days of Division Street
Some of the Chalmer’s congregation favoured the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland or the “U.P.S”.
They could receive communion with the Chalmers congregation but were not permitted baptism for their children. In 1852 this group, joined by other families, began to meet regularly “below the hill” in the Village of Sydenham. It is this group which founded Division Street Presbyterian Church.
The people worshiped in various places: Butchart’s Hall near the corner of Poulette Avenue and Division Street (now 2nd Avenue and 10th Street East) and in a log house that eventually became the Salvation Army Citadel on 3rd Avenue East near the corner of Division Street and Scrope Street. They also met in homes of members. As a congregation, they were committed to the cultural and communal expression of the Christian faith.
Worshiping on the Corner of Division Street and Murdoch Street (10th and 4th Avenue East)
In 1857, a frame church of blocked plaster, stained to imitate stone, was built. When the present stone building was completed in 1886, the plaster building then housed the Sunday school. In 1905 a Sunday School Hall was added to the stone church. With the ensuing growth in the congregation, a larger space was needed for all the church activities. The Christian Education Building was added in 1958 with the stone from the demolished Sunday School Hall used to provide a link between the old and the new. In 1984 a ramped entrance was built.
Over the years, many structural changes have been made to the sanctuary. In 1946 the front of the sanctuary was remodelled as the congregation’s memorial to its soldier sons who died in World War II. Then in 1964, the narthex was enlarged. Modern lighting fixtures were installed. The ramped entrance, space in the church for wheelchairs and a wheelchair accessible washroom on the main level made the church a more accessible and welcoming space. In 2002, a new sound system with assisted hearing devices was installed in the sanctuary enabling all present to participate fully in worship.
The seating in the sanctuary accommodates over 700 people on two levels. The focal points of the sanctuary are the recently redesigned front stage and the historic stained glass windows that line both sides of the sanctuary. The three windows that are at the back of the Sanctuary are a welcome addition from the former Knox United Church building. The changes to the sanctuary brought the organ console down from the choir loft to the main stage level, and added a retractable screen to display announcements, hymn lyrics and other media relevant to the service.
In addition to making the stage wheelchair accessible, the improvements at the front of the church opened up the space for more stage musicians, the choir and for stage dramas throughout the course of the Christian calendar. Because the stage can accommodate two concert grand pianos, it is frequently used by community groups for concerts, such as the Sweetwater Music Festival.
The ministry of some of the Division Street church members continues through gifts, memorial gifts and legacies. When the church was built in 1886 furnishings were purchased with money raised by the newly formed Ladies Aid. Many gifts were contributed by interested persons – the pulpit and pulpit chairs, the Communion table (now in the narthex) and the steam heating. Each of the Elders purchased his own chair to be brought out only on Communion Sundays.