Reminiscences of North Sydenham
Chapter VII — The Churches


In such a thoroughly Scottish community as the Lake Shore Line it was inevitable that, once fairly settled in their new home, men’s minds should turn instinctively to the holding of religious services in the faith they had brought with them from their native land, and a beginning made in the formation of a Presbyterian congregation. In the spring of 1845 James Ross, Sr., held what we are now fond of calling a consultation, with Thomas Lunn, and from this informal conversation there sprang the Annan congregation. They decided a religious service should be held every Sunday. Arrangements were accordingly made the place of meeting being the home of William Telfer, brother of John Telfer, and the usual form of service of the Presbyterian Church was used; viz. Psalm, Scripture, Prayer, Sermon, Psalm and Prayer. Participation in these services was taken by Mr. Ross and Mr. Lunn, and a little later by David Armstrong, who took part by announcing the opening psalm and reading scripture. One of Chalmers’ sermons was used, at first read by Mr. Ross, and later by William Wilson and others. From the first Hugh Reid led the singing. He had a repertoire of three tunes, but others M ere in time added as the result of attendance at a singing school, conducted by Mr. Wilson at Hugh Reid’s home. These meetings were held continuously until a regular ministerial supply was obtained.

In addition to those of Chalmers, the sermons of Logan and McCheyne were sometimes used, and the manuscript sermons of a Reverend Mr. MacFarland, then deceased. These manuscripts were loaned through the courtesy of a relative and namesake of Mr. MacFarland, who kept store on the Lake Shore Line about a mile northeast of Annan. In the meantime, application had been made on May 15th, 1845, to the Free Church Presbytery of Hamilton, by what the church records of the Presbyterian Church called the “Owen Sound Settlements,” for some arrangements for the dispensation of the sacraments in these localities, which included the Lake Shore Line. This was followed on October 13th, 1847, by another application from the Presbyterians of the Lake Shore for organization as a congregation, but this application was, from reasons of established policy, denied.

When it was decided to organize a congregation, at a meeting held prior to the presentation of this last application, it was resolved that a vote should be taken as to whether the new congregation should be the Established, or Auld Kirk, or Free Kirk, with the understanding that all would agree to accept the decision of the majority. The point was of considerable importance at that time. The controversy in the Old Land, from which so many of them had recently come, by which the Established Kirk of Scotland had been rent in twain was still fresh in men’s minds, and the whole subject was a delicate one with most of them. They were men who held with the usual Scottish tenacity to their opinions, more particularly in matters of the church. Hardly as much so, however, as the Scot who once, engaged in an argument, was told that his mind was closed to conviction. He replied with considerable heat; “Na! Na! My mind’s no closed to conviction, but I would like to see the man who could convince me!” The meeting seems to have been fairly harmonious, and when the vote was taken it was found the Free Church advocates were in a decided majority. All then assented with the exception of Doctor Lang, William Glen and George Corbet. About seventeen years later these gentlemen took the initiative in organizing the Leith congregation.

The first school house at Annan, a log building, was built in the summer of 1847, on the southeast corner of the lot where the present day school stands. The services, which had hitherto been continuously conducted at William Telfer’s, were transferred to this building as soon as it was finished, and the first sacrament ever observed by the congregation was held there. On May 9th, 1849, a congregation was at last organized on the Lake Shore Line, and was united with that of Sydenham. The two had a joint Session, but each had its own board of management. On the 1st of June of that year the Reverend John McKinnon was inducted as pastor of the two congregations, the service consequent thereto being held at Sydenham. The sacrement above referred to was dispensed by Mr. McKinnon.

The Reverend John McKinnon was remembered as a man of exceptionally high character, rather than for any marked ability in exposition of the scriptures. One incident in his ministry was long afterward remembered, and is worth recounting. He was a great temperance enthusiast and had at all times the courage of his, at the time, unpopular convictions. Hoping to organize a total abstinence society at Annan, he called a meeting of the congregation pursuant to that purpose. Long and earnestly he expatiated upon what was evidently a favorite theme, and was listened to in stony yet respectful silence. After he had finished one or two of the more influential members rose and in the plainest terms, without any circumlocution whatsoever, informed the minister that his intention was a distasteful one to all of them. He was further advised to drop the subject at once, if he valued his peace of mind. There was no mistaking the spirit of those present, not one of whom would consent to sign the pledge, and the minister, wisely or unwisely just as the reader will view it, abandoned the idea at once. Mr. McKinnon was only guilty of anticipating the march of progress, as we shall presently see.

The arrangement between the two congregations was continued for three years, and was dissolved with the consent of all concerned. A misunderstanding had arisen in the Lake Shore congregation over Mr. McKinnon’s salary. Several members whose zeal, or possibly thoughtlessness, had outrun their discretion, subscribed to his stipend, and when the hour for payment arrived failed, in popular parlance, to come across. Mr. McKinnon thought the deficiency thus incurred should be made good by members who had already paid their subscriptions. They, on the other hand, could not see it in that light. Ultimately he severed his connection with the congregation, when it parted company with Sydenham. This was a matter of general regret, as he had been held in the highest personal esteem. While at Annan he visited the members of his flock regularly, and was accustomed to question the families in the Shorter Catechism and expound Scripture at length.

The Annan people then abandoned the Free Church. In July, 1852, they petitioned the Presbytery of Wellington, of the United Presbyterian Church, to be received into their connection and the petition was granted. The same year the Scottish Lowlanders and Irish were organized into a United Presbyterian Church. They continued holding services in the school house. Their ranks were steadily growing. Shortly after Mr. McKinnon’s departure a sacrament was held in Gideon Harkness’ barn, the school house being deemed too small to accommodate the worshippers. At this sacrament the Reverend M. Devine, a mulatto who afterwards settled at Meaford, officiated. Another sacrament, held about a year later, was partaken of in William Telfer’s barn. We leave it with the reader to imagine the feelings of an ultra-fashionable Presbyterian congregation, in the year of grace 1924, were they asked to observe sacrament in a bam. Another proof of the growth of the congregation at this time, is the fact that at one service eight infants were baptized.

A period of probationers now ensued. Among them were the Reverends Sutherland, Barr, Dunbar, Dees, Carruthers, and an Irishman whose name seems to be forgotten. This last mentioned always began service with the 121st Psalm, which he read in a broad Irish accent. These probationers generally stayed at the home of James Ross, Sr., and at each time while there this Irishman asked a daughter in the home to cut his hair, which she did on two occasions. Doubtless the accommodation was highly appreciated, as barbers at the time were scarce— almost as scarce as ready cash. There is an old tradition that on more than one occasion adult members attended the services barefooted.

One of the probationers, a young man with a stentorian voice, would have been given a call but he had promised to go elsewhere. In September, 1853, the congregation called Dr. Torrance, of Guelph, who declined. The same year the Division Street church of Owen Sound was organized on a petition signed by thirteen persons, and for purposes of supply it was connected with the Annan congregation. This union was short lived, being dissolved in January, 1855. Both congregations in the following March extended a call to the Reverend Mr. Glassford. These calls were largely signed in both places, but both were declined. The Annan people had now been three years on a more or less uncertain supply, and the situation had grown very unsatisfactory. Their numbers were steadily on the increase. The whole length of the Lake Shore, as well as many from the Irish Block, attended service at the Annan School House. Michael Fettis, who lived some distance below Johnstone, attended regularly.

At last, in August, 1855, the Reverend Robert Dewar was extended a call, which was signed by fifty members and thirteen adherents. The stipend offered was eighty pounds per annum. The first four signers were David Armstrong, Andrew Sibbald, William Telfer and Gideon Harkness. James Ross, Sr., refused to sign. The call was accepted and Mr. Dewar was ordained and inducted in October, 1855. He had served as a probationer for one year in Scotland before coming to Canada, and was the first minister of Lake Shore Line, as a separate and selfsupporting unit of the Presbyterian Church. The occasion was an auspicious one for the congregation, we may be sure. The aforementioned Dr. Torrance and a Reverend Mr. Fayette officiated at the service.

In 1854 a frame church was erected on the cemetery lot, opened four years previously. This cemetery is adjacent to the village, in the southwest direction. The new church stood on the southwest corner of the lot. Contracts were called for and five bids were submitted, the building to be 45 x 35, without plastering, seating or painting. The successful contractor was Oswald Hines, a brother-in-law of Hugh Reid, who bid eighty-five pounds, twelve shillings. One bid was for one hundred thirty-eight pounds, ten shillings, and three others were within one pound of that figure, so there had been a wide discrepancy in calculation. While in course of erection, one day, the carpenters being at dinner, the roof was blown off when partly shingled. The framework collapsed in the same wind, and it was not rebuilt until a year later. On the first day of raising, in 1854, Mr. Hinds failed to put in an appearance and the assembly, in preference to returning home, drilled themselves into putting together the frame. "For the people had a mind to work.”

The following list of members is of the year 1855, and taken from the communion rolls of that period, to wit : Daniel Lamont, Andrew Sibbald, Mrs. Elliot, George Reid, James Ross, Sr., William Thomson, David Armstrong, Robert Armstrong, John White, William Brown, George Nesbit, Martin Cathrae, William Lamb, William P. Telford, Sr., Ellen Harkness, Mrs. Thomas Maynard, Andrew Biggar, Walter Hope, Gideon Harkness, Hugh Reid, John Couper, John Turnbull, William Riddell, Roger Lamont, Michael Fettis, Walter Aitken, Duncan Campbell, William Osborne, Charles Armstrong, Walter Beattie, James Armstrong, John Skeeling, William J. MacLean, Thomas Harkness, Sr., John Brown, John Wyllie, John Harkness. All the males in this list were married men, and the names of their wives appear with them. The following names of widowers and unmarried men also appear on the rolls : Robert Easton, John Hutson, Robert White and Andrew Beattie. All the members of this congregation have since passed away.

The new church had an interior feature common to all Scottish churches, a precentor’s box in front of the pulpit. The names of the various precentors have not been preserved but James Ross, Jr., and John Couper were among them. The Leith Presbyterian Church, built ten years later, also had a precentor’s box. James Ross, Jr., became a regular attendant there as soon as it was finished, and officiated as precentor for twenty-three years, or until 1888. Until that date, hymns were rarely or never used in the Sunday services of either congregation.

The following gentlemen had served on the building committee of the Presbyterian Church at Annan : Gideon Harkness, W. Wyllie, Andrew Sibbald, John Couper, Hugh Reid, Andrew Biggar and James Ross, Sr. In 1856 the building of a manse was decided on and the building committee in this case consisted of Messrs. R. Armstrong, John Couper, Hugh Reid, Gideon Harkness, W. P. Telford, George Nesbit and David Armstrong. The manse, a frame building standing opposite the brick church erected in 1882, was built at a cost of one hundred and sixty-five pounds, fifteen shillings. It appears little the worse after sixty-eight years of wear and tear.

In November, 1855, the Session then consisting of Rev. Mr. Dewar, James Ross and David Armstrong, two more elders were added, in the persons of William Brown and John Couper. They were ordained in February of 1856. In October, 1857, Walter Hope, William Thomson, Gideon Harkness and Michael Fettis were added to the Session and ordained as elders. Mr. Dewar was given a vacation in this year, to attend the Synod and rest up for future exertions. The congregation was at this time carrying a debt of $890., which seems moderate in view of their expenditure in building. A plan of payment was agreed upon by the members, and.some improvements were effected at the manse. Early in 1858 an exchange of pulpits between Mr. Grant, of Chalmers’ Church, Owen Sound, and Mr. Dewar was agreed upon. Chalmers’ Church was of the Free Kirk persuasion and the Annan Church, United Presbyterian. It was expected this exchange of pulpits would promote the sentiment of union between these two bodies of Presbyterians in Canada. About two years later this Union became an accomplished fact.

The Annan congregation has always been most liberal in its support of the various schemes of the parent body, and in assisting less fortunate congregations. As early as 1856, it was agreed that an annual collection be taken up for foreign missions. In that day when money was so scarce, it is gratifying to know that they managed to find some to spend upon others than themselves. Later, in 1877, they sent a liberal donation to Warton, to help the Presbyterians there in the building of a church. They observed their first Thanksgiving Day on a Sunday set apart by themselves, in November, 1859.

It was in January of 1877 the movement began for the union of the Leith and Annan congregations. In this year Mr. Dewar, who was then in the twenty-second year of his ministry, retired with an allowance of two hundred dollars per annum and the life’s use of the manse he then occupied.

When Mr. Dewar accepted the call from Annan in 1855 his wife was still in Scotland. She came to Canada to rejoin her husband in 1856, with her infant son James ; in the interim he boarded with members of his congregation in Leith. Mrs. Dewar arrived at Leith by one of the early steamboats and was standing on the deck with the Captain, her infant in her arms, when the huge batteau then used to bring passengers ashore was pulled up alongside the steamer by two of the villagers. She was naturally interested in the occupants of the batteau, and, looking down at them, voiced her relief to the captain, saying that as she had come to live among these people she was glad to see they did not look like savages. Such incidents bring home to one the realization that the world was a large place in that day and time, and Scotland a long way from Canada. Some gross misconceptions of Canada still persisted in the Old Land, and they died hard.

Mr. Dewar was a man of extensive learning and very considerable parts. He took many pupils during his regime at Annan whose early education had been limited owing to pressure of work or lack of means, and was active in educational affairs in Owen Sound and the Lake Shore Line. His own advantages in that respect had been of the best, and he was particularly proficient in the higher mathematics. His sermons were undeviatingly of the expository order; he had only a sort of amused tolerance for the topical variety of discourse. In this, it may be ventured, he sometimes preached a trifle over the heads of the congregation, but everywhere and at all times he preached sound and orthodox Presbyterian doctorine. His judgement in secular matters was good, and in the pulpit he presented a scholarly and dignified appearance. He sometimes had a critical audience, his discourses each Sunday frequently being subjects for reflection and discussion among the members of his flock until the following Lord’s Day. Religion and affairs of the church occupied a large part in the daily life of the pioneer Presbyterians. Family worship was observed every day in almost every home at Leith and Annan, and the sanctity of the Sabbath was more highly regarded then than now. Both of these duties were constantly inculcated by Mr. Dewar. When the union between the congregations at Annan and Leith was consummated he was rapidly losing his eyesight. Latterly he become totally blind. He died at Annan in 1893, and is buried in the cemetery there, his wife having predeceased him by about twenty-three years.

The large brick church now in use at Annan was built in 1882, its building having been decided on at a meeting held in January of that year. One of the most liberal subscribers to the building fund was the Reverend John Mordy, then pastor of the combined Leith and Annan churches. He resigned in midsummer of that year to accept a call to Walkerton, while the church was about half completed, but faithfully carried out his financial obligation. A few years later the old church was razed, and the space it covered in the cemetery was used for burial plots.

This cemetery was opened in 1850, and seems to have been the first ground regularly devoted to such a service in Sydenham. The price of the burial plots was fixed at one dollar and the names of the first takers follow:

Duncan Campbell, Walter Campbell, Neil Morrison, John Robinson, Thomas Rutherford, Doctor Scott, George Reid, John Sutherland, David Wilson, Thomas Armstrong, William Telfer, Duncan Morrison, Duncan M. Calhoun, Robert Lamont, William Thomson, George Day, John Day. Archie MacArthur, Dougald MacArthur and John Whitchill.

The subsoil is stony and a more unfavorable spot for the grave digger could hardly have been chosen. William Telfer, a brother of John Telfer, acted in that capacity for many years. In recent years a large extension, owing to the accessions of the silent majority, has been made to it, and a gratifying spirit shown in improving and beautifying the surroundings. As the last sanctuary of so many brave hearted pioneers it is worthy of all such honors. There is an old tradition that the first burials were made difficult by the graves flooding with water. The first funeral to the new cemetery was of one of the Armstrong family, at that time one of the best known in Sydenham. (This statement may possibly be subject to correction.)

Until 1859 the people of Leith and Concession A all went regularly to the services at Annan. In that year, however, a frame school house was built at Leith, and religious services began to be held in it. There was no regularly organized congregation and no regular ministerial supply, but on some occasions Mr. Thom, an itinerant Presbyterian preacher, held occasional meetings. On others, the Reverend George MacGrafftey, the incumbent of the Baptist pastorate at Owen Sound, was heard. The latter gentleman was a prime favorite with the old and young of both denominations at Leith, and was always assured of a crowed house at the services he held.

In the spring of 1864 Alexander Hunter came to Leith. He was then a student probationer for the Presbyterian Church in Canada in connection with the Church of Scotland, and in the following July active steps were taken in the organization of such a congregation. Doctor William Lang and Messrs George Corbet, William Glen and Adam Ainslie were among the leaders in this movement. The first congregational meeting was held in the school house, on July 20th. On motion M. MacDowell and William Lang were elected chairman and secretary pro tem respectively. It was then moved by Thomas Brown and seconded by Donald Cameron that the congregation do extend a call to the Reverend Alexander Hunter, B. A., to become their pastor and guide, which motion carried. The secretary pro tem was instructed to cooperate with William Johnstone of the Johnstone congregation in requesting the Presbytery to moderate in the call, and also to notify Mr. Hunter with the proceedings of the meeting. James Clark was elected a manager of the congregation, and the meeting adjourned.

At a second meeting of the congregation, held on January 5th, 1865, Mr. Hunter having been ordained on October 27th, 1864, it was moved by John Harkness and seconded by Donald Cameron that James Ross, Jr., be chairman of the congregation for the current year, and the following members were, also upon motion, duly elected as managers of the church for 1865 : Thomas Rutherford, Dugald Spence, James Clark, John Crawford, James Gibson, Sr., Allan Ross, Donald Cameron and John Harkness. James Ross was also elected secretary treasurer, and was instructed to purchase the necessary books. Allan Ross, James Gibson, Sr., and John Harkness, all mechanics in the building trades by the way, were appointed a committee to investigate and report upon the estimated amount of money required to build a church, and the meeting adjourned.

The new minister being an enthusiast upon the project of a new church, and giving church members no rest until the enterprise was undertaken, a second meeting was held in January, same year, to devise plans to that end. John Harkness was at this meeting authorized to enter into any agreement suitable to himself with A. M. Stephens in regard to the quality of the bricks. James Ross, Jr., the secretary treasurer, was ordered to pay Mr. Harkness ninety dollars to enable that gentleman to make the first payment to A. M. Stephens on thirty thousand bricks at four dollars and fifty cents a thousand. Thomas Rutherford was instructed to purchase 1000 feet of lumber to protect the bricks, and the meeting adjourned.

The church was accordingly erected in the summer of 1865, and has ever since served the Leith congregation through its changing fortunes. It is a brick building of a very considerable size for that time, plain but substantial, its most remarkable feature being the immense width of the dressed pine used in making the seats. What would the country’s lumber dealers not give to have such pine now! Mr. Hunter was at this time in the meridian of his physical powers, and his activity that summer must have been tremendous. All of the work that could be done by members of the congregation was performed by them, with the minister constantly in the forefront of operations. He had, in addition to his labors at Leith, the congregation at Johnstone to minister to, the two having been united with the coming of Mr. Hunter to Leith in 1864. The fiftieth anniversary service of the Leith Church was observed in August, 1916, the minister officiating being the Reverend John Ross, of Boston, Mass., since deceased. Mr. Ross was the son of the first secretary-treasurer of the Leith congregation.

The minute book of the congregation, purchased in 1864, and which is still doing active duty, has been religiously followed in the foregoing, but there is no further report, for some reason, of the annual meetings until that of 1871. There is a full record of the minutes of a special meeting held January 15th, 1866, however, at which plans were made for a monster soiree, or “swarry” as Sam Weller would call it, to mark the opening of the new church. The following persons were named, on motion, as a committee of management for this “swarry”: William Keefer, George Jolley, Henry Lang, William Gibson, Robert Crawford, James Reid, James MacDowell, William Veitch, Malcolm MacNeil, Hugh C. Ross, Matthew Alexander, Alex. Ainslie and Henry Rixon. The managers of the Church were added to this committee, and Mr. Hunter was on motion requested to wait on Adam Ainslie, Esq., to ascertain if he would consent to act as chairman, a request that was kindly acceded to. The Reverend Robert Dewar of Annan was extended a special invitation to be present, the most polite punctilio always being observed between congregations of the time in such matters. There is no written record of the celebration itself, but from stories told of it that have become traditional, the event must have been one that was long remembered.

The opening of the Church and four years that followed it marked the halcyon days of the Leith congregation. The personal magnetism of Mr. Hunter, combined with certain other circumstances, were factors that made the attendance at services larger than at any subsequent time in the congregation’s history. From the home of Doctor Lang, near Manders Corners, down to that of James Gibson, Sr., on Concession A, a distance of nearly ten miles, every family with only one or two exceptions attended. Many families on the Lake Shore Line also made it their place of worship. The church was filled to over-flowing every Sunday, summer and winter. The village had about this time reached its peak in both prosperity and population, and many of their Baptist brethern joined the Presbyterians in divine service there every Sunday. The Johnstone congregation also seems to have flourished at the time. The minister of course had troubles all his own. There were backsliders in such a large flock, some of whom must have weighed upon his spirits, but never once did a word of annoyance pass his lips in speaking about them to others of his congregation. To his zeal and earnestness, to his indefatigable and energetic industry, there was added a patience and forbearance not always to be found with the first named qualities, and at which men marvelled for long after he had gone.

Alexander Hunter was born in Glasgow, on June 16th, 1828, and shortly after his birth his parents moved to the neighborhood of the village of Lanark, where he received the elements of his education. He had the Scottish characteristic of a thirst for knowledge and in spite of the difficulties of his situation—a life of labor in which he had to rise early and sit late—he cultivated his naturally strong powers of observation and mastered an extraordinary amount of general information, which in later years served him in good stead. When admitted as a member to the Presbyterian Church of Montrose Street, Glasgow, the Reverend Mr. McGill, who then presided over it, said that in all his experience as a minister he had never examined one who had attained to such a degree in secular and Christian knowledge.

He was the third in a family of ten sons and two daughters and with the family immigrated to Canada in 1842, settling on a farm in Wellington County. They faced the hardships and privations shared by all settlers in a new land, but after years of hard labor they raised them-.selves to a position of independence and influence in the .neighborhood. The death of his father, a worthy and God-fearing- man, took place in 1846, and it was shortly after this he conceived the idea of entering- the Christian ministry, being urged to such a decision by the Reverend Duncan Morrison, of Knox Church, Owen Sound. That decision once taken, there was no turning back. He prosecuted his theological studies with an enthusiasm that carried him through every difficulty, won honors in every year of his college course and, in the final examinations in Theological Hall, won the highest distinction in the gift of the Senate of that institution, the degree of Bachelor of Divinity. Out of a maximum number of five hundred marks, Mr. Hunter stood highest in taking four hundred and twenty-five, or nearly seven-eights. His nearest competitor was Mr. Smith, afterwards Presbyterian minister at Belleville, who had four hundred and twenty-three. Upon some technicality, however, which has never been clearly explained, the Senate refused to grant the degree he had so nobly and honestly won. This was a keen disappointment to him, although few ever guessed it from the composure with which he referred to the incident. Had he lived Mr. Hunter would undoubtedly have risen to the highest honors that can be bestowed by that great branch of the Protestant Church in Canada, whose tenets and doctrines he so ably championed before the people. Men do not come to such honors as Mr. Hunter won in his studies by mere chance. Regardless of their natural ability it takes unflagging industry and brain-sweat to accomplish such results.

His coming to Leith as a student and his ordination to the ministry have already been referred to. During his pastorate the Johnstone Church was built, largely by reason of the agitation he carried on with that end in view. This church was torn down a few years ago and replaced with a thoroughly modern brick one, and since its building the Johnstone congregation has taken a new lease of enthusiasm In fact, Mr. Hunter’s labors in Leith and Johnstone were singularly blessed, and the evidence of such a bountiful harvest in that portion of the vineyard entrusted to his care must often have rejoiced his heart.

Late in September, 1869, Mr. Hunter was stricken with disease, which made its first appearance on a Sunday, when he had great difficulty in finishing the services. The fever from which he suffered soon ran its fatal course. On October 11th he came to the end of all things earthly; his passing was marked by a calm resignation and the highest Christian fortitude. A high minded gentleman, a splendid citizen, a devoted husband and father, “good without effort, great without a foe,” went to his eternal reward. He died in his forty-second year and in the fifth year of his ministry, survived by his widow and two young sons.

Three days later the last obsequies took place. The Reverend Duncan Morrison, with whom Mr. Hunter had been closely associated for many years, was asked to preach the funeral sermon and consented. He chose for his text 2nd Timothy, 4th chapter, 6th, 7th and 8th verses: “1 have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness,” etc., and expatiated in a very striking manner on the shining example of the deceased. Mr. Hunter had ministered to a people who had a characteristic Scottish horror of a scene and took a sort of sullen pride in concealing their feelings, but as the service proceeded it became evident their emotions were profoundly stirred. To every one of them came the sense of personal loss—the loss of a tried friend and trusted counsellor who had been a very present help in time of trouble.

The day was quiet and peaceful as is the wont of our weather in mid-October. At the conclusion of the service the remains of the congregation’s first minister were, within a few yards of the church where he had labored so faithfully and with such signal success, laid away in the last resting place which awaits us all, “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.”

In 1871 a movement was started by the congregation to erect a suitable monument to his memory, and a subscription list for this laudable purpose was circulated there and in the Johnstone congregation as well. The result was that in due time a marble shaft, about twelve feet high, was raised on the burial plot, the cost of which was about three hundred dollars. On the square marble block surmounting the base are four tablets, one of which bears the name of the deceased, with his theological degrees and the facts relative to his life, ministry and death. The one directly opposite bears the following inscription:

Mr. Hunter was a man greatly beloved, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, and long to be remembered by his people, among whom he labored with an affection that never wearied and that shone brightest at the close.

The authorship of this deserved tribute to his memory has, whether correctly or not, also been attributed to the Reverend Duncan Morrison. Regardless of this however, it reflects accurately the sentiments cherished by his people toward one whose memory still flourishes green among their children, a memory constantly reminding us that

Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.

If ever a man adorned the high calling wherewith he was called, that man was the Reverend Alexander Hunter. Such a death is surely a triumph, when one leaves behind him a remembrance that is blessed of all men. As one of the beacon lights in England’s literature said of her greatest naval hero; “Thus it is that the spirits of the great and just continue to live and to act after them.”

The site of the Church, and the commodious and beautiful ground for the cemetry which immediately surrounds it, had been very generously presented to the congregation in 1864 by Mr. Adam Ainslie. The subsoil is sandy but admirably adapted to the growth of evergreens and other ornamental trees. The price of burial plots was first fixed at $2.00, the names of the first nineteen purchasers being as follows : Matthew Alexander, Arthur Cameron, Richard Alexander, David Butchart, Mrs. William Glen, James Gibson, Mr. Fawcett, David MacDowell, John Crawford, Allan Graham, Henry Lang, John Mathieson, William Jolley, Mrs. Jolley, James S. Wilson, Daniel Cameron, Peter Burr and Charles Lemon. The first interment was that of a Miss Marshall, of one of the earliest and most favorably known families among the settlers in the village.

One of the senses in which Mr. Hunter’s demise had been a genuine calamity to the congregation was soon in in evidence. A congregational meeting was held, in 1870, to consider the question of a call to his successor. The matter soon resolved itself into a choice between two candidates, Messrs. MacDonald and Rogers. The line of difference in opinion was sharply drawn. Mr. MacDonald was an eloquent preacher and had many estimable personal qualities as well, marred, however, by one failing. To put it bluntly, he was too fond of booze. The Rogers division, enthusiastic and determined, were in a decided majority; Mr. MacDonald’s admirers, fewer in numbers but just as enthusiastic and determined as their opponents, followed the able leadership of William Lang. These latter were disposed to view Mr. MacDonald’s ancient Scottish failing with a lenient eye. At last, after long discussion, Mr. Lang proposed a compromise-'‘It is clear,” he said, “we shall never be agreed. Let us discard both of these gentlemen, continue to hear probationers, and by and by we will find some other one upon whom we are all agreed.” But the majority, standing upon its rights as a majority, was firm. Mr. Rogers was given a call, and one of the consequences of that call was that the Leith congregation lost about a third of its membership. The families Lang and Spence on Concession A. and Lamont, Mathieson and MacKay on the Lake Shore Line, to mention a few among many, either dropped their membership, quit regular attendance, or attended only occasionally.

The congregation still remained a large one, however. The Reverend Edward B. Rogers was inducted, and it was everywhere admitted the Leith and Johnstone congregations had the best pulpit orator in the Owen Sound Presbytery. He was a model of diligence and burned the midnight oil, memorizing all his sermons until he was letter perfect. His housekeeper used to hear him tramping the floor of his study until after midnight, declaiming and occasionally stopping to correct himself. He was a tea drinking bachelor, and it says little for the fair enslavers of Leith they allowed him to remain one until after his departure. But he paid little attention to visiting as a pastoral duty and his congregation never warmed to him as they had to Mr. Hunter. In 1876 he received a call from the Kilsyth congregation. After his departure the question of severing the connection with Johnstone and uniting with Annan became a live issue. After several protracted sessions, at which the Reverend John Somerville acted as Moderator, the articles of the Basis of Union with Annan were accepted by both congregations and they were united under one minister early in 1877. They have so continued ever since.

We have already passed the period covered by the scope of this narrative, but the successive ministers after the union with Annan may be briefly touched upon. The Reverend Robert Dewar retired from the Lake Shore Line Church and the Reverend Mr. Forest was the first joint minister of the two congregations. His health broke down after he had been in charge about nine months. The Reverend John Mordy was given a call in 1878 and ministered until July. 1882. In 1883, after the new brick church had been built at Annan and a number of probationers had been heard, Dr. James B. Frazer, formerly a missionary in Formosa, was called, and inducted early in the following year. His long and eminently successful regime extended over a period upwards of thirty years and he still flourishes in a vigorous old age in Owen Sound, with the heartiest wishes for his welfare of his old congregations at Leith and Annan. These good people next tried a young man, a Mr. Jones, who after preaching a few years with great acceptance, resigned in the spring of 1919 to go to Priceville. He was succeeded by the Reverend Arthur Orr, the present incumbent, and it is now time to take leave of the Presbyterian congregation at Leith. It is now sadly shrunken in numbers, owing to circumstances which they or anybody else cannot control. We live under an industrial system that sucks the life out of the rural districts and bestows it upon the cities. Perhaps it is for the best, but one who remembers the palmy days of these same rural communities finds it hard to accept the change.

Our attention will now be turned to the Baptist congregations of Leith and Daywood, congregations which, sometimes under the most trying circumstances, have shown the most wonderful vitality. In 1869 “a spirit heightened above the ordinary spirit of man” pervaded the lower end of the Lake Shore Line. A season of great spiritual revival seemed suddenly to spread over the whole neighborhood, in the unaccountable manner in which such seasons sometimes come. There were a few earnest souls who were not slow to take advantage of it. A Baptist student then laboring at Cape Rich came up to Daywood several times and preached, his efforts being ably seconded by Hiram Vanwyck and George Cameron. His name was Robert Ross ; he was familiar with two languages, speaking the Highland Scottish Gaelic fluently, a fact by which he at once won his way into the hearts of the Highlanders of the Lake Shore. He spoke in the two languages alternately at service, and his labors were signally blessed, but unfortunately he had to return to Woodstock to finish his studies. A young man named Putman was then sent into the field by the Home Missions Board. He carried on the meetings with great success, having the occasional and highly valuable help of a gentleman familiarly known as Father MacIntyre, of Stayner, also the Reverend James Coots, of Wiarton, and the Reverend Donald MacNeil of Paisley. As a result of the united efforts of these Christain gentlemen, the Daywood congregation was organized with a membership of thirty-one, fifteen of whom were received by experience, and sixteen upon profession of conversion. All were baptized on Sunday,. June 20th, 1869, with the exception of two members, William MacIntyre and James Wilson, who had been baptized the previous March at Leith. On the following Sunday, January 27th, eight more were received and baptized upon the profession of their faith and on July 4th, a week later, ten were added to the growing congregation, following their Lord in baptism. Later in the same year two more were added to the church, one by baptism and the other by experience, and a remarkably successful year was closed.

Naturally such a growing body was confronted by the need of a place of worship. The project was led by Deacon George Cameron, who was tireless in his labors of collecting money for a new building, selecting the material and overseeing matters generally, altho others must be given their due share of credit. The new church went up in 1870, and stands on the northwest side of the Lake Shoie Line a few miles below Annan, being opened the same year. It is a plain yet substantial frame building, and' is still doing active service.

In the meantime the Reverend Robert Ross, having finished his studies and obtained his degree, returned to the Daywood field and filled the pulpit with great acceptance until 1873, four members being added to the congregation under his pastorate in 1871, and three in the two years following. Mr. Ross resigned in 1873 and the Reverend William MacDiarmid succeeded him. He was a general favorite and his resignation in the spring of 1874 was a matter for the same kind of regret. He was followed by Mr. Bosworth, a student, who has since gained eminence as the secretary of the Baptist Mission Board at Grand Ligne, Quebec. Mr. Gower, another student, followed in 1875 and that summer there were ten accessions to the congregation. The Reverend William Reese came about New Year of 1876 and remained until the following year, when the Reverend George Day became pastor, also remaining a year. The Reverend A. Austin was then furnished as supply until the spring of 1880 when a student, Mr. Corkery, came for about six months, during which seven more were added to the church on profession of faith. Another student, J. H. Doolittle, followed Mr. Corkery, and he in turn was followed by Robert Garside, also a student. Mr. Garside was a man of pure character and the highest Christian ideals, and he left the imprint of them not only on his congregation but on the whole community. In later years he returned to the scenes of his former labors, once as a lecturer, and was always warmly greeted by former friends of both denominations. During his stay two more were added to the church. Then followed a period when the members seem to have been left pretty much to their own resources. All the members took part in the services, either in prayer or in the giving of testimony, their leader being Deacon George Cameron. In 1884 they obtained the services of William Barker, a student who, under divine guidance, was largely instrumental in organizing a new Baptist congregation at Morley. He resigned in 1885 and went to Meaford, and the Rev. Mr. Vansickle followed him. It was his pleasure in the summer of 1886 to welcome nine new members into his flock. Mr. Vansickle is remembered by many for his splendid voice, which he used with great effect in evangelical work in duets with his life’s partner, also a remarkably fine singer. About this time an adjustment of the congregations in Daywood, Woodford, Morley, Bayview, Cape Rich and Leith was found to be necessary. Daywood, Woodford and Leith were placed under the one charge, to which the Reverend Alexander Gay was called as pastor, Mr. Vansickle going to Morley. Mr. Gay was pastor at Daywood until late in 1888.

Since the last named date the following gentlemen, in the order indicated, have filled the pastorate in the congregations of which Daywood is the centre, namely; Cunnings, Sheldon, Nimmo, McQuarrie, Haines, Allen, Desson, Catchpole, Currie, Langton, Proudfoot, Schofield and the present pastor, the Reverend Younger. These churches have always been partially dependent for supply upon the Home Missions Board, and changes were on that account frequent. From his patronymic it will be guessed that Mr. Currie was a Scotsman. He was, and a worthy one too. Mr. Proudfoot also hailed from the land of the mountain and the flood. He was one of the young men of the ministry who answered the call to arms in the Great War. The Reverend Mr. Desson was a favorite with his legion of friends—not a man of brilliant parts or surpassing eloquence, but universally liked for his unassuming, companionable ways and irreproachable character.

In 1913 the Leith congregation, by a spirit of self sacrifice seldom found in congregations in the large cities, were able to erect a comfortable brick church on the corner of Princes Street and the Leith Walk. The building is not a large one but is amply so for the congregation’s needs. Their stedfast zeal in upholding the faith as it was delivered unto them by their fathers reminds one instinctively of the Auld Licht congregations in Thrums, whom J. M. Barrie has immortalized in his “Auld Licht Idyll’s.”

The real origin of the Baptist congregation at Daywood, however, is found in the person of Mr. Peter Day, who was born in the Baptist faith in New Bruinswick and came to the Lake Shore Line in 1845, settling on Lot 26, Concession B. He was the earliest progenitor of the family bearing the name, whose ramifications and alliances have since extended so widely, and as he lived until his ninetieth year Grandpa Day, as was the cognomen everywhere bestowed upon him, became one of the best known characters in the township. One of his gifts was an extraordinarily powerful voice. A story is told of him going to a raising shortly after he came into the neighborhood, and before this peculiarity of his was generally known. At these barn raisings a man was always set apart to give the word to heave when a bent was raised, and at this raising Grandpa Day was detailed for the duty. When all was ready he mounted a stick of timber back from the raising gang a few feet, raised his arm and with the full force of his lungs let forth a roaring “Yo heave” that made the best efforts of the bulls of Bashan sound like a pig’s whisper. The men on the pike poles were so startled by this unlooked for explosion that the bent went up in record time.

He was followed to the Lake Shore Line a few years later by Mr. Stephen Cameron, who also came from the Maritime Provinces. Mr. Cameron, beside being a famous axeman, was a disciple of St. Crispin as well and made shoes for the Lake Shore Line generally in the days when factory shoes were yet unknown. When the Baptist congregation at Daywood was organized a large proportion of the charter members bore the name of Day, and the Camerons were not far behind.

The relations between the two denominations represented at Leith, Annan and Daywood have, generally speaking, been always of the most amicable character. This is certainly as it should be, and hoping they will so continue we will take leave of them both. No attempt will be made to sketch the history of these churches in the last twenty-five years. The events in connection therewith are still familiar to the minds of all who will be interested in such a narrative as the present one, and will in time doubtless be taken care of by someone whose ability as a chronicler is much greater than our own. The aim kept constantly in view has been the giving of all the facts in connection with the very beginnings of things, that resulted in the organizations of these various congregations. Even in that it has been far from as successful as one would wish.


Return to our History of Ontario

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast