A Social History of Lyn
By an unknown author written around 1953
The village of Lyn is situated in the Pre-Cambrian Shield six miles west of Brockville and one hundred and forty one miles west of Montreal. In relation to the St. Lawrence it is three miles north of the point where the ship channel crosses from the Canadian side to the American side, called by the inhabitants “The Five Mile Light” or “Cole’s Ferry”
From the time of the first settlement on the rocky ledges covered with rough scraggy timber, the name of Coleman was connected with this place, in fact until the year 1837 it was known by the name of “Coleman’s Corners”. The Leavitt’s History of Leeds and Grenville says “Able Coleman, the man who caused two blades of grass to grow where before there was only one, is characterised as a public benefactor.” It would seem that he started his first mill in 1788, the date inscribed upon the first millstone, but when government rations were with held after the second year of the settlement’s establishment, he sold the village site to a Mr. Haleck for a small sum and then went to Montreal to work at his trade as a tanner. With his earnings he bought a cow, returned to Coleman’s Corners and became a miller, tanner and farmer.
The oldest inscription in the Lyn Cemetery reads: “In Memory of Able Coleman, who departed this life in Full Assurance of Eternal Life, April 25th, 1810”
Richard Coleman bought the town-site from Mr. Halleck for he conceived the idea that it would be a fine place for a manufacturing town. It was surveyed into lots in 1813. The first house was built in 1814 by Mr. Brownson for a hotel. The same house is now occupied by (Mrs. Stephen Boyce) Mr. Charlie Lewis, although it has been remodelled and changed hands many times since then. The house now occupied by Mr. Widdis. Mr. Mel Davidson was the second one built the original builder being Capt. Stuart, and army captain.
For the next score of years the village made rapid progress under the pushing energies of its owners, Messrs. Coleman.
In 1820 a frame grist mill was erected and although not conducted on the roller system it was a great boon to the countryside. In 1837 the question of the name of the village came to the fore. “Lowell” was its new designation, no doubt because many of the settlers were sons of U.E. Loyalists, and still had tender recollections of their native state of Massachusetts. It was soon discovered however that another village in Ontario bore the same name, and it was necessary to change the name again “Lyn” was thought an appropriate one, for the word, lin, being the Scotch name of a waterfall.
In 1838 a new grist mill, larger and of improved design, replaced the earlier one. This original mill is now the Post Office and store. In 1841 a saw mill was erected. Then a tannery for the manufacture of sole leather, as well as one for the manufacture of uppers. The manufacturing of the year 1844 was given as no less than $500., all of which was consumed within the province, the raw hides being what was termed “Spanish” and imported from the United States, some of them weighing when ready for market. 45 pounds.
The Recorder of 1850 says “Thanks to the Colemans, Lyn has the most celebrated and extensive tanning establishment in the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville.” There were at this time employed by the Colemans between 30 and 40 men whose wage amounted in one year from $1500.- $1750. The majority of these men were transients, a number coming from Montreal. They lived in shacks – some on the mill road and others back of the pond. Other industries in Lyn about the same time were shoe, whip, comb and stave makers as well as a flax mill and a brickyard which made Lyn one of the best paying stations on the Grand Trunk Railway.
Lyn, although not celebrated as a seat of learning, has always had a good school. The first one was situated near where the lath factory stood and was used until it became too small for the fast increasing population. The house next used was situated near Mr. Halliday’s store. The brick one was then built and used until 1867 when the stone one now in use was built.
The social activities of the village were many. There were dances, a number of them formal, and the store being stocked with rich and expensive materials which were made up by local dressmakers. The dances and entertainment were held in the Buell and Pergan halls. There was a club called the Quintet Club, consisting of five young men-about-town who were the chief instigators of these affairs Skating on the Pond was the main sport in winter, and a game like hockey was played with sticks made from branches of trees.
The church played an important part in social the life of the village. There were parties for the children at New Year’s and the tea meetings were very popular, being like our church suppers with a program given by the local talent. In the summer there were picnics, people going by boat to Alexandra Bay, and later by the Brockville and Westport Railway to Westport.
In 1849 an Agricultural Society Fair was held, with prizes offered for horses and cattle and domestic manufactures, agricultural implements and ploughman ship with Charles Booth as Secretary. In June of the same year between 500 and 600 people attended a public meeting for the promotion of temperance. Speeches were given by Canadian and American speakers and the “Sons of Temperance” appeared in their regalia.
Until 1855 the Colemans had water for their mills from natural sources, but with the cutting of the forests, the supply was reduced. Then they bought the wild land running back from Lyn for six to eight miles, and converted marshes and shallow lakes into a series of reservoirs, canals being cut and dams erected.
In the Fellows’ Directory of 1866, we find Lyn described as a thriving and progressive village, a station of the Grand Trunk Railway. The prosperity was due to a large extent to the manufacturing’s, of which James Cumming was agent. The boot and show factory was the most recent addition to the business and was sufficiently extensive to require the services of between 40 and 50 men. The local stores were described as commodious and well stocked with merchandise of every description. The best example of this is given by an advertisement in the Fellows’ Directory which reads thus: “A.T. Trickey, druggist, general merchant, Main street, Lyn, manufactures of two conditioning powders for horses and cattle, has established correspondence with a reliable House in Montreal, receives direct from them in regular supplies which enables him to offer great advantages to the Counties’ trade.”
The Dominion Directory of 1871 gave Lyn a population of 750 and just ten years later the Lovell’s Business and Professional Directory of Ontario gave the population as only 300.
The Grand Trunk Railway (CNR) owned the sand pit but in 1940 Wells Simpson bought it from the railroad. The Brockville- Westport Railway was begun in 1885 and finished in 1888. Then on Saturday, August 30, 1952 the line was discontinued. Mr. Tobin was the last station master in Lyn.
The old red brick schoolhouse mentioned previously was burned down several years ago but was rebuilt using the same walls. It is just across the road from the present school and is now a private dwelling.
Just besides this building is another old landmark. It used to be an old rough-cast hotel by Mr. Gilleclain but is now occupied by Miss Florence Roberts. Beside this hotel there were four others – one just on the corner which was the Dr. Brown house, and one known as Stack’s Hotel, which was burned 26 years ago (1939). The double house owned by Charles Lewis and the rough-cast house where Jock Stewart lives were both very old hotels.
A very old bakeshop was located behind the Coon Bake shop (now closed) in what was known as the Baxter Block. There was another bakeshop back of the Oddfellows’ building. Then J.C.Cumming built the stone building across from Herbison’s blacksmith’s shop. It is now a dwelling owned by Mr. Baillie, an old Irish sailor and his daughter Rhoda. Lyn also had its own blacksmith shop. One was located behind the Coon Bakery. It was first run by George Stratton and then Bill Yates. Charles Herbison bought it from the latter and then sold out to Bill Wiley. Charles Herbison bought the old carriage shop about 25 years ago (1940) from Bill Tennant who had it for years. The stores in Lyn were handed down from family to family. Joshua Lillie ran the post office and store, sold to Mort Gardiner, and then to Omar Mallory who shared with Walter Billings. The latter ran it after Mr. Mallory’s death. These were all relations. Then Kenneth Bolton bought it and sold it to B.H.Bishop. The post office was given to Blake Mott (after Mr. Billings) and located where the W.I. is now in the Oddfellows’ building. Then David McCrady had it in connection with his hardware store in the Mason’s building. Then last year it went to Earl Miller. The Buell store was owned first by Mills and McManus from Morrisburg, then George Buell, finally James Greer. Ray Stewart bought it and converted it into a garage. The Belsile store was first a harness shop owned by Stelton Horton, changed to grocery owned by R.P. Boyd. Then William Laverty converted it into a barbershop and sold to Robert Willey who operated a meat shop there. William Quinn and Heaslip ran it for a while and then changed it into a residence. It was a general store run by Belisle. The McCrady store was owned and operated by: first A.T.Trickey, second Mort Gardiner, third C.M.Taylor, fourth John McCrady. Then John’s son Dave took over and after him his brother Frank who sold it to Earl Miler. The old Pregau store was originally a shoe making store. Alex Pergau was the shoe maker and then Jim who did mostly repairing. The building is now just a dwelling.
There have been several attempts made to have an organized sports programme. Below the Green Hill, across from the Mill, was a Tan Bark, over 70 years ago. It was burned and for some time was a baseball diamond and in winter a boarded in skating rink. About 15 years ago (1950) a rink was built behind Miller’s Store and again a few years ago another attempt was made but both failed because it was too hard to get good ice. The Jr. Farmers had a ball team for a couple of years recently.
There is no Catholic Church in Lyn. They go in to their own church in Brockville but they have now purchased the old Methodist church and plan to have their own church here.
There are a number of Lodges, namely, the Masons, the Oddfellows, and the Rebecca’s. There is also a Women’s Institute and a Young Peoples’ Union.
The early settlers did not neglect the religious side of their life. Although they did not have a church, they held services in halls or houses. The first church was built by the Methodist body on the spot where the Church of England sheds now stand. It was the only church for miles around and people used to walk or ride long distances to attend a ‘quarterly meeting.” It would seem that this church was used by other denominations, who did not have a church of their own at that time, and it was sometimes spoken of as the “Union Church.” Maurice Brown in a letter states that he believed the first Methodist Conference to be held in Eastern Ontario of the Methodist Episcopal Church was held in it and most of the delegates were from New York State, and that a number of Bishops were in attendance. James Cumming told me when he first came to Lyn it was the only church in the village, that my grandmother used to sit in a rocking chair in front of the seats and rock and say “Amen” and “Bless the Lord.” The Methodist Episcopal Church for some unknown reason left this site and built a brick church on top of the hill above Lyn on the way to Lillie’s. The only ministers names which we can find associated with this church are Gifford, Perley, Brown (maybe also Mr. McDowell and Mr. Ainsworth). At the tie of union in 1884 of the Wesleyan Methodist and the Methodist Episcopal, to quote from Maurice Brown’s letter again “In Lyn the usual difficulty was experienced. As very often happens as to the choice of a church when they could not agree in Lyn, the Board of Wall St. Church was asked to come and make the choice. They did so and unanimously selected the one by the school which was a very fortunate decision as I will explain to you. There was a church funeral for a man who lived where Grant Hudson lives at present. A very severe windstorm came up and the Methodist Episcopal Church blew down. It was the bricks from that church that built the present Glen Buell edifice.”
The Presbyterians were the next to organize. Their first service was held in the ballroom of the Bronson Hotel and conducted by the Rev. William Smart, who was one of the pioneers of religion than whom no man did more for the moral and religious interests of the people for, as it is said “so long as the children of the original settlers maintain their memories. The name of Rev. William Smart will e held dear by them.” A Sabbath school was also organized in this same room by Mr. Smart and Adiel Sherwood, who was at one time Sheriff of Brockville. Services were held occasionally in the old Methodist Church and then in Pergau’s Hall until the church was built. It was only a mission station until the year 1855, when Rev. Robert McKenzie was given the charge. Rev. R.McKenzie was succeeded by Rev. John Burton who was later pastor of the Northern Congregational Church, Toronto. Then for six years the Presbyterians were without a settled minister until 1874 when Rev. Arch Brown was called and settled here.
The Lyn section of the Presbyterian congregation resolved in the autumn of 1874 to build a church and the work in connection therewith was commenced in April 1875. Donor of the building site was James M.Cassels, M.D., of Quebec, Robert Cassel was chairman. The building committee was composed of James Cumming, Chairman, Robert Bryson, treasurer, John Halliday and James Bulloch, James Hamilton, Archibald Davidson, Peter Purvis and John McNish. The architect was W.G. Thomas, Montreal, and the contractors Hugh McKay, Joshua Franklin and William Whitton, masonry and plastering, Edwin Bagg.
The building is stone, covered with slate, of the Gothic Order with an auditorium of 60 x 34. The vestry, in rear, is 10 x 16, and tower on side 14×14. Total cost was about $4000.
From “Evening Records” Brockville, Thursday, May 15, 1875 – “On Friday afternoon the 7th inst. The cornerstone of a new church for the Presbyterian congregation at Lyn was laid by the Rev. William Smart of Gananoque, assisted by the Rev. Archibald Brown, Rev. James Hastie of Prescott and the Rev John Burton of Belleville. The weather being favourable a large assembly gathered to witness the interesting ceremony. Copies of the Recorder (daily and weekly, Monitor, Montreal and Toronto newspapers and current coins of the Dominion were deposited in the stone, together with the engraved copy of the following: “Memorial –In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost on the 7th day of May in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-five, in the thirty-eight year of the reign of Victoria, and while the Right Honorable the Earl of Dufferin was Governor-General of the Dominion of Canada and the Hon. John Crawford Lt. Governor of the Prov. Of Ont. This cornerstone of Christ Church, Lyn in connection with the Canadian Presbyterian Church was laid by the Rev. Wm. Smart of Gananoque.”
A few of the first settlers of Yonge, Elizabethtown and Augusta, deploring the want of religious ordinance, applied at the beginning of the present century to the London Missionary Society to have a missionary or minister to settle over them. The directors of the Society recommended Rev. Wm. Smart who had just completed his theological study at Gossport to accept the call implied in the petition, and offered to pay his passage and outfit. Mr. Smart, having acceded to the proposal, and having been ordained in the Scotch Church, Swallow St., London, arrived in Elizabethtown (no Brockville) in October 1811 and commenced his ministerial labours there extending them to Coleman’s Corners, Yonge and Augusta In 1812 the people under his care were formed into a regular ministerial charge. In 1846 he resigned the charge of Brockville, but continued to preach for some time to the rural part of the congregation. Coleman’s Corners (Lyn) was, after Mr. Smart left the district, supplied with preaching by the Rev. Mr. McMurray and the Rev.J.K.Smith who succeeded the charge of Brockville. The first minister of Lyn and Yonge was the Rev. Robt. McKenzie who remained from July 5th 1859 to 1862. He was succeeded by the Rev. John Burton, who was ordained on November 17, 1864. Under Mr. Burton’s pastorate the congregation of Fairfield was united with Lyn and Yonge. Mr. Burton accepted a call from the congregation at Prescott on Feb 4, 1868. After his departure the Fairfield congregation was separated from Lyn and Yonge and the charge remained vacant yill May 19, 1874 when the Rev. Archibald Brown was inducted. He office bearers being: Elders, Jas. Hamilton, John Halliday, James McNish, John Dickey, Jacob Warren and Wm. Forrester. Board of Managers: Robert Bryson, Treasurer: James Cumming, Archibald Davidson, John Armstrong, Peter Purvis and James Bulloch. Trustees of Church Property: Robt. Bryson, Peter Purvis, James Hamilton and James Cumming. The chief subscriber was James Cumming who promised twice the amount given by any other donor. All the pews were numbered on brass plates affixed to the pew. At the right and left of the pulpit are square pews which had a certain social distinction. The right one was occupied by the Manse family, and the one on the left by th Cassells family who gave the land to the church for one dollar. At the rear of the church is a magnificent memorial window placed by the Cassells family. It was imported from Belgium in 1875 and placed there when the church was dedicated. Underneath the centre panel of this window is their coat of arms.
The church was dedicated by Rev. Dr.MacVicar, the principal of the Presbyterian College, Montreal on Feb. 6, 1876 and was known as Christ Church and was so registered in the deed of the property. The offering at the opening amounted to $146.00. The proceeds of the tea meeting amounted to $240. The bill advertising this meeting is in good preservation at the Manse. The communion cloths used for the covering of the front pew are still in good condition and were used when the Presbytery met here in 1950. The Baptismal Font was presented by James Cumming in memory of his wife and is of Italian marble. It was placed in the church in 1893. The pulpit was hand made by the uncle of George A.McNish (elder for over 40 years) in 1876. It was a labor of love as it took over a year to make. The church bell was brought over the frozen St. Lawrence in 1870 and weighs half a ton. It was first put in the Wesleyan Methodist Church but when in 1939 the congregation moved from that church to Christ Church the bell was also moved. The cost of the bell today would be more than $1500.
In 1916 Anniversary Services were held. The following excerpt being taken from a paper owned by Miss Mary Cumming, Lyn, March 1, 1916: “The 40th Anniversary Services of Christ Church, Lyn, was conducted by the Rev. S.G. Brown of Almonte on 27th inst. The Methodist Church cancelled their service in the morning so that all could attend and commemorate the opening of Christ Church in Lyn 40 years ago. The Rev. Gentleman in the morning spoke on “Influence of the Hill” in furnishing inspirations to Christians in all ages. The first Pres. Missionary to Lyn came from the Hills of Scotland sent out by the London Missionary Society in 1811. He held his first service in the Court House in Brockville in the morning and preached in the upper room of a tavern in Lyn in the afternoon nearly 105 years ago. After 65 years of faithful services between Kingston and Cornwall the Rev. Wm. Smart gave his last public address at the opening of Christ Church, Lyn, 40 years ago. The old members who took art in the opening of the church 40 years ago, were taken to the Hilltop by Mr. Brown’s stirring sermon and with the presence of their Methodist brethren, notwithstanding the storm raging without, the uplifting power of God’s presence was felt in this Anniversary Service. At the evening meeting Mr. Brown spoke most touchingly of the Heroism of Canadians in the present crisis and craved the prayers of all for a new consecreation for God, King and Empire. Mr. Brown’s eldest son having given up his life as an offering for his country, with the Princess Patricia’s, gave point to his words of cheer and comfort for those whose friends are now fighting the battles of the Empire. His eloquent, uplifting discourses last Sabbath will linger in the memories of the worshippers of Christ Church.”
At the time of Union in 1925 the Presbyterians and the Methodists decided to use the Methodist church, but as the years went by it was decided to move back to the Presbyterian Christ Church, for the costs of repairs became so extensive to the Methodist church when it was hit by lightening twice. In keeping with this decision renovation of Christ Church was begun. This included digging and extension of a cellar in order to have a Sunday School room and kitchen. Following this renovation, which cost over $4000. which was paid off in two years, Dr. Kent of Queen’s University re-opened and dedicated Christ Church in October 1939. Since this time six memorial windows have been installed adding greatly to the atmosphere of worship with God’s house.
The membership of this Church has altered since 1940 from a rural congregation to a suburban one since so many of the congregation work in the different plants in Brockville and live in Lyn.
The list of ministers which has served Christ Church is as follows: (Before the building of the church) Rev. Wm. Smart 1811-1846; Rev. Mr. McMurray, Rev. J.K. Smith, Rev. Robert McKenzie 1859-1862, Rev. John Burton 1864-1868, Rev. Archibald Brown 1874- ?; Rev. J.J. Richardson; who was the first minister called after the church was built in Rev. A. Brown’s term of office. Rev. J.J Wright; Rev. Chas. Daly, Rev C.E.A.Pocock 1916-?, Dr. D.M.McLeod, Rev Mr. Gardiner, Rev Mr. McCrea till Union in 1925. Rev R.A. Delve 1929-35, Rev A.S. Doggett 1935-40 when Chrisy Church was reopened. Rev H.B. Herrington 1940-42, Rev C.K. Mathewson 1942-59 (the present)
Records in connection with the early history of Lyn congregation are scarce and we have to rely on the memory of those who knew in their early years or learned from the lips of the older generation, the facts connected with the origin of St. John the Baptist Church.
The first trace of an Anglican service in this locality is found in connection with a “United Church” which stood where the Anglican church sheds now stand (these have been removed, but position would be about one hundred yards east of the church). There are in St. John’s Church at present a pair of wooden collection plates with “St. Paul’s Church, Lyn” written on them. Whether we take this as evidence that the Union Church was called St. Paul’s or not does not alter the fact that tradition states that it was the first in these parts, several denominations, including the Quakers, using this old “Union Church” as a place of worship. The Church of England Services there were conducted by Rev John Stannage, who came from New Dublin to officiate. The fate of this building is not known to those who supplied the previous information, but for some reason the Anglican services were transferred to Pergau’s Hall in the present Pergau bock in Lyn. There Dr. Lewis, Rev. Stannage and Rev. Mr. Jones held services while the present church was in the course of construction.
The construction did not proceed very rapidly as the Brockville Recorder points out in its article on the subject “That the number of people holding Anglican views in this community were few.” In the course of ten years from 1858 to 1869, the work lingered for some time only the basement being finished, i.e. foundation. Then renewed efforts completed the task in August 1869. On Sept. 1, 1869 it was opened by Bishop Lewis.
In the period of construction James Coleman of Coleman Brothers, the millers of Lyn, were particularly active. It is reported that Peter Pergau supplied the lime for the building, that the rough stone was quarried on the B.C. Brown place now owned by Joseph Bolin, while the dressed stone came from Hector Bradfield pace east of Brockville and was dressed by a stone cutter named Dyer, and was teamed to Lyn by the men of the congregation. Also, that Edwin Bagg who lived where C. Imerson now lives had the contract for the carpentry work. The stone fence in front of the church was built by George Monteith, who lived in Lyn and is buried here.
At the opening service in 1869, Dr. Lewis, former rector of St. Peter’s Brockville, and then the Bishop of the Diocese of Ontario, was present and confirmed a large class. Other clergy present included Rev. John Carroll of Gananoque, Rev. G.J. Low of Delta, Mr. Denroche of Arnprior and Mr Cook of North Augusta.
The following clergy have given of their services to the church during the past years: Kearney L. Jones, Henry Auston, G.W.G. Grout 1881, T.A. Smith 1901, J.D.P. Wright 1912, John Lyons 1917, T.F. Dowdell 1925, A.E.U. Smart 192, Ernest Teskey 1926-33, F.O. Ware 1933-41, R.M. Savory 1941-42, R.S. Foreman 1942-44, A.B. Caldwel 1944, E. LeGrow 1944-45, J.B. Hall 1945-47, F. Payne 1947-50, J.M.Cameron 1950 –
Lyn has become a residential village for the people who work in Brockville and commute every day by car or bus. Lyn has lost its importance as a manufacturing village and it can never hope to be the site of large factories for it has no waterfront nor railway terminal. Its future lies in its growth as a village for workers who wish to live in the quiet of the country, when the St. Lawrence Seaway is finished which will bring with it the extension of manufacturing sites along the shores of the river.
The Church has a vital function to perform in such an industrial residential area for it must bring to those people who do a monotonous factory job a wider vision of life, its worth and its meaning, for this is the only institution which cares for other than material values in the lives of these people. The sad part is that many of these people have become so busy with the material on every day and all days that they do not take the interest in the church which the first hardy founders of this village did. It thus provides the church with an opportunity and a challenge which I am sure the Spirit of God will use for the furthering of God’s Kingdom.