St. Denis: Building a parish, one step at a time


Recognizing the need eventually to establish new parishes for local Roman Catholics as the city grew in the 1930s and 1940s, Monsignor Denis Morris acquired land on Russell Avenue at the foot of Henry Street as a possible site to serve the city’s north end.

It was not until June 1947 that Archbishop McGuigan of Toronto, whose archdiocese included St. Catharines, established that new parish, which he named the Parish of St. Denis, to honour the memory of the late Monsignor Morris.

The new parish began modestly with the purchase of two surplus army barracks buildings from Camp Niagara in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The two buildings were placed side by side there on that Russell Avenue property, with one being used for worship while the other was used as a three room Separate School for the parish. The first Mass in the modest new barracks/church was celebrated on December 14, 1947.

It was clear to all that this very basic arrangement would be temporary. Soon a parcel of land suitable for a permanent church and school was purchased a few blocks further north, at the northeast corner of Carlton and Lake streets, and plans were made for the new church-school complex.

It was decided that this final, permanent parish facility would be achieved in two phases — first, a modest, one story place of worship which would eventually become the basement and parish hall for the permanent St. Denis’ Church.

On November 2, 1952, the new basement\church and adjacent separate school (cost: $100,000) were formally opened. No sooner had that been achieved than the parish began planning — and raising money for — Phase 2, which would cost another quarter of a million dollars.

Ground was broken for Phase 2 on May 26, 1960. Our old photo this week, looking at the Lake Street end of the church, was taken in early November of that year. By that time just half of the supporting steel framework of the ceiling of the church’s nave had been set in place.

Construction proceeded apace, until it was possible to celebrate the first Mass in the new St. Denis’ Church on Christmas eve, 1961. The church was formally opened on May 6 of the following year.

The building was designed by the architectural firm of Arthur B. Scott and Associates from Welland. It stands out, among other things, for having one of the tallest steeples in the city, towering 140 feet above the Lake-Carlton intersection.

Dennis Gannon is a member of the Historical Society of St. Catharines. He may be reached at

Source: St. Catharines Standard,, by Dennis Gannon
Photo caption and credits: Left: St. Denis Church takes shape. The photo looks at the Lake Street end of the church and was taken in early November of 1960. By that time just half of the supporting steel framework of the ceiling of the church’s nave had been set in place. — Standard file photo. Right: Current view of St. Denis Church on Lake Street and Carlton Street. — Bob Tymczyszyn/St. Catharines Standard