Concert info for DC Presentations

2012 Anniversary Vignette #6
   Disastrous Fire At Dominion United Church

        Fifty-one years ago, on Saturday, 04 February 1961, Dominion Church, which had been an Ottawa landmark at Metcalfe and Queen Street since 1876, was destroyed by fire.   Mrs. Audrey Hilborn, who was the archivist for Dominion-Chalmers United Church from 1974-1992 and a former member of Dominion Church, eloquently described the event in A Sketch History of Dominion United Church, printed in 1976. 

“… [the] fire broke out in the western part of the building that was rented to Robertson Art Galleries.  The fire went up and across the roof, which fell in a few hours later, as huge crowds watched the destruction.  Not much was saved but men carried out the pulpit, the communion table, plaques from the walls, and so on.  Others rescued our silver tea sets that were in the kitchen in the basement, and the silver communion service.  Later we got our linens and a few other things.  A great many records and pictures were lost.”  

        The Ottawa newspapers carried extensive accounts of the fire and its aftermath.  The photograph, below, left, shows the burning church and the large crowds that the fire attracted.


The day after the fire, Dominion Church held its morning service in the Capitol Theatre.  Sunday School was held in nearby St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.   Other churches, including Chalmers, provided space for meetings.  Over the next few months, the congregation met at six different locations. 


     Plans to rebuild the church on its former site were announced on the day of the fire by the Senior Minister, Rev. Dr. H.E.D. Ashford and other leaders of the congregation.  However, as reported in the Ottawa newspapers, several obstacles arose to thwart the rebuilding plans, which were repeatedly endorsed by the congregation.   These included: 

-        efforts by the Presbytery and church leaders in Toronto to encourage amalgamation with another United Church;

-         the imposition of a municipal tax on the church property because the site was “not being used for religious purposes”, an order that prompted a “war of words” in the press between Rev. Dr. Ashford and Mayor Charlotte Whitton (The tax was eventually reversed by a court ruling but only after several anxious months);

 -        a gradual awareness of the costs of rebuilding might be insurmountable because developers were not interested in a proposed church-commercial venture; and,

-         the difficulty in finding temporary premises that were satisfactory for worship services.  


      By January 1962, it was apparent that developers were not  interested in building a combined church-office complex at Queen and Metcalfe.  At the Annual Meeting of Dominion Church that month, a committee was formed to discuss amalgamation “with Chalmers or any other United church”.   The amalgamation process moved forward quite rapidly; both congregations had voted in favor of amalgamating by April.  The Official Inauguration Services of Dominion-Chalmers United Church were held on June 10, 1962. 


    The spirit of Dominion Church lives on at Dominion-Chalmers in the descendants of its members who were welcomed by the Chalmers congregation; a tangible expression of that spirit is the commemorative stained-glass window surrounded by the few memorial windows that were recovered after the 1961 fire.  Other mementoes are located in the church’s Archives Room.