(By Donald Fraser, Victoria, B.C.)
The Rev. William Bell was sent out by the British government with the early settlers, probably in 1815. [Transcriber’s note: correct date is 1817. See Hints For Emigrants on this website for Rev. Bell’s complete account of his trip to Canada and subsequent settlement in Perth]. After the usual struggles incident to pioneer life, a church was built on the corner of Drummond and Cockburn streets. Our family attended this church in very early days. Mr. Hart was precentor, and old Mr. Sutherland sexton. I have no recollection of the service but I do remember a lovely pail of cold water, and a tin dipper were always at the service of thirsty little boys in the vestibule. Prior to this my father attended Rev. Thomas Clarke Wilson‘s church, but had a disagreement with him over the baptizing of my brother, John. In consequence of this the child was called John Phares which means breach.
Mr. Wilson had the reputation of being an able and most faithful preacher of the truth, but for some reason or another, several of the leading families of the congregation withdrew from the church at this time. He returned to Dunkeld, Scotland, in the late forties, and the Rev. William Bain, a young student from Queen’s University of Kingston, received a call to the vacant congregation. After Mr. Bain‘s induction our family returned to his church. Of Dr. Bain‘s long and faithful services I need say nothing; he has many seals to his ministry. But I may record some youthful impressions : The pulpit, the sounding board in the centre of the ceiling, the old collection boxes, the long ranges of black stove pipes with small tin pails attached, always overflowing with soot, the sexton going his rounds during the evening service to snuff the candles. All these things occupied much of my attention. At one time I thought the sounding board was a large piece of Mrs. Quail‘s ginger bread, so exact was the color. The precentor too, John Campbell, attracted me very much. During the evening service, he invariably lifted the candle and beat time with it during the singing, very much as the modern conductor uses his baton. In early days marriages were more frequent than now, at least they were more conspicuous. How beautiful the bridal parties looked in the congregation decked out in a superabundance of white veils and gloves, the faces of the brides and bridesmaids wreathed in most wonderful artificial flowers! This good old custom also passed away. The present beautiful and commodious building is the evolution of the old St. Andrew’s church built in 1832.
When Dr. Bain preached at Balderson in the afternoon, there was no evening service in St. Andrew’s. We were occasionally free to attend some of the other churches. My father was kind of half Anglican, through his father being an army man, and always conducting the English church service in his house every alternate Sunday in Lanark. Frequently, we went to St. James’s church. Rev. M. Harris was rector and Dawson Kerr, clerk. Mr. Harris must have died in the early fifties and Rev. Mr. Pyne was appointed rector.
The old church was torn down, I think, during Mr. Pyne‘s incumbency. Sam Bothwell was the contractor for the new building. The heads on the stone columns at the main entrance were cut by John Allan, brother-in-law of John Lister. During the building of the new church the congregation worshipped in the Court House. I frequently attended the service, but as this was not my church, I felt at liberty to worship the organist which I have continued to do ever since.
I have no recollection of Rev. J. B. Duncan‘s predecessor in the Free Church, but I remember him perfectly, and those he ministered to will not soon forget him. He was greatly in demand on all public occasions as a platform orator. Perhaps what I remember most about the Free Church was the wonderful congregational singing under such leaders as Matthew Bell, Ralph and Alexander Dodds, William Lister and James Scott, but above all Duncan McDonald, cast in herculean mould, he had a voice to correspond. How robust the worship in that church was in those days!
Father Lamothe was the first Roman Catholic priest, who was succeeded by a Highlander, Father Macdonell. Of them I have no recollections. Father McDonagh‘s ministrations, however, were in my time and are yet in my recollection. I remember the old church well. I have frequently assisted the sons of Fred O’Hare to ring the bell, and I remember assisting them on the occasion of Mrs. Finan‘s funeral. I remember the consecration day of the new church; it was a great occasion. The bishop and all the clergy were in attendance. Father McDonagh carefully superintended the laying of the offerings of the people on the cornerstone.
I can never forget the wonderful tea meetings in the Methodist church under the direction of Judge Deacon, the speeches of Rev. Loughlan Taylor on the Holy Land, his exhibition of the mummy and the costumes and relics of the ancient people. Referring to tea meetings reminds me of John Adams. What tea meeting or missionary meeting was complete without John Adams and his choir? How particular he was to have the vote of thanks to the choir on these occasions properly presented! To reply was his great opportunity.