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East York people, places, events & insights

EAST YORK ADVOCATE 037: Transition topples tradition at East York churches

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Presteign-Woodbine United Church, a landmark in Parkview Hills at 2538 St. Clair Ave. E. (or 16 Presteign Ave., depending on your map view), will soon be gone, replaced by five or perhaps six single-family detached homes.

P-W closed last summer and its congregation merged recently with another East York church, Leaside United Church at the corner of Millwood Road and McRae Drive.  P-W’s property at 16 Presteign Avenue was sold just prior to Christmas to Laurentide Development Corporation.  I have been told that a number of the church’s neighbours know the owner of Laurentide and encouraged him to buy the property after receiving assurances that the site would be redeveloped with new single-family detached homes in keeping with the existing physical character of the Parkview Hills community.

Presteign-Woodbine United Church property has been sold after church closed due to declining attendance. -GOOGLE MAPS

Presteign-Woodbine United Church property has been sold after church closed due to declining attendance. -GOOGLE MAPS

Because of declining membership, in recent years many of East York’s churches have been forced to close their doors and merge with other parishes or congregations.  Other examples of this include: All Hallows Anglican Church on Main Street, which, before it too closed, merged with The Church of St. Columba on St. Clair Avenue East; Dentonia Park United Church on Dawes Road, which merged with Hope United Church at the corner of Main Street and Danforth Ave.; Rogers Memorial Presbyterian Church on Woodbine Avenue, which is no more; St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Church on the Danforth which merged with Bt. Brigid’s Catholic Church on Wolverleigh Avenue; Riverdale Presbyterian Church that merged with Westminster Presbyterian Church on Floyd Avenue; and Woodbine United Church at the corner of Woodbine and Mortimer Avenues, which earlier merged with the former Presteign United Church in Parkview Hills.

Woodbine United Church, which opened in 1921 under the name of Woodbine Methodist Church, was at one time attended regularly by former East York Mayor True Davidson, who lived just a block away at the corner of Mortimer and Woodmount Avenues.  Stan Wadlow, East York’s first and longtime Director of Recreation for whom Stan Wadlow Park was named, led a well-known young peoples’ group, the Owesos, at the church for many years.  Initially Woodbine United had a very large congregation but by 1992 this had declined to such an extent that it closed its doors; it was demolished and replaced on the site by a 29-suite assisted family housing residence. The now much smaller congregation then merged with Presteign United in Parkview Hills.

Presteign United opened its doors in 1954 on land donated by East York home builder and subdivider William Pugh Sr., who built and lived in a home nearby. One of the members of the Presteign congregation at that time was Bill Turner. a teacher at East York Collegiate.  To this day if you ask former students at EYCI if they ever had a teacher by the name of Mr. Turner they will immediately respond that he was the teacher who came to school one day wearing a black shoe on his right foot and a brown shoe on his left foot.  When my friend Barry Burton presided over the wedding of Bill to Iris Turner’s daughter Elizabeth at Presteign United, Barry asked me to be his best man.  During the ceremony the Church was struck by lightning, the power went off and all the lights went out.  Instead of panicking, however, those in attendance took it as a sign that the marriage had been blest in Heaven and as time went on that proved to be so.

In 1955, Presteign had 516 members but by this past summer when it merged with Leaside, even with the additional members from Woodbine United its total membership had diminished to about 25.  Clearly P-W was unsustainable.

In 1924 when the Township of East York was incorporated our social life revolved around our churches.  Today, with Sunday sports, Sunday shopping, the internet and Netflix, the focus of our life has changed dramatically.  For us long time East Yorkers, this is one more example of what some now refer to as TRADITION vs TRANSITION.

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