Our History

The St. James United Church traces its beginning to the seven members of Montreal’s first Methodist congregation who first came together as a church in 1803. The Methodists began as a reform movement within the Anglican Church.

The present building is the congregation’s fourth home. It was built between 1887 and 1889 after the congregation decided to move uptown from St. James Street, hence the name. At the time of construction, it was the largest Methodist church in Canada with seating for more than 2,000.

In 1925, the Methodists, Congregationalists and a majority of the nation’s Presbyterians came together to form the United Church of Canada and the congregation became St. James United Church. The United Church is Canada’s largest Protestant denomination.

The Methodists had a tradition of community involvement. Members of the congregation fought against slavery in the British Empire and in the United States. The very popular abolitionist Harriett Beecher Stowe spoke from a pulpit now located in the church hall. St. James people helped start the first YMCA in North America and actively campaigned for the vote for women in the early 20th century.

The United Church has continued the tradition of outreach. Rev. Lloyd C. Douglas, author of best-selling novels like The Robe and Magnificent Obsession, was a minister at St. James and broadcast from the pulpit. The church sheltered soldiers en route to Europe in two world wars and in September 2001, the province of Quebec chose St. James as the site for its official memorial service for the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.

The church interior in 1892

First World War Memorial Window

Our First World War memorial window. Inscribed at its base are the words: “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)

The congregation and its partners host a variety of outreach programs for the homeless, the elderly and the urban poor. It also offers a home to several community organizations and musical ensembles.

The grand church organ is a four-manual, 64-stop instrument with almost 4000 pipes. It was originally constructed in 1891 by Wadsworth and Sons and it was completely rebuilt in 1938 by Casavant Frères who continued to maintain the instrument.

Music has always played an important role in the life of the congregation. Singers like Maureen Forrester and Karina Gauvin began their careers here as soloists with the choir. The church is also home to the award-winning Peoples Gospel choir which frequently participates in worship.

St. James hosts numerous concerts throughout the year. Many notable organists have played recitals on this instrument, including Fernando Germani, André Marchal, E. Power Biggs and Simon Preston. Both Raymond Daveluy and Bernard Lagacé made their Montreal debuts here.

Jesus On The Road To Emmaus

This window was installed in the 1890’s and is dedicated to the memory of James Ferrier a former mayor of Montreal and a Canadian Senator. An active member of St James, he was superintendent of the afternoon Sunday school and instrumental in the founding of the Wesleyan Theological College – today know as the United Theological College and part of McGill University. 

The scene depicted is Jesus on the road to Emmaus – reportedly one of Mr. Ferrier’s favourite bible stories possibly because he had visited the site in person. The story tells of Jesus appearing to two disciples after his resurrection and their not at first recognising him but finally realizing that he would actually always be with them. (Luke 24: 13-35).

It is a creation of Castle & Sons which was well-known in Montreal for their wall-hangings, furniture, draperies, and stained glass windows.

The Burning Bush 

Pentecost Window

From 1926 to 2006 the church was hidden behind a row of low-rise commercial buildings which were erected to provide income for the church. This window served as a passageway from the church to the second floor of those buildings. A new window was needed when those buildings finally came down.

Montreal artists were asked to submit designs that would blend what was left of the 19th century window with the congregation’s place in the 21st century. The winner was Ali Atogul. A Muslim immigrant from Turkey. He chose a story common to the three faith traditions – Jewish, Christian and Muslim - Moses and the burning bush, as his inspiration. For St James this has also become a symbolic of  the Holy Spirit and the Pentecost. It is lit at night to show the Spirit’s inspiration. The window was installed in 2006 by the Studio de Verre.

This window shows the transition of the community into modern times. It shows neo-gothic tracery (the interlacing framework in the upper part of the window) which is historical and more ancient, yet is a contemporary window installed in 2006.