Each parish has a story to tell of its journey as a faith community. Frequently such stories are expressed in parish histories. The compilation of a history may be occasioned by a commemoration, typically of its foundation or anniversary.
The authors of parish histories may be members or former members of the church itself. They are rarely professional historians. The latter are usually able to put the experience of a parish in the context of the broader historical setting. The quality reflects the degree to which sources of information like vestry minutes, church bulletins, newsletters, correspondence and photographs have been retained over the years and made available for the purpose of compiling a parish history. The quality of particular histories may also depend on several factors: cost, the depth to which the authors or compilers wish to delve; and deadlines dictated by commemoration dates. Parish histories can be of varying formats from the full-length monograph to stenciled pages. Parish histories can consist of monographs, pamphlets, oral histories, and biographies of significant figures in the history of particular parishes. Increasingly, parish histories are part of the websites of some churches, a medium which has the advantage that the information can be updated as new information becomes available.
The primary audience for a parish history is initially and primarily the church community chronicled in its pages. But parish histories also constitute an important body of information for church historians, researchers, seminary students, and laity of the Anglican Church.
- They assist seminarians become familiar with a parish to which they may be assigned for an internship or placement.
- They assist incumbents to become familiar with a new parish to which they may be appointed.
- They record the diverse experiences of the Anglican Church, as well as the difficulties and aspects of growth experienced by a community of believers, spanning a few decades or a few centuries in some cases. In this way they are useful as social documents chronicling the evolution of religious communities in a Canadian context.
Parish histories are a unique body of literature that provide a perspective on the development of the church that cannot be accessed elsewhere.
Prior to 1999 there was no systematic collecting of Anglican parish histories in Canada. They were added to the collections of the former Leonard Library at Wycliffe College, Trinity College Library, and the library at Church House. The Robarts Library also has some in its collections. In 1999, with the assistance of a grant from the Leonard Foundation to cover administrative and mailing costs, the Chief Librarian of the Leonard Library, Wycliffe College, issued an appeal letter to every parish in Canada, based on information in the Anglican Church Directory [BX5605 .A5], soliciting the donation of histories to the library. About 1,800 letters were sent out. As a result of the appeal by March of 2000, over 360 histories were donated, and this number has been added to since so that now there are in excess of 400 histories in the John Graham Library. The collection continues to grow and donations are welcome.
- Parish histories in the respective library collections that were in existence prior to the merger of the libraries of Wycliffe and Trinity Colleges (2000) have retained their existing call numbers and are in the stacks (normally in the BX 5617 range).
- Those that were donated as a result of the appeal now constitute a distinct parish history collection in the Graham Library (in the “Anglican Room”) and are designated in the online catalogue in the format BX5617 but with the extension Pam TRIN/WYC ParHC [=Parish History Collection]. Because of their uniqueness these are available for in-library use only.
- These pamphlets are shelved alphabetically by geographical location and within that location alphabetically by church or parish name.
To locate a particular parish history you can search by putting the official name of the church in the subject line of the online catalogue.
- If you want to locate a history of St. John’s, Tillsonburg
- Then type in: St. John’s Tillsonburg and do a keyword search
- In this case it will retrieve the following title:
St. John’s Anglican Church, Tillsonburg, 1899-1999, the first century.
[Tillsonburg, Ont.: The Church, 1999]
BX 5617 .T56S34 1999 Pam TRIN/WYC ParishHC
Note that all you need is the name of the church and its location. Refer to the listings in the Anglican Church Directory [BX5605 .A5] for the correct parish names.
Specific subject headings for locating parish histories are as follows:
- Kensington Region (P.E.I.)–Church history. [Syntax: Geographical location followed by province in parentheses, followed by “Church history”]
The histories of dioceses constitute a different category of material, but they may be worth consulting as they may include coverage of parishes.
Diocesan histories can be located using the following search terms, for example:
- Anglican Church of Canada–Ontario–Toronto Region–History.
- Anglican Church of Canada. Diocese of Toronto–History.
- Women in church work–Anglican Church of Canada.
- Church of England. Diocese of Toronto–History.
[Substitute the diocese and region you are searching for, as appropriate.]
The biographies of individual clergy, where they exist, may be useful for the history of a parish or a diocese. To locate such works use the following subject headings, for example:
- Anglican Church of Canada–Clergy–Biography.
- Anglican Communion–Canada–Clergy–Biography.
- Clergy–Ontario–Toronto–Biography.[For other provinces, substitute the particular province name and location]
- Church of England–Canada–Bishops–Biography.
- Bishops–Canada, Northern–Biography.
- Deaconesses–Anglican Church of Canada–Biography.
- Women priests–Canada–Biography.
- Gay clergy–Ontario–Unionville–Biography.
You can also search by personal subject to see if there is a biography of that person. For example:
- Scott, Edward W.
- Caton, Ina
We would be happy to receive further additions to the collection: Please contact the Graham Library, Trinity College, 6 Hoskin Ave., Toronto, ON, M5S 1H7 (416) 978-5851.
Revised Nov. 2012; revised September 2021