Location: East Gwillimbury, ONDate of completion:
Julia Munro, MPP (York – Simcoe)
Built between 1825 and 1832 as a place of assembly by the Children of Peace, a breakaway sect of the Society of Friends (also known as Quakers), Sharon Temple National Historic Site is often recognized as one of Canada’s most remarkable examples of early wood architecture. Its true value, however, goes far beyond its superb craftsmanship and detailing – as Sharon Temple is the most important architectural manifestation of one of early Canada’s most significant communities and the core values of its people.
Sharon Temple, c.1925, Photo Credit: C.P. Meredith/Library and Archives Canada/PA-
The Children of the Peace was a rural community that emerged after the War of 1812 in the Town of East Gwillimbury. Their leader, David Wilson, was an active political figure with ties to the Reform Movement. The Children of the Peace would play a pivotal role in the formation of democracy in Upper Canada by helping establish one of our first political parties – the Canadian Alliance Society - and, through their social values and activism, aid in the institution of Responsible Government in Canada –the principle in which government is responsible to the people (a parliament), rather than to the monarch.
Sharon Temple Plan, Courtesy of ERA Architects
Sharon Temple stands as the physical manifestation of the community's core values of equality, peace and social justice. Drawing inspiration from Solomon’s Temple and the Bible, its design is said to have been the product of David Wilson and Ebeneezer Doan, an early Quaker immigrant from Pennsylvania. Almost all elements of the temple’s design are rich in symbolism. The temple is symmetrical on all four sides and centred on four central pillars with the words Faith, Hope, Love and Charity – the pillars of the church. Its three tiers represent the Trinity. The square form and symmetry is meant to symbolize the sect’s commitment to democracy, egalitarianism, and social justice. A door in each of the four sides allows people to enter on an equal footing from all directions.
Abandoned Sharon Temple, c.1900, Photo Courtesy of Toronto Public Library
After the death of Wilson, the Children of the Peace slowly dissolved and Sharon Temple was left to degrade over time. Thankfully, the York Pioneer and Historical Society recognized the heritage value of the structure and purchased it in 1917. In 1918 the site reopened as a museum - one of Canada’s first examples of historic preservation. By 1993, the site received National Historic Designation – in part because of its history of heritage preservation.
Interior of Meeting House of the Children of Peace (Sharon, Ontario), c.1909, Photo Courtesy of Toronto Public Library
Since becoming a museum in 1918 – and particularly after receiving National Historic Designation – Sharon Temple has undergone periodic restoration work. Most recently, Toronto-based ERA Architects
has led a number of projects within the frame of an ambitious conservation plan – made possible through an Infrastructure Stimulus Fund Grant and a Parks Canada National Historic Site Cost Sharing Grant.
Laser scanner analysis of building elevation showing deformations of exterior wall surface . Warmer colours are closer to the viewer (Northway Photomap, 2010), Courtesy of ERA Architects
has used the latest technologies - including laser scanning and digital three-dimensional point cloud modelling, as well as extensive observations and study of the complex timber frame structure - to develop a conservation scope of work. As part of the restoration efforts, there has been a conscious recognition of the importance of the original structural systems and craftsmanship as part of the temple’s unique identity. Every effort has been made to maintain and restore these systems to retain the integrity of the site. The result is the successful preservation of a building that tells the story and cultural contributions of the people that built it.
This post forms part of our World Architecture Day Queen’s Park Picks 2016 series in which we asked Ontario’s Members of Provincial Parliament to nominate a prominent building, past or present, in their riding for a chance to learn more about it. Check out the rest of the series to learn more about Ontario’s great architecture.