St. Mark’s Church History

Named Five Lanes, Barrett’s Cross, Cross Roads and finally Kensington (in 1862), a Church of England was built in this community in 1860 after shipping gave way to railway as a means of transportation. The instigator was Thomas H. Sims, Esq. (b.1824-1885), the main Church of England subscriber and donor of the land on which the church and cemetery were built. An 1879 survey indicated that the “English Church Ground” covered only a part of the area between the Margate and Irishtown Roads. So, some time between 1879 and 1886 additional land was acquired from Sims for the rectory that opened in January, 1887, just months before St. Mark’s church opened on August 29, 1887.

Millman (1959) described the first St. Mark’s church building. Funds to the amount of 5 sterling pounds were approved by DCS on March 01, 1859, building started in 1860 and consecration occurred on August 09, 1863 as a mission church of St. Eleanor’s. By 1873 this mission had been annexed to the Parish of New London by agreement between the Rev. Herbert Read and the Rev. Joseph C. Cox. Gradually the 1860 church became inadequate for its purposes so in 1885 construction of a $1,375.00 church begun. Again, the impetus came from Mr. Sims (died on January 10, 1885). In 1885, less than twenty-five years after the first St. Mark’s church was built, construction was underway for the second and present St. Mark’s church which was first used for worship on August 29, 1887. In keeping with the Anglican custom of blessing or dedicating a church when opened and consecrating it after all debt is retired the second St. Mark’s church was consecrated on June 09, 1888. The Church of England was the first denomination to build in Kensington. The Presbyterian, Methodist (United) and Roman Catholic churches were built in 1886, 1890 and 1937, respectively.

Meeting minutes document alterations in the church property. To mention a few, in 1902 blue tinted glass was installed in the windows, in 1910 the steel ceiling was installed, and in 1916 electricity was installed (the first year electricity was available). Toward the end of World War II the horse shed for churchgoers was demolished and new lighting fixtures were installed. Around 1949 the installation of a large furnace necessitated the addition of an exterior chimney, a sign of the times. In the 1950s a vestry was added to the north side.

St. Mark’s church is believed to be the only surviving example of a William Harris designed board-and-batten church in Prince Edward Island and one of three remaining board-and-batten Gothic revival style churches in the maritime provinces. It narrowly escaped destruction on July 20, 1979 when a blow torch ignited insulation material when church repairs were underway. Extensive damage to the steeple and smoke damage throughout the church required the congregation to hold services in the separate hall. Reopened in the fall of 1979 the church was more valued than ever. In fact, in 1981 the St. Mark’s church was recognized by the PEI Heritage Foundation for restoration work.

In the 1990s St. Mark’s church underwent another major renovation to maintain it as a place of worship and a Harris church. In 1992, during phase I, the church and the two-year of wheelchair ramp, was moved back twelve feet from Victoria Street East and placed on a new foundation. In 1993, during phase II, the church interior was rewired, insulated and painted. A back stairwell was added and a washroom installed in the basement. The exterior was sandblasted, carpentry work was completed, new front doors were installed and the entry was redone. The exterior paint was returned to what is believed to be a typical, if not the original, three color scheme found in the early wooden Harris Churches – yellow ochre, burnt umber and brick red. Previously the church was white with black trim. Landscaping and surveying were completed. In 1994, during phase III, the basement was finished to create the new St. Mark’s hall in St. Mark’s church. The project cost of the renovation was $120,000.00.

The Kensington and Area Historical Society valued the restoration. It invited Canon R.C. Tuck to speak on the significance of Harris’ work at Heritage Day in March on 1994. On June 20th the Museum and Heritage Foundation presented a plaque to St. Mark’s church “in recognition of an outstanding contribution to the preservation of the heritage of Prince Edward Island”. The original design was intact except for changes to accommodate new materials and conveniences.

St. Mark’s Hall was built in 1896/97 and sold a hundred years later having been a frequent subject of discussion for the church vestry. On January 15, 1951 Vestry proposed, and defeated, a motion that the rectory ground be sold for a lot and the hall oved to this lot. Instead, Vestry decided to raise the hall, add a foundation, install an oil furnace and chimney and two years later a kitchen. The idea of elevating the hall(church) to install a basement with classrooms was frequently proposed. It almost went ahead in 1962. In the 1990s the decision to restore the church and install a hall closed the discussion. No longer needed, the century old St. Mark’s Hall was sold to the Church of the Nazarene in 1996.

St. Mark’s Cemetery was first used on September 23, 1864 for the burial of Mrs. Wm Glover. The last burial was that of Mr. William Thompson (1843-1923) although all burials had been discontinued at least since 1914. An exception was made for this early church member who had previously purchased his plot, said his great grandson Carl Thompson. In August 1938 the church agreed that the hall and graves could be moved to widen the Margate Road. Anglicans are now buried at People’s Cemetery or other PEI Anglican church cemeteries.

Architectural Assessment
By Canon Robert C. Tuck, Architectural Historian
St. Mark’s church, Kensington, PEI erected in 1885, is one of a series of churches belonging to the latter part of the early period of William C. Harris’ career as an ecclesiastical architect. It was designed and built in the mid-1880s along with St. Thomas’ church, Long Creek PE (now a summer cottage at Canoe Cove); All Saints Church, Clifton Royal, NB and St. James’ church, Mahone Bay NS. The latter is the largest and most outstanding of these churches.

All four church buildings have features in common: timber-frame construction, chancels lower-roofed and narrower than the naves, three-stage asymmetrically placed towers with spires, lancet windows flanking larger windows with geometric tracery in the western nave elevations, sloped buttresses on the nave and chancel walls, and board and batten cladding. All Saint’s church, the earliest of the series, differs from the other in that the windows in the side elevations of the nave are lancets, whereas the others have Tudor style, four-centered arch windows with three lights surmounted by hood moulds. Each design has a squared chancel termination with an east window set in the wall elevation at a height sufficient to allow for the installation of a retable or low reredos above the mensa of the altar table on the interior.

The floor plan and general concept of each of these churches follows an English pattern, particularly in respect to the smaller proportions of the chancel, its squared eastern termination, and the provision of an east window. These are all features Harris abandoned in his later designs, when acoustical considerations led him to adopt a largely French Gothic architectural vocabulary.

The proportions of St. Mark’s church, particularly those of the steeple, are quite low, even squat – a characteristic the architect offset by the strong vertical elements, notably the board and batten cladding, appropriate to the Gothic Style of the building.

The tower is in three stages, framed at each corner by two-step buttresses set at right angles to the wall, with a string course between the second and third stages. The bottom stage consists of the main entry to the church, with a lancet window in the west elevation to provide light; the second stage has two lancet windows in each of the three elevations that face away from the nave roof; and the third stage, accommodating the bell chamber, has in each elevation a large two-light louvered window with a quatrefoil in the head surmounted by a hood mould.

Just below the narrow cornice at the top there is a decorative string course, above which the board-and-batten cladding of the tower is continued in a narrow band. The tower has a pitched roof with eight cells that provide transition from the four side of the tower to the eight-sided spire set in the center of the roof. Each cell of the spire is linked to its neighbor with a rib; the cells and the ribs meet at the top in a cap surmounted by a white cross. At the base of each cell is a decorative gable that carries in its face a quatrefoil surmounted by an elongated trefoil. These elements are painted in two colors – brick red and yellow ochre – in order to make the richness of the decorative scheme apparent. While the main body of the church is painted yellow ochre, its trim – unlike that of the spire which contains brick red – is painted a medium brown [burnt umber] color. The hood moulds, sills, string courses and narrow strips that defind the windows and gables are all painted brown. The window tracery is lighter in color than the board and batten cladding. The color scheme is patterned on that of St. James’s church, Mahone Bay NS.

There is only one detail troubling to architectural preservationists in the whole exterior of this beautifully preserved and restored church, and that is the substitution of a steel double door surmounted by a rounded transom window accommodating plastic strips that radiate from a central point in its base. The design of this window is vaguely classical or neo-Georgian, and it is inappropriate in a Gothic building. In the original design the décor echoed the Tudor arch shape employed in the nave windows, and was surmounted by an identical hood mould. The present door breaks the visual rhythm that is one of the subtle characteristics of Harris’ architecture. The transom light is unnecessary because there is a window in the wall on the left hand side of the entry. The practically of the steel doors appealed to the parishioners who were responsible for maintaining the building. Even English cathedrals combine architectural features of different eras as they adapt their structures to the contemporary needs of worshipers.

In Recent years a new basement hall has been constructed under the building, and a wheelchair ramp added along the south side of the building. The exterior entrance to the basement hall is on the north side at street level while an interior entrance has been placed unobtrusively at the back of the nave. These projects have been carried our as sensitively as possible to balance the original architectural design with modern day function. Located on the north side of the chancel is a commodious and useful sacristy, enlarged at some point from its original dimensions. The sacristy has a second north side entrance apart from the hall entrance, as well as an interior entrance to the north of the pulpit.

The interior décor does not follow Harris’ style. Unfortunately, the drawings and plans for it disappeared long ago making it impossible to know the architectural plan. The design of the pews, pulpit, choir stalls and altar now installed in the church are quite unlike those in the Harris churches contemporary with St. Mark’s but located at Mahone Bay and Clifton Royal. While the pews are unsophisticated in their appearance, the pulpit is of decent Gothic design, and the arcaded decorative screen that extends across the east wall below the sill of the east windows and behind the alter is quite pleasant. Pressed tin panels fill the cells between the roof timbers, and are not likely to be part of Harris’ plan for the church. The interior is painted in cheerful light colors, including the woodwork of the cornices, window surrounds and ceiling timbers. Harris preferred a natural finish for all woodwork, and a moss green color for plastered walls.

Throughout the church graceful Tudor arches lend artistic beauty to the windows and doors and are a major architectural feature of the building. There is a good stained glass in the east window, the lights of which lend themselves conveniently to the accommodation of the figures that occupy them. Several of the other windows are filled with blue glass. In the course of time some of these windows may become filled with stained glass, and the present generation at St. Mark’s has an opportunity to plan ahead by developing a scheme for their subject matter that can me implemented over time.

In common with St. Stephen’s church at nearby Burlington, St. Marks’s has steps at its communion rail. Again, this is a feature that the architect is unlikely to have provided and is probably due to someone’s “High Church” enthusiasm for an elevated altar. There is nothing wrong with elevating the altar, but it should be done in the sanctuary, inside the communion rail, if there is plenty of room, and then only to a maximum of three levels, one for the celebrant and the other two for the deacon and subdeacon. At the rail there should be only one step, and the floor behind it should be flat. If a greater elevation is desired it should be provided at the chancel steps at the head of the nave. At present, St. Mark’s has one step at the chancel steps at the head of the nave, two steps at the communion rail for communicants, and the rail on what would be a third step for the celebrants to reach the sanctuary proper. St. Mark’s church has a commodious and useful sacristy enlarged around 1958, and located on the north side of the chancel, with its own entrance from outside.