The Sharon Temple and the heritage of faith

The Sharon Temple

Photo : The Sharon Temple


Sean Fraser

Les bâtiments et l'architecture

Published Date: févr. 12, 2005

While most of Canada celebrates Heritage Day on the third Monday in February, Ontario celebrates Heritage Week. The theme developed for Ontario Heritage Week 2005 is Ontario’s Heritage: Our Shared Legacy. Heritage Day 2005 in Canada celebrates the Heritage of Faith: Spiritual and Sacred Places. Although the Ontario Heritage Foundation holds easements on many such places, as well as having plaques erected to over 60 churches and sacred spaces across the province, one site stands out for its unique architecture – an architecture that was largely determined by the congregation’s faith.

Located in the quiet hamlet of Sharon in York Region, north of Toronto, is one of Canada’s greatest heritage landmarks – the Sharon Temple.

This architectural gem is associated with the Children of Peace – a breakaway sect of the Society of Friends, or Quakers – founded in the early 19th century by radical thinker David Willson. In 1801, Willson and his wife emigrated from New York to join the Quaker community in Upper Canada. Increasingly frustrated with Quaker practices and beliefs, and an outspoken critic, Willson was dismissed from the Society of Friends by 1812. With several other former Quakers, he established a new religious sect incorporating some Quaker doctrines, elements of mysticism as well as Jewish ceremony, and an emphasis on music in worship.

Initially meeting at Willson’s home, the growing sect eventually required larger accommodation. With the assistance of master builder Ebenezer Doan, Willson constructed the Temple of Peace between 1827-1832. While the sect flourished under Willson’s guidance, and was active politically in Upper Canada and later Canada West, it went into a rapid decline in 1866 after his death. With the death of his son in 1887, the property fell into disrepair. In 1918, the York Pioneer and Historical Society purchased the property. After some repairs, the Temple was opened as a museum.

The Temple of Peace is a unique wood-framed building comprised of three tiers of diminishing size. Each tier has tall multi-paned windows on all four sides with a small pinnacle at each corner of the roof. Every element of the Temple was intended to symbolize some aspect of the sect’s religious beliefs: the three tiers represent the Trinity; a door in each of the four sides allowed people to enter on an equal footing from all directions; equal numbers of windows on each side allowed the light of the gospel to shine on the assembly with equal strength; four pillars supporting the lantern were inscribed with the words denoting the cardinal virtues – faith, hope, love and charity; 12 pinnacle lanterns and 12 interior pillars represent the apostles. In the centre of the Temple is the tabernacle – like the Temple itself, an artifact of remarkable design, proportion and craftsmanship.

The Temple of Peace is a unique architectural accomplishment – structurally influenced by faith – and remains an important symbol of Ontario’s heritage.

The Temple – a National Historic Site – is owned and operated by the Sharon Temple Museum Society. The Sharon Temple is also protected by an Ontario Heritage Foundation conservation easement. For more information on the Temple, visit