Places of worship in Ontario’s rural cultural landscape

With its associated cemetery and rural landscape, St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church is a Haldimand landmark

Photo: With its associated cemetery and rural landscape, St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church is a Haldimand landmark


Wendy Shearer

Buildings and architecture, Community, Cultural landscapes

Published Date: Sep 10, 2009

The cultural landscapes of rural southern Ontario contain a variety of heritage resources – land patterns and uses, built forms and natural features. Within these settings, places of worship are significant artifacts and placemakers. Their locations vary, from small crossroad settlements to isolated sites along the concession/sideroad grid that organizes southern Ontario’s agricultural lands.

In addition to their architectural value, places of worship, which include some of our oldest buildings still in use, carry associative and contextual heritage values. They are the result of group efforts to create buildings for life’s ceremonial and spiritual aspects, hence important reminders of the communities that built them. They are also tangible symbols of the social network of rural cultural landscapes, accommodating the coming together of community members for joyful celebrations and solemn ceremonies.

Many of these buildings take advantage of natural topography, using siting to reinforce their prominence. Their landmark value is evident in their distinctiveness relative to their context. St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church in Haldimand artfully combines architecture and site to increase its scale and presence in the landscape. This pattern, which is repeated throughout southern Ontario, contributes to the countryside’s visual character.

Other places of worship are integrated into their landscape settings. Port Ryerse Memorial Anglican Church is nestled in a small shaded site in a compact rural settlement. While the board and batten building is distinct in its architecture and purpose, it shares with the surrounding residences and farm buildings a similar organic lot pattern created by the valley topography at the edge of Lake Erie. The community’s history and association with the United Empire Loyalists and the War of 1812 is preserved in the gravemarkers in the church’s cemetery. This church’s contextual value lies in the harmonious composition of building, site and burial ground.

Religious buildings’ associative value emerges in the way they represent the continuity of time and family. St. Andrew’s in Buxton, a modest frame church, is highly valued as a symbolic expression of freedom and hope by both the surrounding community and descendants of the area’s early settlers. Many refugees fleeing American slavery made homes for themselves in Buxton. Since the 1920s, their descendants from across the United States and Canada have regularly attended Buxton’s homecoming celebrations.

In many rural areas, places of worship are the only structures that remain from earlier settlement, allowing the settlement’s name and identity to live on. They continue to be places of contemplation, sharing, inspiration and spiritual comfort, as well as landmarks of their rural cultural landscapes, making them valuable in ways that exceed their built form.