Laying the Foundation of a Legacy
The construction of Third Avenue United Church in Saskatoon began in 1910. At this time, the Methodists, later to become the United Church in 1925, worshipped at a more modest building on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 21st Street. Architect J. Semmens was selected to design the church. On May 13th, 1912 the cornerstone was laid by David Lusk, under which a copper time capsule was buried by first mayor James Clinkskill and 1st University of Saskatoon President Dr. Walter Murray. Construction was finished in 1913 on land bought by Temperance Colonization Society. When the church was dedicated on June 29th, 1913, Dr. Walter Murray, President of the University called it, “the first permanent home of religion in Saskatoon.”
Carnegie Hall of the Prairies
Constructed of limestone in tyndall gothic style, Third Avenue United Church was the largest stone structure in Saskatoon’s downtown, built of natural stone from its foundation to the top of its two towers. The Church contains the largest sanctuary of any church on the prairies and the third largest in Canada. The massive hand-painted stained glass windows are 8.2 meters wide at the base and 6.7 at the top and are considered among the largest art installation in the province. Inside the church there is a large Casavant organ with 2,468 pipes, with the real, functioning pipes hidden behind a wall, and an impressive network of oak ceiling beams that support the roof without need for large, obstructing pillars. These architectural features give the sanctuary a unique shape that musicians insist give the buildings the best acoustics in Saskatoon.
Fight for Heritage Preservation
In 2012, the decision by the United Church of Canada governing body disallowed the congregation from applying for heritage designation for the Church. However, the current congregation has diminished in size and is struggling to pay for the large amount of upkeep need to keep the church in working order. The land is now more valuable than church, and if sold, it would likely be demolished. Acquiring heritage designation would remove the threat of commercial demolition and could potentially lead to grants to help pay for needed roof repairs.
In June 2012, Third Avenue United Church and Tourism Saskatoon partnered with Stantec and CyArk to digitally preserve the iconic structure. To achieve this, a team from Stantec scanned the church with terrestrial LiDAR scanners along with conventional survey methods to create an accurate digital reconstruction of the site. This data is securely stored in CyArk’s archive to assist in future conservation work and reconstruction in the event of a disaster.