Now The United Church
by Walter Billings
The Presbyterians of the Lyn district held their first service in the ball-room of the Brownton Hotel. It was conducted by the Rev. William Smart, who was one of the pioneers of religion. A Sunday school was organized by Mr. Smart and Adiel Sherwood, who was sheriff of Brockville. Services were held occasionally in the Methodist Church and later in Pergau’s Hall, until a church was built.
Lyn congregation was only a mission until 1855. Rev. William Smart arrived in Brockville in October 1811 and commenced his ministerial labours there, extending them to Yonge and Augusta. After Mr. Smart left, the ministerial services were conducted by the Rev. Mr. McMurray and later by Rev. J.K. Smith of Brockville. The first minister of Lyn was the Rev. Robert McKenzie, who remained from July 5, 1859 until 1862. He was succeeded by the Rev. John Burton, who was called to Prescott February 4, 1868, and later to the Northern Congregational Church in Toronto. Then for six years the Presbyterians were without a settled minister, until the year 1874, when the Rev. Archibald Brown was called and settled here.
The Lyn section of the Presbyterian congregation resolved in the autumn of 1874 tom build a church, the work being started in April, 1875. The donor of the building site to the Presbyterian Church was James Cassels, M.D. of Quebec. Robert Cassels was chairman. The building committee was composed of James Cumming, Chairman, Robert Bryson, Treasurer, John Halliday, James Bulloch, James Hamilton, Archie Davidson, Peter Purvis and John McNish. The architect was W.G.Thomas of Montreal, contractors were Hugh McKay and Joshua Franklin, the mason and plasterer William Whitton and carpenter Edwin Bagg. The building was to be of stone in Gothic Style. The auditorium was to be sixty by thirty-four feet, the vestry in the rear was to be ten by sixteen feet, and the tower fourteen by fourteen feet. The total cost was to be about four thousand dollars.
On Friday, May 7, 1875, the cornerstone was laid by the Rev. William Smart, assisted by the Rev. Archibald Brown Rev. James Hastie of Prescott and the Rev. John Burton of Belleville. Copies of “The Brockville Recorder”, “The Weekly Monitor”, Montreal and Toronto newspapers and the current coins of the Dominion were deposited in the stone.
The tower, at first, was about the height of the main roof, but later was completed to its present height by Joseph Hudson, a stone mason of Lyn. At first, the choir seats were arranged just inside the church, with a space in the centre for the small organ then in use. My first recollection of the interior of the church was the choir seats. These with the little organ placed directly below the stained glass window and the organist facing the entrance met your gaze as you entered the church. The aisle behind the pews separated the choir from the congregation. These seats are still there, but the space taken by the organ has been filled in. Sometimes when there was an evening service, the younger boys occupying these were a disturbing element to the minister.
The congregation was seated facing the pulpit, with their backs to the choir. The pulpit, a wonderful piece of cabinet making, was built by Mr. John McNish, an uncle of the late George A. McNish, and brother of his father, James McNish. Some years later the choir was moved to chairs behind the pulpit and another organ was installed. Then the Board of Managers decided that a pipe organ should be bought. This always seemed an unwise move to many of the Presbyterian congregation. A second-hand organ filled the choir loft completely, except fora narrow passage at one side, where the pumper could squeeze in to the long lever at the back of the organ, get off his coat and work the twelve foot shaft up ad down until the bellows was full of air. If you got too much pressure, one of the pipes would whistle. This disturbed the congregation, and did not ad to the solemnity of the service. Later the bellows would start leaking air; then someone would have to take off the front panels, crawl in and try to locate the leak.
It was a hard job to pump the organ. A pumper was usually hired to do this work but after a few services he would quit. Then one of the younger members of the congregation would volunteer to do the next pumping, but usually that member was not on hand the next Sunday and another was asked to pump. An amusing incident happened one night, when a special meeting of the congregation had been called for some purpose or other. At the end of the meeting the minister announced a closing hymn. The organist, Mrs. Ernest Cumming, pressed on the keys, but no sound came. She tried again. Still no air. Then she slid off the stool, walked to the end of the organ and looked back into the narrow passage. There sat the pumper, braced with his back to the wall and fast asleep! The congregation, by this time very quiet, heard her, in a stage whisper call. “Tommy! Tommy! Give us some air!” Tommy woke and grasping the lever, pumped. Each stroke of the lever hit the side and bottom of the slot that the lever worked in. The pumper explained that he had been at a party the night before, to account for his condition. He writer did his share of pumping, and felt a great relief when the old organ was removed and an electric organ installed.
During the pastorate of the Rev. C.E.A. Pocock, new acetylene lights were secured These gave a splendid light, except for an occasional whistle when a bit of an obstruction in the burner meant getting out the stepladder, placing it under the offending light and turning off the valve in the pipe. Meanwhile the minister waited.
After the passing of Mrs. Cumming, first wife of Mr. James Cumming, he presented a marble baptismal fount to the church in memory of his wife. The minister at that time, Rev. J.J. Wright, boarded with the caretaker of the church, Mrs. John Armstrong. Her two youngest boys, Allan and Robert, had, a few Sundays previously witnessed a baptism. They had just been presented with a lovely collie pup, and decided that it should be baptized. Securing some water, they poured it into the font and were just about in the act of immersing the pup’s head when the church door opened and the minister walked in and stood looking, as they thought, directly at them. Keeping quiet, they finally got down behind the font and waited. The pup whined a little but evidently the visitor did not hear him. He finally turned and walked out to the street. That night the boys were late for tea, having decided to keep out of sight until Mr. Wright had left to make a call. Expecting to get a lecture from their mother they walked in, but no mention of the incident was made. They decided Mr. Wright was a good sport and would not tell or else he had not seen them. I asked the lads many years later what they were going to name their pup. They said, “Lucky”.
The seats in the church at first were built in lengths that extended from the aisles at each side. Usually two and sometimes three families occupied one seat. If you were late for church you had to push past the family occupying the end of the seat. Later on it was decided that the seats should be rearranged. Messrs. Archie and James Greer did this work. Some of the seats were cut in two, the end cut at a bevel, new ends of ash put on, each seat given additional lip to make it wider, and the aisles moved to their present location. Each short pew was fastened to the side wall. This provided a splendid arrangement, as a small family could use one of these. Then the members drew lots to get their pew.
During Mr. Pocock’s pastorate the Board of Managers decided a furnace was necessary, as the old chimneys built in the walls of the church were leaking and the stoves in use did not give enough heat. A furnace man who was consulted advised making a passage from the back of the cellar, removing earth enough to go through with wheelbarrows and excavating for the furnace room a space ten feet square and ten feet deep. Also, at this time, an outside chimney was built from the ground. A cement floor was laid in the furnace room with a three foot cement wall enclosing it. When the furnace was put in it proved very satisfactory except that there was no drainage, and one day after a heavy rain we found some water on the floor.
The Managers arranged to have a ditch dug from the pond to this spot, but some said the cellar was too deep and was lower than the pond itself. We finally put a level on, and having proved that we had six feet of fall, we started to dig the ditch. It was Saturday night, the men were now under the building, and the work went more slowly. It started to rain, but at six o’clock quitting time the men were about five feet from the furnace room. When I went into the cellar about seven o’clock there was a foot of water on the floor. After consulting the minister, as I knew we could have no fire if we could not get rid of the water, I went out to see one of the men who had been working on the ditch, but he would not come back. Then I again went back to the basement. There in the water stood our minister, Mr. Pocock, with a pair of rubber boots on! He had made a trough reaching to the unfinished ditch. There, dipping with a pail and pouring the water into the trough, he declared that it was not going to beat him, and he would have a fire in that furnace before the morning. I hastened down the street, called Mr. James Cumming on the telephone and told him what our minister was doing. He called back. “I’ll tend to that!” and in half and hour he had four of his men with rubber boots on finishing the drain. Then he ordered Mr. Peacock to go home and prepare his sermon, while he stayed to see what the men started. Of course we had a service the next day.
Fourteen years after Church Union in 1939, it was decided to excavate and put a Sunday School room under the main floor. A contract was let and the work started. Six or seven feet of earth had to be removed by wheelbarrow before anything else could be done, then the basement walls were found to extend just four feet below the floors. A bit of skilful engineering then was started. Workmen would measure off eight feet in length of the basement wall, then remove all the earth under the wall for four feet, build in the stone and cement foundation, and pass on eight feet further, taking out another four feet of earth. This was continued all around the foundation. Every precaution was taken not to disturb the upper walls, with such success that not a crack developed. After hundreds of tile had been laid from wall to wall and connected with the original drain to the pond, cinders were spread over the cleared ground. A cement top was laid over this and finally wooden floors were put down. The furnace was rebuilt, another entrance opened behind the tower into the Sunday school room and the work was all completed in the stipulated time. I have seen many difficult contracts executed, but the building of the walls under the old foundation was a feat worthy of mention.
For a small village church our United Church in Lyn has unusually beautiful windows. The largest one, the Cassels memorial window, was installed when the church was built. Representing Jesus, the Light of the World, it is a beautiful piece of work in an arched opening, about twelve feet high and eight feet wide. The McDonald window, behind the pulpit, over the choir seats, also distinctive for its rich, glowing colours was likewise installed when the church was built in 1875. No more memorial windows were given until February, 1944, Mr. T.J. Storey put in a window in memory of his wife. In May, 1945 another was given to the church in memory of Mr. Clayton Taylor by Mrs. Taylor and her daughter, Mrs. Josephine Taylor Macdonald. In June, 1945, two more were given; one in memory of James Cumming by his family and another in memory of the Stewart and Morrison families by Hon. H.A. Stewart, KC of Brockville. After the death of Mr. T.J. Storey, a window in his memory was given by his daughter Mrs. Douglas Cole and her husband in May 1949. Following this in February, 1952, Mrs. F.W. Moffatt gave another stained glass window in memory of her parents Mr. And Mrs. James McNish.
Other valuable and beautiful gifts have been made to Christ Church in Lyn at various times. A communion table was given in 1920 by Mrs. Horton Rowsom and her brothers and sisters in memory of their father and mother, Mr. And Mrs. David Thompson. In January 1950, the children of Mr. And Mrs. James Neilson gave silver offering plates in memory of their parents. In 1939 when the church was renovated, new electric fixtures were presented by Dr. Gordon Richards of Toronto in memory of his father and mother, Rev. J.J. and Mrs. Richards.
Now I shall close with a final word about the ministers who have served our church over the years. After Rev. Archibald Brown, already mentioned, came Rev. J.J. Richardss, Rev. J.J. Wright, Rev. Charles Daly, Rev. C.E.A. Pocock, Rev. D.M. McLeod, Rev. A.W. Gardiner and Rev. W.T. McCree. In 1925 with Church Union it was decided that the United congregation should worship in the former Methodist Church, and this plan was followed until 1939. During those year our minister were Rev. F.G. Robinson, Rev. R.A. Delve and Rev. A.S. Doggett, under whose leadership the congregation in 1939 moved back to Christ Church which was redecorated and renovated. The large bell from the Methodist Church was brought over and placed in position in the tower where it still calls the congregation to worship. In 11940 Rev. H.B. Herrington succeeded Mr. Doggett and in July 1942, Rev. C.K. Mathewson came to the congregation where he and his sister, Miss Nan Mathewson, still ably minister.