Knox Presbyterian overflowed at 1911 opening

 In Community

2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the construction of the first church building for the congregation of Knox Presbyterian, an integral part of the community of Dunedin. Following is second of a short series of portraitures describing our collective community history, in particular this congregation’s journey. This article begins with the inauguration of the first church. 

In the summer of 1868 amidst a torrential downpour the, new 28’ by 40’ Greek revival style Presbyterian Church at Dunedin was filled beyond capacity for the inaugural service of ordination. 

Many community homes were taxed for the night’s accommodation. 

The Reverend James Greenfield, who had served diligently for six years as circuit minister, was delayed having turned back for his pulpit bible. The impatient Celtic styled congregation asked guest speaker Rev. Taylor of the neighbouring Glen Huron Methodist denomination, to now open service with the singing of the Psalms, a practice unfamiliar to him. In reciprocation Rev. Greenfield had been previously invited to dedicate the new Methodist church, both denominations being supportive of each other. Record of the order of service uniquely depicted the Presbyterian theology of the period. 

On the departure of Rev. Greenfield to Scotland in 1871, the congregation struggled between alignment with “free” (evangelical, 1830s “disruption” supportive of elected clergy but opposed to instrumental music) vs “Auld Kirk” (origins, the 6th century Celtic church of St. Columba). 

An uneasy association began with the Free Presbyterians with the election of much needed elders under Rev. Rogers of Collingwood. Following lengthy discussion and a heated telegraph with the Presbytery of Simcoe, Dunedin transitioned to Auld Kirk within the Presbytery of Toronto on Jan. 5, 1872, intended to share charge with Purple Hill (a predecessor of today’s St. Andrew’s Maple Cross, Creemore) but rather, on May 15, Rev. Ferguson was inducted under the newly formed charge of Singhampton, Dunedin and Osprey. 

By 1875 both factions reunited in Canada under the Union of Presbyterianism, bringing another charge and a succession of ministers, now within the Presbytery of Barrie in what would become the largest church denomination in Canada. The communion roll increased greatly, a Sabbath school, a “Singing” school, a choir and a Young Peoples Guild thrived. The first bellow organ was “admitted as an aid to the service” in March 1891. By 1900 the congregation was too large for the modest sanctuary and under the leadership of an active Session including Rev. Dr. Craw it was decided to build a new larger church.

A three-quarter-acre allotment was donated by neighbouring saw mill owner J. C. Jackson. On June 14, 1910 the corner stone of the new church was laid with a silver trowel by Colonel John A. Currie MP for North Simcoe. Entombed within, a church history, an issue of The Creemore Star and a one dollar bill. Local builder Mr. Alma Scarrow, masons and carpenters utilized hewn lumber, trim, hardwood flooring, window and door sashes, lime plaster, even the sand used to mix the concrete from the resources of the Noisy River valley. Brick and concrete originated within 15 miles. Purchased were stained glass, six hanging spring loaded oil lamp fixtures and custom shaped oak pews. Funds raised from the ladies quilt auction purchased the original green carpeting installed by the same hands along the oak floored isles. Pulpit chairs, choir chairs, podium pulpit, offering plates, hymn board, linens, wall frescos incorporating the image of the burning bush, all donated, most were lovingly hand crafted by members. From the original church came the communion table, the silver common communion service jointly used by the congregations of East Nottawasaga, West Nottawasaga Purple Hill and Dunedin, the re-fitted gallery pews, the organ and the wood fired cast iron box stove in the church hall originally donated by Rev. Greenfield, rumored to have once belonged to Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim Simcoe. The new church also included a bell tower, installing the community bell, previously stationed at the north end of the village some 75 years prior and regularly rung to mark the time of day.  

The completed Knox Presbyterian Church and shed buildings officially opened on Jan. 22, 1911 to over-capacity crowds. So great was attendance to the event that two sets of double services were held in the sanctuary and hall, then repeated that same evening. Following the final service, the new church overflowed once again for a fowl supper executed in shifts, serving more than 600 guests. 

These were heady days in small farm communities like Dunedin. By 1900, the 100-acre farm had prospered with substantial second-generation houses and barns, for family often greater than eight in number. More than 80 per cent of the population of Canada was rural and economically strong. Trains provided transit and commercial opportunities stoking the economic engine that was rural Ontario. The church was the faith, cultural centre, collective pride and joy of the community. There seemed no end to prosperity. This would all change with the onset of war.

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