Pioneer Days in the

Pioneer Days in the Perth Locality

The First 50 Years of Presbyterianism in This Locality

By Samuel Wilson

Perth Courier, November, 1917

At the closing exercise of the Presbyterian Centennial on the evening of the 10th October, Samuel Wilson of the Scotch Line, Senior Elder of the Presbytery, gave a record of the first fifty years of the religious century in Perth .  His discourse contained many facts of the early days and is hereby given:

You are calling on one to give an address of some years before I was born which is a pretty hard task.  The evening is short and I would like to confine my address to giving the history of Presbyterianism in the town of Perth and going a little further back to the settlers of the town at that time.

I find that in going back to the records of 1812-13-14 that in 1813 a little band of emigrants left the shores of the Clyde in Scotland .  This was about the time of the War of 1812 and in 1814 a treaty of peace had been founded by the British government and the U.S. and at the time commenced a Scottish settlement in Canada .  Then we find that about 400 people came out and started to form a British colony.  On the evening of the 4th May in the year 1815 on board two ships the Atlas and the Dorothy this little band sailed.  These two boats were chartered by the government.  You can just imagine hearing their old familiar songs of farewell to their land of Scotland and the waving of their handkerchiefs as they left their friends on their way from Greenock .  Traveling in these days was different to what it is now.  They left the port in May perhaps about the middle of May on board these two ships and we might follow them on their way.

In the first instance that happened took place their first day out when Samuel Wilson, an uncle of mine, was taken off the ship Atlas by the press gang as an able bodied seaman to board the ship Dorothy.  He then saw service in the navy.

According to the regulations of the British government in sending out settlers they were to provide them with a year’s provisions and pay their passage.  Also upon reaching their destination they were given a free grant of land containing 100 acres.  As I have said, the first day out the routine commenced.  The rations went round.  The second day out they formed a temperance society but it was not quite on the same lines in those days but they were teetotalers just the same.  They made an agreement amongst themselves that they would not take a drink of liquor but they gathered up the liquor until they had about a gallon and then they sold it to those who did drink.  The next day out these two ships took their own direction and never came across each other again during the journey but by the good guidance of Providence they both reached their destination and after being 13 weeks on the sea arrived at their destination of Quebec in September.

They started down the St. Lawrence, sometimes rowed and sometimes towed, and after 9 days travel they began their trip to Perth .  They women and children stayed in Brockville and some of the men but the able bodied men who were intending to work came on and worked on the land, put up shanties, not like the houses we have today but what we call simple shanties.  The women and children came in 1816 when we find the land being tilled by the settlers and it was known at that time as the Scotch Land .  To about seven miles out were all located on the 17th April, 1816 and later on came out more settlers and took up land in Bathurst and Drummond.

On the 17th April, 1816 a letter was written to Montreal stating that here was a little colony of settlers living on what was then known as Pike River .  Six weeks later we find a letter written from Perth situated on a river called Tay named after Perth on the Tay in the old land.  The name of Pike River had been changed to Perth within six weeks.

At the time, the people were beginning to feel the want of religious ordinances.  They were like the children if Israel , strangers in a strange land.  They felt the want of a church.  About this time they petitioned the government, wanting them to do something for this little colony and in the spring of 1817 the first Presbyterian minister set sail from Edinburgh .  The ministers then, like in these days, were trying to convert people.  The British government received this petition and granted it sending out the minister, Rev. William Bell from Edinburgh belonging to the Scotch Presbyterian Church but not to the established church.  He left Edinburgh and arrived in Quebec early in June.  He arrived in Brockville on a Friday and intended to come on to Perth but there was a church opening up the next Sabbath and Rev. Mr. Smart persuaded him to stay over.  He did so and started to come to Perth the next Friday – he got a horse from a Scotsman in Brockville and started out on his journey.  His wife and family followed him later on.  Mr. Bell thought when they were sending for a minister they had a house in readiness for him but he was disappointed.  There was neither a house nor a church.  The church was not ready yet.  Pretty hard times for a minister coming from Edinburgh.  He looked over the town and came to that point which is called Cockburn Island where the post office now is.  They were obliged to live in a tent for a time.  They then secured a house that stood somewhere in the vicinity of where Mrs. Laurie’s store now stands.  They paid $100 a year for it.  This was the way the first missionary commenced his duties in the first Presbyterian church in Perth in 1817.  He came in June and there was a meeting of the settlers in July to organize a church service and a board of managers was appointed at that meeting.  The church, as I have said, was not ready and the services were conducted in a house on Craig Street occupied later on by William Fraser until such time as the church was ready.  Erected in 1817 at the corner of Drummond and Halton Streets the first church was a frame building of good style in those days with a spire and bell and a seating capacity of 469.  The picture of this old church is in the possession of Mrs. (?)Archibald Campbell of Perth. Services were held in this church until about 1857.  The bell for this church was donated by a friend in Scotland.

The board of managers were Thomas Cuddie, James Bryce, John Ferguson, John Campbell and others whose names are familiar.

The minister went in and out among his people just as any minister does today.  As a missionary his work was strenuous and the bounds of his congregation were wide.  Sometimes he had to drive on horseback sometimes on foot and many a time he lost his way.  Kingston was the nearest Presbytery and his work was difficult but he worked faithfully and reverently.  There was sickness and death before he came and after he arrived.  The first death that occurred among the Scotch settlers was that of William Holdeness in 18?? Who lived on Lot 21 in the 1st concession Bathurst where the first schoolhouse was built in the Perth settlement, the first teacher being John Holliday, who was sent by the government his salary being 50 pounds per year.  The first child born in the settlement was Eliza Holdeness, three months after her father died.

No minister appeared at funerals in those days before Mr. Bell came and no minister to visit the sick.  It was no wonder the people began longing for a minister to visit the houses of the people.  His visits were appreciated very much especially by the young people.  His visits were not unlike the visits of the present times.  He used to go from house to house to have the children repeat their short catechism and a portion of the Bible was read.  I might say that all the settlers at that time were all denominations.

There were a lot of people who desired religious ordinances but did not exactly consider themselves saints but we find accounts of them that there were Methodists, Anglicans and Presbyterians.  The Anglican settlers brought their Bibles and hymn books and all united in one church under the ministry of William Bell and the services were conducted in a harmonious way.

In the very early days there was very little trouble among the settlers but in 1816 a lot of old soldiers came out who had been used to their liquor.  In fact, they had been brought up on it and the minister had to sometimes discipline them about this very thing and trouble arose; some said he was too strict about the temperance question.

In 1832 a new church was built at the corner of Drummond and Craig Streets where the present St. Andrew’s Church now stands.  It was a stone church with a seating capacity of 500.  A call was sent out to Scotland for a minister and Rev. Thomas Wilson responded to the call remaining at St. Andrew’s for 13 years.  Trouble arose among his people and he resigned and returned to Scotland.

When I came to this country in 1837 both these churches had services in them.  I remember in those times, my father used to say on Saturday evening:  Well, boys, tomorrow is Sunday and I don’t think we will do anything more tonight.”  When Sunday morning came, he would take a wagon, an ordinary grain wagon and there was not just one or two representatives from a house but everyone had to go and there was no consideration on Sunday morning whether we would go or stay.  We went and if the wagon was not filled up when we would leave it was filled up on the way and I can remember the old shed on Drummond Street.  On the way two or three would drop out and go on to their own church and be back in the shed again in time to get a ride home with us again.

I remember the last sermon that was preached in the old church.  The minister was not able to go up into the pulpit and he preached on the steps leading up to the pulpit.  At the time he said he was going to quit preaching just to go to St. Andrew’s Church and they would all be one people in one church.

In 1825 the first census of the Bathurst District was taken.  The population was about (unreadable number).

Gaelic services were also held in those early days.  One in particular was held on the 14th Feb., 18?? By Rev. McLaren of Bathurst.

The Early Days of St. Andrews

Donald Fraser of Victoria, B.C. and a former resident has sent in the following sketch of early days of Presbyterianism and particularly dealing with St. Andrew’s Church as he remembers them which was read at the closing meeting of the centennial proceedings.

If the stone placed in the tower has been preserved (and no doubt it has) in the remodeling of the old church, it will be found to bear the following:  A.D. 1832.  That day is indelibly engraved in my memory.  Dr. Campbell of Montreal has recently given the history of Presbyterianism in Perth and surrounding country and is correct in stating that the old church was built by Malcolm McPherson, carpenter, and contractor of that time.  It was built of sandstone, most likely, taken from the Glebe quarries on the Brockville Road.  These quarries were extensively worked by the veteran quarrymen Michael Finnan and Tom Morrison within my recollection.  The church was of gothic architecture with a seating capacity of about 400.   Originally it had only an end gallery but in the early 60’s side galleries were added.  The contractor was James McPherson, son of William McPherson and nephew of the original builder.

About the same time a spire was added to the tower.  The tinning of the spire was considered quite a feat at the time the work being done by William Godkin, son-in-law of Warren Buteford(?) hardware merchant.  The church was heated by stoves two large stoves near the entrance and two small ones near the pulpit.  If any of these stoves are still to the fore they will be found to bear the names of William Stratton, Dundee. The church was lighted with candles in those days a pretentious home made candelabra in the center and old fashioned sconces placed on the walls.  The pews were severely straight backed and provided with a door.  The pulpit was imposing very high approached by winding stairs with presenters’ desks about midway.

Rev. James Wilson was the first minister.  Although I appeared on the scene before he retired, I cannot say I remember him.  I was present, however, at his farewell sermon.  The story is that being awakened out of a deep sleep I claimed so much of the attention of the congregation that Mr. Wilson leaned over the pulpit and said “Better take the child out”.  Mother returned to hear the conclusion of the sermon.  My father and mother were married by Mr. Wilson in 1835.  The hero and heroine of Troy were represented one Sunday morning in the old church when my brother Hector and Helen McPherson were baptized.  An old Scotch lady told my mother to be sure and bring the laddie baird forward first or the lassie bairn would take his beard.  The catastrophe was avoided.

A breach occurred between Mr. Wilson and my father over the baptism of my brother John.  It appears that my father made the arrangements for the baptism without consulting Mr. Wilson.  At the proper time the child was brought forward but no baptism took place.  The child was afterwards baptized by Rev. William Bell and called John Phares which signified breach.  The family attended William Bell’s church until the arrival of Rev. Dr. Bain.  My youngest brother Farquhar was the only member of our family baptized by Dr. Bain.  The legend regarding him is that Dr. Bain confided to Mrs. Bain that he was the sweetest looking child he had ever baptized.  The secret leaked out in time.  Perhaps those who remember Farquhar may quite agree with Dr. Bain.  The manse in the Glebe was not ready for occupation when Mr. Bain arrived.  He occupied a house owned by Malcolm McPherson on Drummond Street.  Mr. McPherson had just completed a fine residence for himself opposite, afterwards owned by William Meighen.

Mr. Wilson was always spoken of in our house with the greatest admiration and respect. He was a faithful preacher of the Word and an uncompromising advocate of temperance.  In our day he might be called a litterist but high criticism was then unknown.  The stone house on the corner of Gore and Brock Streets owned by Mr. Rutherford was the manse.  I believe I am correct in saying that Mrs. Wilson at one time gave lessons to young girls at the Manse.  Mr. Wilson returned to Scotland and settled in Dunkeld.  There were two children Norman and Mary.  Now that Miss Rutherford has passed away I know of no one likely to remember them.  I have it on very good authority that the first couple married by Mr. Wilson in Perth were my aunt and uncle Mr. and Mrs. William Rogerson.  Norman was a partner in mercantile business with my cousin John Rogerson in Urbana, Illinois to 1856.  He was born in 1832 and died in the western states a good many years ago.

An incident is related of Mr. Wilson’s righteous indignation in the pulpit.  It appears one Sunday morning just as he had given out the text, a circus procession passed the church with a brass band playing.  He paused and gave out another text “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy”.  His wrath was terrible in denouncing the Perthites for allowing such a desecration.  The sermon was never forgotten by those who heard it.

Rev. William Bain, who had just graduated from Queen’s University, was called and for 35 years was the faithful minister of St. Andrew’s, being his early charge.  He died in Kingston and was laid to rest in Elmwood Cemetery.

The members of session that I remember seeing officiate at Communion were William Rutherford, William Allan, my father William Fraser, Donald Robertson, John Jamieson, Donald McPhail, James McPherson and Alexander Morris.

The treasurer for many years was John Morris of Murray, Morris & Co., merchants.

There was a variety of church officers until the appointment of Mr. Thompson who filled the position satisfactorily for many years.  The Sabbath School was quite a feature of congregational work, about 16 or 20 classes and an average attendance well over 100.  The school supported an orphan in India.  She was called Christiana Bain after Dr. Bain’s eldest daughter.  This orphan either died or got married and another was adopted called Jessie Fraser Bain the first name in honor of Miss Rutherford who deserves a lasting memorial of some kind in St. Andrew’s Church.

The presenters I have known were John and James Campbell and James Spaulding, Archibald and James Campbell, W. H. Grant, George Lane and Mr. Horrocks.  There was no organ in the early days.  The vocal organs of the presenters and congregation were to say the least powerful.

There were no duplex envelopes in the early days.  The revenue was raised by pew rents supplemented by open collections.  A special collector was appointed to take around the missionary book quarterly in aid of the schemes of the church.  This system worked very well but the envelope system is better.

I think in the early days when people were simple and good, as the saying goes, they loved to go to church.  In fine weather in the summer the church was filled at the morning service and the churchyard filled with farmer’s vehicles of every description.  Communion services were especially observed.  Friday preparatory services were held and the day in all respects observed as Sabbath day.  No school for children on that day.  All shops were closed and everybody went to church.  No unnecessary work of any kind was done about the home.

On these occasions Dr. Bain would be assisted by Dr. Urquhart of Cornwall, Solomon Milne of Smith’s Falls, John McMorine of Ramsay, James Wilson of Lanark, all good men.  Sunday services commenced at 11 and ended at 3.  No one ever thought it wearisome.  People took their religion seriously.

Dr. Urquhart was an uncle of Mrs. Bain and looked the part.  I remember his text on this occasion was “What Mean You By This Service”.

I had the pleasure of meeting, too, the session of St. Andrew’s on my way to the General Assembly in June last and renewing my acquaintance with Mr. Scott, Mr. Samuel Wilson, Mr. Glossop, Mr. McPhail and others. 

I was present when Mr. McPhail was received by baptism into the visible church.  His parents called him Peter Epstein (Mr. Epstein was a converted Jew, who preached several times in St. Andrew’s).  I was glad to see him follow in the footsteps of his worthy father, elder Donald McPhail and his mother Christina Thompson, who was my first Sunday school teacher.