Welcome to First Baptist Church Toronto
Who we are
We are a church that welcomes all people to worship and serve with us. You will find joyful praise, warm fellowship and relevant teaching and ministry. Our doors remain wide open to everyone and our hearts are exposed to whomever is seeking the love of God. You are always welcome! .
First Baptist Church: A Journey in Courage. Founded in 1826, First Baptist Church has the distinction of being both the very first Baptist church and the oldest Black institution in the city of Toronto.
The birth of First Baptist is indicative of the history of African-Canadians in the 19th century. From the 1820’s onward, Toronto became a thriving commercial center where jobs were available, and a major haven for fugitive slaves given that it was easily accessible by land and water, yet far enough from the American border to give fugitives greater safety from pursuing masters.
The church was founded by fugitive slaves who were drawn to Upper Canada by the promise of freedom. Like many that came to Canada, the founding members came with little more than their religious faith and their belief in the doctrine of the Promised Land … a paradise where they would find freedom from their earthly misery and bondage.
And so, it was that eight years before the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, 12 slaves from the Southern U.S made their way via the Underground Railroad to become the first members of First Baptist Church.
When they first arrived, the group was not numerous or prosperous enough to support their own church, so they tried to attend existing white churches. They soon found that they were required to meet two conditions for membership; they needed to produce letters of dismissal from their old churches and repay their former masters the loss of money sustained because of the escape from slavery.
Shocked by the response of the white churches to their request, the group realized that they would not be joining those congregations and under the leadership of Elder Washington Christian – himself a former slave and native of Virginia who had a call to serve among the refugee former slaves – organized the group into a Baptist congregation in 1826.
In the beginning, they worshiped in each other’s homes, and sometimes out-of-doors but in 1827 they were able to lease St. George’s Masonic Lodge for Sunday services. From 1834 to 1841 the services were held in a schoolhouse on Richmond Street.
In 1841 the congregation built a small church at the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets and worshiped there until 1905, after which the property was sold and a new church erected at the north-east corner of University and Edwards Streets. The members worshiped there until the sale of the building in 1955 and the completion of the present building, located at Huron and D’Arcy Streets.
We are a membership that welcomes and invites all races and nationalities to worship with us and though proud of our origin, pray that we are never guilty of the behavior that forced our founding members to seek a separate religious institution in which to worship.
When we sing the hymn “We’ve Come This Far By Faith,” we are acknowledging the sacrifices made by our forefathers, those courageous men and women who prayed and worked diligently to ensure that their children and their children’s children would be assured of a safe and welcoming place to worship in Toronto.
Accession of the Black Christ
Gordon R. Girvan of Toronto gave the painting of the Ascension of the Black Christ to First Baptist Church in 1980. Mr. Girvan was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, grew up in Halifax and lived in Toronto for many years. As a travel agent and president of the American Society of Travel Agents, he had the opportunity to travel all over the world.
The artist is Hector Whistler, nephew of the famous Whistler who painted his grandmother in a rocking chair. He painted the “Ascension of the Black Christ” in Barbados in 1954. Mr. Girvan met Mr. Whistler during a trip to Barbados; he was immediately impressed by the fine painting in the Black Christ.
In 1980 when the painting was presented to The First Baptist Church, Mr. Girvan was retired and living in Central Park Lodge. It was his hope that we, as a congregation, would find inspiration and joy in the painting as much as he had.
The painting is oil on canvas, approximately four feet by seven feet. It depicts Christ as a black man, surrounded by his disciples as he ascends to heaven with angels around him. The painting is well known all around the world and has been shown to many thousands of people in ecumenical congresses and exhibits. It gave Mr. Girvan great pleasure to make the gift of his painting to the Church