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Historically significant buildings in Canada – The Sharon Temple

July 2020

Canada has many unique and historically significant buildings. The Sharon Temple, located in the Village of Sharon, in central Ontario, is one such building.

The white, timber-frame, clapboard building of ascending chambers, is the centrepiece of an open-air museum, composed of seven other heritage buildings on a 4.5 acre property, and owned by the Sharon Temple Museum Society, a not-for society formed in 1991. The museum society assumed responsibility for the temple from the York Pioneer and Historical Society, and now owns and maintains the site, artifacts and documents.

It was the York Pioneer and Historical Society who rescued the temple from demolition in 1917.

The Sharon Temple was constructed between 1823 and 1832 by the Children of Peace, a religious sect led by former Quaker David Wilson, on property owned by Wilson. The Children of Peace were formed when Wilson was expelled from the Society of Friends (Quakers) for his dissenting beliefs, which attracted other Quakers who shared similar views.

Their doctrine incorporated some Quaker beliefs, elements of mysticism, and ancient Jewish ceremony, combined with an emphasis on the arts, music and poetry as part of worship. They devoted themselves to self-sufficiency, fair-dealing and democratic equality.

Unlike other sects where, where all functions were held in one building, the Children of Peace only used the temple for special functions 15 times a year.

The sect reaching a peak of almost 300 members in the 1830s, becoming politically active and supporting democratic government reform. They were closely connected with the leader of the Upper Canadian Rebellion of 1837, former Toronto Mayor William Lyon Mackenzie. Some members took part in the Rebellion.

The sect was also instrumental in electing the leading reformers, Robert Baldwin and Louis LaFontaine, the “fathers of Responsible Government,” four years later.

By the 1850s, the Children of Peace saw their membership dwindle, eventually leading to the end of services at the temple around 1889.

The Sharon Temple was inspired by Solomon’s Temple in ancient Israel. Elements of the building take their inspiration from the Bible, including its three tiers, its four-fold symmetry, its lanterns, and its pinnacles, with its tree stories representing the Trinity, topped by a golden sphere to represent unity and peace.

The twelve interior columns separating the worshipers from the choir space represent the apostles, while the four inner-sanctuary columns represent Faith, Hope, Charity and Love.

The temple’s symbolic design is square to reflect their practice “to deal on the square”; doors on each side allow all people to enter “on an equal footing”; with large windows on each elevation allow light to fall equally on all worshipers.

Jacob’s Ladder, a gently curved staircase, leads to the musicians’ gallery above. 

The skill and attention to detail of the craftsmen who built the temple is found in the mortised and pegged structural construction, and the fine reed detailing and beaded cladding comprising the finish. Influence of the Regency style-influenced elements are found in the reed detailing, cubic plan, low hip roofs, tall rectangular windows and quarter columns that form the corners of the building, with the door surrounds featuring Adamseque entablatures.

The twelve rooftop lanterns serve a symbolic, decorative and functional purpose. When they are illuminated with candles, they represent the light of God as delivered by the apostles.

Other buildings on the property include David Willson’s Study, a smaller architecturally significant building from 1829; the “Cook House” from 1842, where meals were cooked and served, both which are original to the site, along with the temple.

Other historical buildings that were moved to the site include the house of Ebenezer Doan (ca. 1819), the man who was the architect-contractor in charge of designing and building the Sharon Temple, which was re-located from his farm nearby; the drive shed including period carriages, the grainary (both from ca. 1818); and the round outhouse (ca. 1850).

All the buildings on the property have been carefully restored.

The Sharon is available for public use such as tours, concerts, weddings, and special occasions.

Canadian singer-songwriter Lorenna McKennitt recorded her 2010 album “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” at the Sharon Temple, taking advantage of the unique acoustics provided by the temple.

The Sharon Temple was even used to film parts of the 1985 movie “Samuel Lount,” produced by Elivira Lount, a descendant of the martyr of the Rebellion of 1837, with Canadian actors R.H. Thomson and David Fox as Samuel Lount and David Wilson respectively, and British-Canadian actor Cedric Smith as William Lyon Mackenzie.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharon_Temple, https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=10571&pid=0, https://www.sharontemple.ca.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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