June 24, 2018

More than a century after it opened, Saskatoon's Third Avenue United Church held its last service on Sunday.

The English Gothic church, standing at the corner of Third Avenue and 24th Street, opened in 1913.

Jewel Reid, 89, sang in the choir Sunday and began attending church there at the age of seven, in the late 1930s.

“It’s part of my life,” she said recently at her home only blocks away from the church.

Her kids and grandkids were baptized there. She married her late husband John there in 1954.

On Saturday, she posed near the same church steps where she and John were pictured shortly after taking their vows.

Jewel Reid speaks outside the church, in 2018, near the area where she took her first steps as a married woman in 1954. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

“It was September. It was a nice day. We had the reception right here.”

Two of her kids also married there before the grand organ pipes, including her eldest son Doug, to his wife Joann, in 1981.

“It’s just been part of my life," said Reid. "My friends are there. The fellowship is there. I’ve enjoyed it from the time it started."

Covered in Tyndall stone from Winnipeg on the outside and graced with a grand pipe organ and renowned acoustics on the inside, Third Avenue United Church became unique both in downtown Saskatoon and for the city itself.

But the shrunken congregation and uncertainty over who will own the building in the future — current owner Dale Anderson says he’s finalizing a sale, but won’t say to whom — have made it hard to keep up the place and the rent.

The diminishing followers was only too painfully illustrated last March when the church’s imminent closure was confirmed: only about 20 people were scattered about the pews, which can accommodate 1,200 people.

Though a municipal heritage designation received last summer will protect the church’s unique properties, money problems are on the minds of the congregation.

“We just don’t have the finance coming through the door to keep a church of that size open,” said Edna Start, a fellow choir member who began attending church at Third Avenue with her husband James in 1963.

“When we first joined 55 years ago, the church was full,” she said from her and James’ apartment across the hallway from Reid.

“And I can remember being so happy to join the choir right away because then I didn’t have to wear a hat to church. Everyone wore hats.”

James became emotional when asked how it was going to feel attending service there for the last time Sunday.

“It’s going to hurt,” he said. “Gonna miss the people. And the church itself. It’s a beautiful church.”

Edna will miss the organ and the church’s stained glass windows.

“We can sit in the choir Sunday mornings and look at those beautiful windows from all angles. It’s just unreal,” she said.

James will miss the chimes.

“They’re not functioning because we didn’t have money to repair it,” he said. “But at one time it was a paper roll. And I used to have to change that until you couldn’t get the paper roll anymore so in the late '80s, or '70s. We went with the tape; it played the music and it gave the chimes of the clock.”

Sunday’s final service began at 10:30 a.m., followed by a reception in the church basement.

The choir sang a hymn proclaiming “We are standing on holy ground" to a nearly packed bottom house, including visiting members of other churches.

“It’s very significant to the day,” Jewel said of the hymn. “We’re saying that it’s a holy ground, where we are, and that we have to move on and so on.”

The final service on June 24, 2018. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Guest minister Rev. Alan Minarcik cited the opening lines of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities": "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

While noting the sadness of the congregation's coming to pass, he added, "Forget about what the record books will say. Third Avenue United Church will live on in memory.

"Think of the number of times the bridal march has played ad infinitum here. Can you hear the voices of parents who can't believe their children are now adults?

"That's the voice. That's the word of Third Avenue."