This brief history of St. Peter's Cathedral is taken from a pamphlet that is made available to those who come to visit the church.
Welcome to the Cathedral Church of St. Peter, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. This is perhaps the smallest cathedral in Canada, but one which has contributed out of all proportion to its size, to the life of the Church Catholic in our country.
St. Peter's is a cathedral by: (1) deed of gift, (2) act and deed of consecration, (3) by virtue of the laws of Prince Edward Island. The Deed of Gift from Mr. William Cundall and the Trust Deed of Bishop Binney state: "Upon trust to suffer and permit the Church ... now erected to be used for the purpose of a church for the public worship of Almighty God, according to the rites and ceremonies of that branch of the Catholic Church commonly called the Church of England; and upon trust, also, but subject to the rights of the Incumbent of the said Church to have the Bishop's Chair placed and continually kept in such Church in order and to the intent that the said Church may be deemed a Cathedral."
The founding of St. Peter's was directly linked to a theological and liturgical revival of the Catholic tradition within Anglicanism, known as the Oxford Movement or Tractarian Movement. This Movement began in England in the 1830's, and spread throughout the Anglican Communion worldwide. By the 1860's, some parishioners of the already long-established St. Paul's Church, in Charlottetown, had been exposed to the Oxford Movement through their travels, and wanted to erect a new church building where the teachings and liturgical observances of that movement could be reflected and practiced.
Land for the new church was made available by Mr.William Cundall, and construction began in 1867. By the spring of 1869, the building was completed, and Mr. Cundall then officially gave the land to the church on June 1st, 1869. The opening services were held on June 13th of that year, but the Cathedral was not consecrated until the Feast of St. Peter, June, 29, 1879. It was constructed in an area of the city known as West Bog. "This neighbourhood was considered disreputable", we are told. Today, however, it is known as an ideal and central location, standing as it does, directly across the street from our Provincial Government Building.
As you enter St Peter's, you will find a pamphlet rack in the vestibule. In it you will discover an interesting assortment of tracts and booklets. As mentioned above, St. Peter's was founded largely as a result of the "Tractarian Movement" in Britain, and of its effect on many of the younger members of the Prince Edward Island church community. The Tractarian or Oxford Movement embodied a renewed interest in the Catholic heritage of Anglicanism. Tracts (pamphlets) were one of the primary means used to spread the Movement's teachings and beliefs; hence the name Tractarian.
On the right, as you come through the door with the statue of the Risen Christ above it, is the baptistery. The Baptistery is a memorial to Sister Theresa (daughter of William Cundall, donor of the land) of the Community of St. John the Baptist, Clewes, England. The window beside it is in memory of the Reverend Canon E. M. Malone, who was Incumbent of St. Peter's Cathedral for 31 years. Canon Malone, a scholarly man with an excellent singing voice, was well known for his love of and work with children, as well as his belief in guardian angels. Both these themes are portrayed in his memorial window. If you are interested in stained glass, you will find in St. Peter's and in All Souls' Chapel several examples of outstanding design and craftsmanship.
As has been said, St. Peter's Cathedral was founded in 1869 as a result of the Oxford Movement. It is a unique church in many ways. Choir members have worn surplices since the opening of the church. As early as 1872 the Rood Screen was erected and the seven hanging lamps placed in the sanctuary. The envelope system was adopted in 1876, and the pews have always been free. Altar candles have been used since 1877, and Eucharistic vestments since 1889. In that year the first white cope to be used in the Ecclesiastical Province of Canada was worn here. On Ash Wednesday, 1890, the daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist was established, and this ideal has been maintained to the present day. (Devotional and spiritual life centred in the Holy Eucharist is very important to members of a parish such as St. Peter's). The magnificent vestments, altar frontals, jewelled chalice, baptismal shell, an illustrated altar missal and other ornaments not common in Canadian Anglicanism are a constant source of joy and interest to Cathedral worshippers and visitors. In recent years some of our vestments have been made at St. Peter's. Lovers of art, music, architecture, and good liturgy would do well to visit St. Peter's, where all of these things combine to set forth the glory of God, and where devout Christians can worship God in the "beauty of holiness". When mediocrity is so often the standard today, it is our sincere intention at St. Peter's Cathedral to strive for excellence and true beauty.
Originally, chairs were used at St. Peter's. In 1928, these were replaced by pews of dark walnut-coloured Douglas fir. The pulpit is the design of William Critchlow Harris, the brother of Robert Harris the artist, whose paintings beautify All Souls' Chapel. William Critchlow Harris was also the architect of All Souls' Chapel.
The High Altar (complete with an Altar Stone) is still in its traditional position. Behind the Altar you will see statues of the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), and of our Blessed Lord.
Our memorial stained glass windows are of high quality. Many of them were crafted in England by Kemp & Son, of London, England, one of the most prominent designers of stained glass. Along the walls of the cathedral you will observe the Stations of the Cross, another memorial, speaking of the Catholic faith that is believed and proclaimed at St. Peter's. An Ikon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, prepared especially for St. Peter's in a monastery in Greece, and donated to us a number of years ago by an Orthodox friend and supporter, hangs on the rear wall of the cathedral, on the Gospel side.
A list of the sons and daughters of St. Peter's reveals the names of several people, prominent in their day, who, having served the Lord and His Church with joy and faithfulness, are now at rest. Two "Islanders" have served as Parish Priests. The first Priest Incumbent, an Islander, the Reverend George Wright Hodgson, served from 1869 until his early death, in his 44th year, in 1885. Prior to his appointment to St. Peter's, Father Hodgson had been chaplain to Bishop Binney. He laid the foundation at St. Peter's, on which others have built.
In the early days of the parish, members of St. Peter's were subject to petty persecutions, and were often misunderstood and criticized by some of their fellow Anglicans and by those of other Christian denominations who were not in sympathy with the Tractarian Movement. For example, the choir of men and boys, vested in cassocks and surplices, were jeered at as "night shirt boys". One Sunday morning, it is said, a notice was posted on the door, "Hodgson's junction, all change here for Rome".
After Father Hodgson's death, Father Armstrong from Toronto and Father Smythe from the West Indies acted on an interim basis until Canon James Simpson was appointed the second Priest Incumbent. He was inducted Sexagesima, 1887, and remained until his death in 1920. A former master at Port Hope School, Canon Simpson had as his assistant the Reverend Thomas Henry Hunt. Dr. Hunt was a fine scholar and able teacher, who is still remembered with affection and respect by those whom he taught both here and afterwards at King's College, Halifax. Both men contributed greatly to St. Peter's School, opened in 1872, and to the girls' school, which was added three years later. Canon Simpson, along with Mr. William Critchlow Harris (architect) and Mr. Robert Harris, C.M.G. (artist) are largely responsible for All Souls' Chapel, a place of great beauty, pointing weary, discouraged pilgrims to the risen, ascended Christ, the Lord of all life, in whose presence is joy and life eternal in the communion of saints. In course of time, a son of Canon Simpson, The Very Rev'd Cuthbert Simpson, became Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, England. (1959-1969).
Canon Elwyn Mortimer Malone followed Canon Simpson. Originally from Antigua, he was to remain 31 years at St. Peter's. It was during his tenure of office that the property ceased to be vested in Trustees and was turned over to the Rector, Wardens, and Vestry.
In 1952 Canon Gerald E. Moffatt became Rector of the Cathedral. While he was at St. Peter's, the Cathedral was painted and made much lighter inside. Traditionally, Sunday School had been held at 2:00 p.m. Canon Moffatt had this changed to 10:00 a.m. The main Eucharist on a Sunday was at 11:00 a.m., when only the aged and infirm were expected to receive Holy Communion, a custom which had been followed since the establishment of the parish. (This practice was in keeping with the Tractarian tradition of the parish, and was intended to encourage faithful communicants to fast before receiving Holy Communion, that is, by receiving the Sacrament at the early service at 8 a.m.).
Archdeacon J. R. Davies became Rector in 1958, and remained at St. Peter's until 1967. He was a gentle, deeply spiritual man and one who did much to encourage a sense of stewardship. During his time here, the Rectory was redecorated.
Archdeacon G. S. Tanton, the second Islander to serve at St. Peter's, became Rector in 1967. He exercised a vigorous leadership, not only in the Parish, but in the Diocesan Church Society and Island Church life. In his day there was a renewed call for a Bishop to be resident on Prince Edward Island. Canon Simpson had argued for this in his day, as had the Diocesan Church Society during the last century. It was during Archdeacon Tanton's incumbency that all communicant members of the church were permitted to receive Holy Communion at the 11 o'clock service. Unfortunately, illness necessitated Father Tanton's early retirement.
In 1974, Canon H.M.D. Westin became the seventh Parish Priest and served until his retirement in October 1990. Aside from his spiritual and pastoral work as a dedicated priest, he is remembered for his founding of what is now the annual Atlantic Theological Conference. The "Need for a Catholic Voice in the Church Today" was the subject of the initial summer conference which Father Westin organized as part of the Cathedral's observance of its Patronal Festival in 1981. For 14 years the conference met under his leadership, and now continues to meet annually in one of the three Maritime capitals. The conferences are attended by clergy and laity who are concerned with current problems in the Church, and they have attracted scholars from most of the Anglican world. From these conferences sprang "St. Peter Publications" which has shown a steady growth since its inception. It publishes "A Canadian Church Calendar", Common Prayer Commentaries, a Sunday School curriculum, as well as numerous books, pamphlets and tracts. Each year, St. Peter Publications publishes a book containing the papers presented at the previous year's theological conference. For a number of years, St. Peter Publications produced a quarterly periodical, The Anglican Free Press.
During Father Westin's time as Rector, all of the stained glass windows in the Cathedral and Chapel were re-leaded, and the west side of Church House on Rochford Square was made into parish offices and offices for St. Peter Publications, with the Sexton's residence on the upper floor. Father Westin retired shortly before the end of 1990.
The next Rector, The Rev'd Canon Peter Harris, came to us from Nova Scotia in April of 1989. He served for almost two years as Assistant Priest, before being appointed Rector at the end of 1990. Canon Harris continued as Rector of the parish until the end of November, 2014. The Rev'd David Garrett succeeded Canon Harris as Rector in December 2014.
Before you leave this house of God, please say a prayer for those who built it, for those who maintain it, for all those who have worshipped here over the years, and for those who live and work in this city today.
I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. (Psalm 122, verse 1)
For a more detailed history of St. Peter's Cathedral, see An Act of Faith: The Founding of St. Peter's Cathedral, by Peter Westin. This book is soft cover, (195 pages), and is available from St. Peter Publications. $12.00. (Wholesale $8.40). A brief description of the book follows:
Peter Westin's account of the first fifty years of St. Peter's Cathedral, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (founded in 1869) explores the early history of one of the first parishes in Canada inspired by the Oxford Movement. It looks at the lives of the parishioners, teachers and clergy involved with the founding of St. Peter's Cathedral, as they struggled to maintain the newly rediscovered Catholic heritage of Anglicanism in the Canadian Maritimes.
To order this book, please send e-mail to St. Peter Publications at [email protected]