Book Depicts Some of Canada's Finest Churches

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Canadian Churches an architectural history Peter Richardson and Douglas Richardson Photographs by John de Visser 440 pages Publisher: Firefly Books, October, 2007 $85 ISBN-13: 978-1-55407-239-2

THE RATHER DRY title Canadian Churches: an architectural history only hints at the riches within this enormous, comprehensive, stunningly beautiful survey of Christian houses of worship in this huge northern country.

The oversized (10"x 11 1/2" or 25 cm x 29 cm) volume contains 400 commissioned colour photographs and reproductions of architectural drawings and paintings that illustrate a broad sweep of theology and worship styles from ornate Orthodox churches to plain Mennonite and Moravian chapels.

It is a dangerous book to open if the reader only has a few minutes to spare, since the text by brothers Peter and Douglas Richardson--both university professors, the former in religion and the latter in architecture--and the photographs by John de Visser reward hours of fascinated wandering.

The story of why buildings dedicated to God look the way they do also serves as a history of the country, from the seventeenth-century Maritime churches to startlingly original twentieth-century edifices in many different locations.

One challenge for the authors was selecting the 250 churches " for the book, out of the thousands in Canada. (As an example, the Anglican, United, Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches in Canada encompass a total of about 12,000 churches.)

"It was a huge problem. We started with the notion of a certain number of regions and five or six historical periods. We set ourselves a challenge and drew a grid six columns across and five down and we said, 'You and I will each put one church in each box as the most outstanding example within each period, say 1750 to 1850 in Atlantic Canada. When we compared lists, we had a high degree of overlap," said Peter in an interview, describing his work with Douglas.

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The brothers then expanded their lists. "We tried to get variety. We knew we would end up with urban churches, so we had a little section representing the (rural) Annapolis Valley (in Nova Scotia). We also looked for interesting stories, such as how the (Anglican) Stoney Lake (Ont.) church was built for the needs of cottagers," said Peter, who taught religion at the University of Toronto and is now retired. …

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