The beginning on Bank Street
It’s hard to imagine now, but in the mid 1920’s, the area South of Billings Bridge was a tiny farming community known as Ellwood. A group of faithful Anglicans met in Ellwood School – part of a three- point parish that also included St. James’ Leitrim and St. George’s Hawthorne.
A parcel of land on Bank Street at Portland was donated to Trinity Church in Ottawa South. When Trinity decided to rebuild on its current site, it donated the land at Bank and Portland and its existing building to the folks at Ellwood. They rolled up their sleeves, dismantled the former Trinity Church and reassembled it there. The new church was named “St. Thomas the Apostle”. Members began holding services in the roofed-over basement in 1927, and reconstruction of the church was completed on May 11, 1930.
Move to Alta Vista
After the end of World War II, Ottawa began a period of rapid growth. The church on Bank Street began to deteriorate and was proving too small for the area’s growing population. Buoyed by strong faith, the congregation embarked on an ambitious funding campaign to build a new church. Members acquired three acres of city parkland on Alta Vista Drive – the site of the church today.
The cornerstone for the new church was laid May 6, 1957, and the current church was dedicated on September 24, 1957. However, the dedication of the church didn’t end the construction phase. No sooner was the church completed when planning began for a new rectory on Braeside, which was completed in November 1962.
The Lord blessed the new church and soon St. Thomas was finding it hard to find enough space for its Sunday school classes. This was the height of the post-war baby boom and Sunday school enrollment rose to over 700! Even with two shifts, the new church could not hold all the children. Consequently, St. Thomas members went to work again, and the new Christian education wing was dedicated in 1965.
After the Centennial
Canada celebrated its centennial in 1967. People with new ideas and enthusiasm became part of the parish generating a plethora of new activities. These included men’s and women’s groups, a lively music program, expanded programs for children and youth, and programs for adults including Alpha and Cursillo.
After many years of indebtedness, St. Thomas burned its mortgage and the bishop consecrated the church on September 17, 1975. At this point St. Thomas began to expand its outreach efforts to the community.
Members of the parish founded the St. Thomas Nursery School to meet the needs of the community’s young families. It has since evolved to the point where it is now an autonomous organization separate from the church.
A major initiative was to make the church accessible to the disabled. Church members raised over $165,000 to install an elevator and ramps and to upgrade a washroom so that it met accessibility standards. As a result, most of the church is wheelchair accessible.
It was also during this time that the church replaced its aging electric organ with a pipe organ built by the Keates Company.
The new millennium
At this point the church turned its mind to ways to employ its unused land in a way that reflected its Christian faith and served those in the wider community. This led to the construction of two not-for-profit residences.
Ellwood House is an apartment building for seniors shepherded by a Board of Directors comprised of church members. Braeside House is a residence for developmentally delayed adults.
In 2017, St. Thomas conducted an ambitious program to make repairs to its building and to renew the entrance to make it more attractive to members and visitors.
Currently St. Thomas, the Anglican Diocese and Ottawa Community Housing are exploring the possibility of building Ellwood House II – a second apartment building for seniors.
Over the years the St. Thomas site has grown from a piece of land for a church building to the present day where it is home for a campus of ministry where people live, work, learn, play and pray.
Church of the Resurrection joins us
In 2020, the Church of the Resurrection (COR) voted to disestablish. Following that, many COR members chose to join the St Thomas community to worship with us and participate in our wider ministries. The St Thomas parish family has been greatly enriched by their arrival, and we look forward to our broader mission as the Anglican Church in Alta Vista and South Ottawa!
And our story continues to be written...