The Unique Utopianism of Ontario’s Sharon Temple

Angled view of Sharon Temple

Early Canadian history is often plagued with dull stories that continue to propagate the old narrative that nothing really interesting happens in Canada — the problem is that it is simply untrue. One of those interesting and little-known stories is the Sharon Temple in Sharon, Ontario (formerly Hope, Ontario).

The ceiling of the Sharon Temple’s first floor.

Founded in the early 19th C. by David Willson, who hailed from New York state and was the charismatic leader of a breakaway sect of Quakers called the Children of Peace, Sharon Temple is often described as a “wedding cake.” Architecturally unique for its time and place, the Temple was also a laboratory of many progressive ideas of its time. At this idyllic site, the Children of Peace formed Canada’s first farmers’ co-operative, built the province’s first shelter for the homeless, established a credit union, and created the first civilian band in the province of Ontario (then known as Upper Canada).

The citizens of this small and wealthy (thanks to their co-op) agricultural community also joined in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, and they played a key role in the development of democracy in Canada by ensuring the elections of both “fathers of responsible government,” Robert Baldwin and Louis LaFontaine, both of whom ran in their area.

If the ideas of this small group of citizens live on in different ways in local, provincial and national policies, the Sharon Temple compound is all that physically remains of the quirky religious sect. Built from 1825-1832, the building is fashioned after the Temple of Solomon and is dominated by a centrally placed ark of the covenant, a distinctive Jacob’s ladder, a forest of columns, a golden peace ball on top and a few paintings.

The ark of the covenant, which still houses the original Bible of the Children of Peace.

Unlike the Quakers, the Children of Peace strongly believed in music and the second tier of the Temple was occupied by musicians who filled the building with song. Nearby we can also see David Willson’s study (built in 1829), which is the closest example of a historic ”glass house” I’ve ever seen.

Visiting the site, you can’t help but be overcome by the beautiful proportions of the building and its grand geometric forms. View my complete photoset here.

For more information on the Sharon Temple website on Wikipedia and on YouTube, where you will find a short 1995 documentary about the building produced by Parks Canada.

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