Church history collection

By John Lutman

The Church History Collection provides a wealth of information for church historians.

Each church within the Diocese has its own file or set of files, which are stored in Hollinger boxes arranged alphabetically by location and then alphabetically within the box by church if the location has more than one church.  Files exist for functioning churches, chapels of ease, closed churches and, indeed, demolished churches.

archives-webThe contents of a church history file will commonly hold published histories; photocopies of pages from heritage publications which feature Anglican church buildings; photocopies of church history articles appearing in The Huron Church News; photographs both exterior and interior of the buildings (including a selection of prints from the recent church buildings survey) as well as of church events; photocopies of handwritten histories occasionally found in the history section of parish registers; promotional literature for special campaigns (e.g., fundraising efforts for restoration of the church building); church bulletins issued for special services such a church consecrations and de-consecrations, significant anniversaries, funerals of important church figures (e.g., bishops, a long-serving parish priest, noted congregants, royalty), national and international events (e.g., VE Day, 9/11); heritage events such as plaque unveilings and Doors Open tours; programmes from non-religious events such as organ and/or choir concerts, sports events held in the gymnasium, and heritage tours.  Other history documents are described below.

Patrons who request access to the Archives’ church history holdings comprise both core and non-core users.

Among the Archives core users are priests and/or congregants researching a history of their church, preparing for a special church event such as a significant anniversary or simply reviewing the contents of their church history file.

Researchers commonly access their church history holdings for photos to create a permanent history display. Huron Church House officials have also requested copies of photos to grace their walls or to include as scans in issues of The Huron Church News or on the diocesan website.

Non-core users include regional historians and church historians.  Regional historians access the Church History Collection to determine the history of the congregation and the building within the context of the history of the specific community or region in which the church is located.

Published church histories, anniversary bulletins and photocopied articles from The Huron Church News are particularly useful sources in this regard. Newspaper articles clipped from area newspapers, some even from the 19th century, may provide at great length a history of the church, its past priests and congregants, and brief biographies of the pioneers buried in the cemetery which may surround the church. Information in the church history files has assisted historians in compiling walking and/or video guides to promote tourism and such events as Doors Open.

The file cards compiled by former archivist Charles Addington provide references to newspaper and journal titles, some even as early as the 1830s, with a brief summary of the subject matter, dates and specific page numbers that can be accessed on microfilm or, more rarely, in paper format. Western Libraries hold most of the titles referenced on the cards. The cards make reference to the names of architects, dates of consecration, special church events, disasters such as fires and infinite other subject matter.


Pipe organs are of a particular focus for music historians.

Church historians express interest most particularly in the architecture of the building, be it the church, church hall, Synod Hall, Sunday School building and/or rectory, especially if the design is by a prominent architect. Over its history, the church building may have undergone alterations, additions or rebuilding within the walls or after a fire. Aided by photographs and postcards in the file, the church historian will ask: What of the structure comprises the original building? Has the design of the building been influenced by the 19th century ecclesiological movement? (The Archives database will refer the patron to architectural drawings where they exist.)

Art historians will research church history files for photographs that illustrate interior decorative elements such as stenciling, mosaics and wall paintings and the artists who executed them.

Their interest may also extend to stained glass windows and the companies that designed and made them. (Some churches have published guides to their church windows.) Church furniture such as pews, altars, pulpits and baptismal fonts cannot be excluded, most especially if there is a reference in the file to a local manufacturer.

Pipe organs are of a particular focus for music historians. Dedication service programmes for the organ may include the organ company which built or rebuilt the instrument, photos of the pipes and consoles, and, most importantly, the specifications of the organ.

The Archives will arrange to have photos copied; Archives staff will also photocopy documents.  For core users, the Archives does not charge for photocopies; requestors, however, will be invoiced for copies of photographs. The photocopying of documents is governed by the condition of the document and its size. Personal photography (camera and cell phone) is allowed on completion of a form and with the approval of the Archivist. Patrons should be aware of copyright issues before publishing a copied photograph in a history, using it in a display or on a website.

As you have read, the Church History Collection has a multiplicity of research uses for historians.  Understandably, the Archives happily accepts transfers of history materials from the parishes and gifts from private donors, knowing that they will strengthen the Collection’s holdings. The subsequent publications and church and website displays thereby contribute to a wider understanding of the role of the Diocese of Huron in the history of Southwestern Ontario and provide evidence of God’s work in the Diocese.

(As a cautionary note: I ask the clergy, wardens and congregants of the Diocese to be mindful of historic photographs and/or original documents framed and hung on the walls of the sanctuary, church hall or rectory.  Original photos and documents are in danger of fading if exposed to light.  To protect them and to ensure their permanence, they should be deposited with the Archives.  The Archives will provide copies for reframing.)

John Lutman is archivist for the Diocese of Huron.