Perth Courier

Perth Courier

supplied by Christine M. Spencer of Northwestern University, Evanston, Il., USA.

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Perth Courier, July 10, 1896

St. Andrew’s Church, Lanark, Historical Sketch by Rev.D. M. Buchanan, B.A.


The village of Lanark is situated on the River Clyde and is near the center of the county of Lanark.  The name “Lanark” and “Clyde” betray the origins of the early settlers who came chiefly from Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire, Scotland, many of them were Paisley weavers.  The first to settle in this vicinity was a ship load of immigrants from Scotland, who arrived near the present site of this village in the latter part of the summer of 1820 and who spent the first winter in the land of their adoption encamped on the hill near where the Episcopal Church now stands.  Though assisted by the government to make a start in this new land—then a wild forest—they nevertheless had to endure indescribable hardships and troubles.  During the following summer, Rev. William Bell of Perth took a deep interest in their spiritual well being and on the 24th June, 1821 he organized the Presbyterian Church in Lanark Village.  In the lapse of three quarters of a century since the arrival of the first settlers in this community the had of death has claimed all who were in the first band of immigrants with the exception of two or three who came here with their parents in childhood.

The Rev. Mr. Bell who organized the congregation and who was at that time settled in Perth, was sent out by the government in June, 1817 to attend to the spiritual wants of the early settlers in the vicinity of Perth.  It had been settled some four or five years before Lanark.  He seems to have been a man of special zeal and faithfulness for where ever he saw destitution of the means of grace among the first settlers of this county then just opening up, he carried to them the Gospel and was thus the organizer of several of the including congregation.  In March, 1822, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was the first communion in Lanark and forty communicants partook of that sacred feast and thus in this new land they bore testimony to the dying love of Christ.

About this time the Rev. John Gemmell, a native of Dalry, Scotland and a member of the Associated Synod of Scotland came to reside in this vicinity.  On the 2nd Sabbath of August, 1822, he commenced conducting divine services in the school house, which was a log building erected to serve the double purpose of being a public school and a place of worship until a church could be built.  At a meeting held in September he was asked to continue to minister to them.  It was during the second year of his ministry that the church in Lanark was erected.  It was a stone building 26 by 36 with eight windows and a gallery across one end.  It had a seating capacity of about 300 and it had a tin clad steeple according to the custom of the country at that time.

Financial assistance for the building of the church was obtained from Scotland through the government agent Col. Marshall who at that time resided in Perth.  This money having arrived in March, 1823, the building of the church was proceeded to at once but it was not completed until the summer of the following year.

In November, 1825, the Methodists applied to Col Marshall for permission to conduct public worship in the church on Sabbath when Dr. Gemmell was absent.  Col. Marshall submitted the requisition to a committee of management of the congregation for consideration and after due deliberation permission was refused by a vote of seven to two.

Dr. Gemmell was a medical man as well as a preacher of the Gospel and for several years though never regularly, inducted as their pastor, ministered to the spiritual wants of his little flock who were poor and little able to support their minister.  Feeling their inability on one occasion to pay him according to what was considered due him for his services a deputation of the congregation waited on their pastor in June of 1824 and told him that the only alternative  was for him to stop preaching if he were not satisfied with what they were giving him.  But he, faithful to their souls and doubtless feeling that to minister to the poor but needy people was of more value than the gold that perished, decided to remain with them and take his chances of whatever contributions they were able to give.  The capability of the people to contribute towards the maintenance of their church may in a measure be gleaned from the salary they paid the caretaker of the church in those days.  The caretaker was remunerated for his service by the yearly salary of two bushels of wheat.  Further information regarding their method of paying for services rendered during that period can be drawn from the way in which the public librarian was paid.  They had a public library in the village and Robert Mason was the librarian.  He was paid for his service as such from July, 1824 to July, 1825 by six quarts of wheat by each reader using the library.

Sometime about the year 1828 Dr. Gemmell ceased to minister to the people of Lanark.  In 1840 he was received into connection with the Church of Scotland in Canada and ministered in Dalhousie congregation with much acceptance until his death in 1844.

The material and spiritual progress of St. Andrew’s congregation in Lanark during this period cannot very well be ascertained after Dr. Gemmell’s withdrawal.  Some years elapsed before the congregation succeeded in obtaining another minister.  Preachers of the Gospel had then to be imported from Scotland and many very earnest requests—need we say pitiable implorations—were sent by the congregation to Scotland for a minister to be sent to them.  At length, when word reached them that a minister was on his way, they set to repair the church and fit it up for his reception.  Mr. Robert Drysdale was ordered  by the trustees of the church to repair the windows for which they agreed to pay 7 ½ d. for each square pane and one shilling for each round one.  They also agreed to pay him $2 for cleaning the stovepipes it being understood that he warranted them to draw for the subsequent seven years.  A noticeable feature of this transaction is the mixing up of the two kinds of currency—the shilling, the pence and the dollar and cents. 

It was in 1830 that the Rev. William McAlister was sent from Scotland and he arrived in Lanark in January, 1831 and began his ministry soon afterwards.  He was the first regularly ordained and inducted pastor of the church and for over eleven years he faithfully discharged his duties having a large and sparsely settled tract of country under his care.  His preaching stations were Lanark Village, Dalhousie and Young’s school house which station was subsequently removed to Middleville then known as Middleton.  That he found much to do may be gathered from the fact that the country about that time was described as a moral as well as a physical wilderness.  To him must be given the palm for baptism, for during his first year’s ministry he baptized 44 children.  The membership of the congregation was then about 94 and its bounds extended far north and east for both Dalhousie and Middleville are off shoots of this congregation.  Mr. McAllister could at one time consider the greater portion  of the townships of Lanark and Dalhousie as well as the northern part of Drummond within the bounds of his parish.  During his pastorate the membership in the three stations was largely increased and towards its close Dalhousie withdrew and became a separate charge under Dr. Gemmell but Middleville still remained connected with Lanark until about the year 1861.

At the first recorded meeting of session with Mr. McAllister as moderator, the elders were Robert Mason and Robert Affleck.  On June 16, 1832, John McLaren was ordained as elder along with James Muir, George Waddell and John Currie, who  belonged to other sections of the pastoral charge.  At a later period of Mr. McAllister’s pastorate, on June 24, 1839, John Headrick was also ordained and took his place as member of the session in Lanark.

In October, 1831 the contracts for building a manse were issued.  Messrs. Drysdale and Hay contracted for the mason work for 57 pounds.  The stone house now known as the old manse, was completed the following summer and continued to be used as the manse upwards of 62 years when it was sold to Rev. Mr. Wilson on his retirement.

During Mr. McAllister’s time a society was organized in connection with the church called “The Lanark Calvanistic Social Prayer Meeting” which flourished for a season.  The objective of the society was apparently the dispensing of a spiritual life—the students of the Word of God and the development of the talent of the members.  Of the 24 rules formulated to regulate the society the chief one referred to admission to membership.   It was by consent of the former members.  On each new applicant being placed before them by the president, a vote was taken to determine either the candidate’s reception or rejection.  They also referred to the discipline of offending members who, before being reinstated, were required to pay fines of repentance and true sorrow and lastly to the regulation of the duties of officiating members.  There were three classes of the latter: 

1.                  Those who agreed to engage in all parts of the meeting:  singing, reading and prayer and expounding the Word of God.

2.                  Those who agreed to sing, read and pray.

3.                  Those who would sing and read

This society, which in some respects resembles our modern C. E. Society, began with 13 members.  No person was required to officiate only those who were enrolled as officiating members and they were in duty bound to take part in the meeting at the call of the president who in turn was himself subject to be called upon by any member at any time.  Mr. McAllister was its first president.

In 1839, William Scott became the first precentor who received a stated amount of remuneration for his service.  His salary was 10 pounds a year and he was permitted to have assistance in the singing but the members of the choir that was then formed were not permitted to sit together but were located in different parts of the church.  There was an enclosure in front and lower down than the pulpit for the precentor and the pulpit was one of those high tub shaped enclosures which has often been characterized by the very significant mane “the candlestick pulpit”.  The style of it during the past half century has been gradually passing out before that imperative force we call “the change of fashion”.  Mr. Scott had a singing class and thus trained the young people to sing with favorable results.

In September, 1842, Mr. McAllister’s pastorate ended by his removal to Sarnia.  He left the Old Kirk in 1844 and became Free Church minister at Metis, C.F. (now known as Quebec province).  He died some years afterwards there.

The Rev. Thomas Fraser was his successor in the units charged of Lanark and Middleville.  He came from the Dutch Reformed Church in the U.S. but he had previously been for a short time minister at Niagara, C.W.  His induction took place on the 19th June, 1844 and he continued to minister to these congregations till his retirement in June, 1861.  The numerical strength of the united congregations of Lanark and Middleville may in a measure be estimated from the first communion service under Mr. Fraser at which 170 members from the two congregations were present.  These were the days of the great communion services when the people came from far and near to participate in them.  The custom so common in the Highlands of Scotland of neighboring congregations congregating together and holding a special sacrament meeting during communion season was here in Mr. Fraser’s time.  It is said that the people often came from as far as 30 miles to these sacraments, many of them—both men and women—on horseback for they had lady riders in those days but a large portion showed their zeal and devotion to the customs of the church by walking which was then of necessity the most common if not the most popular form of locomotion.

In July, 1849, Alexander Stewart and Robert James, Sr., were ordained to the sacred office of eldership and near the close of Mr. Fraser’s pastorate on the 23rd Feb., 1861 Peter McLaren (teacher) having acted as elder in the Free Church elsewhere was admitted to eldership by the session with the consent of the congregation.  The method the congregation had of paying Mr. Fraser has to us now an element of romance.  A certain day in the year was fixed upon when all the congregation were expected to call and pay the stipend all payments being made at the manse to the minister personally.  After the ingathering a large portion of the minister’s stipend consisted of wheat, oats, peas, hay, potatoes, and the like.  Each contributed, we presume, according to his ability in articles most convenient to them because of the scarcity of a proper medium of exchange money being then a very scarce article.  How good they must have felt in those days if their love of the root of all evil was not in proportion to the scarcity of the article itself. 

The church bell arrived in July, 1851 and the steeple having been repaired and strengthened to hold it, it was hung up in July, 1852.  The debt on the bell at the time of hanging it was 32 pounds.  The first bell ringer was Robert James, Sr., whose salary for providing the fire wood, kindling the fire, and ringing the bell was $3.  Other denominations were granted the privilege of having the bell for their benefit it being understood that they would recompense the bell ringer.

Towards the close of Mr. Fraser’s pastorate, his health became impaired and whilst away in the old country having an operation performed on his throat a few dissatisfied members withdrew from St. Andrew’s and organized a separate congregation now known as the Congregational Church.  Owing to the pastor’s declining health, William C. Clark was engaged in 1858(?) to assist him which he continued to do until Mr. Fraser’s resignation in June, 1861.  Mr. Fraser then retired on his commutation allowance and went to reside in Montreal where he died.  Mr. Clark continued to minister to the people for a short time after Mr. Fraser’s retirement but in a few months afterwards Lanark was separated from Middleville and Dalhousie whilst St. Andrew’s Church, Lanark was left to stand alone.

In 1860, steps were taken to build a new church and the erection of the present edifice on the site of the old church was begun but it was not completed until the summer of 1862.  The cost of the building was about 1,200 pounds and the Glasgow Colonial Committee contributed 75 pounds towards its erection.  Mr. Croil(?) in his short sketches of the old Kirk congregations in Canada, published in 1863, describes the church as a “tasteful stone edifice comfortably seating 378”.  From various causes, the congregation for the past two or three years of this period was not in a prosperous condition owing in part no doubt to Mr. Fraser’s unfortunate loss of health.

On May 6, 1862, Rev. James Wilson, M.A., began his ministry and was regularly inducted to the pastorate on June 11, 1862.  The induction service was held in the Town Hall, the new church not being yet completed.  Mr. Wilson was for three years a missionary under the Colonial Committee in Nova Scotia and having returned to Scotland was minister of Maxwelton Church, Dumfries for a short time.  He came then to Canada and officiated for a short time on St. Joseph Street, Montreal.  The elders of the congregation at the time of Mr. Wilson’s induction were Messrs. Robert Mason, Alexander Stewart, Robert James and Peter McLaren (teacher) and the membership of the church numbered 106.  The congregation had been for some time wading in deep water and the finances were in a very unsatisfactory state the congregation being then deeply involved in debt.  The collection per Sabbath amounted to only sixty cents.  However, under the new minister the work revived and the people received fresh inspiration and entered upon the work with renewed energy and zeal.  The new church being completed a few months after Mr. Wilson’s induction, was opened on Sabbath, August 10, 1862.  The Rev. Mr. Wilson preached the first sermon at the opening of the church from Ezra vi:14 “and they builded and finished it according to the commandment of the God of Israel”.

On December 20 of the same year, Messrs. James McIlquham and John Brown were ordained as elders.  It can therefore be seen that Mr. McIlquham is the oldest elder in the congregation and is the only member of the session as it was constituted in the first year of Rev. Wilson’s pastorate that is now with us.  He is now in the 34th year of active service in the session.  Other ordinations to the eldership during Mr. Wilson’s time are as follows:  on September 20, 1868, Charles McIlraith and Robert Fleming were ordained and John Nicol was admitted to the session having acted as elder before coming within the bounds of the congregation.  On June 24, 1876, Robert James, Jr., George Blair and Andrew Blair were ordained.  Of these, Charles McIlraith and George Blair are still members of the session but all the others have gone to meet their eternal reward with the exception of John Brown who removed several years ago to the U.S. and Andrew Baird who is now serving as elder in Middleville.

The introduction of the organ to aid in the service of praise was a matter that agitated the congregation during the first decade of Mr. Wilson’s pastorate to some extent.  Some were in favor of its introduction whilst others had conscientious scruples against what has often under such circumstances been termed as a mark of reproach “the kist o’ whistles”.  But to the credit of the congregation—the organ was introduced in the latter part of 1872 with almost the unanimous consent of the congregation and has ever since been used as a means to aid the singing.

In 1874 a portion of the glebe was sold for about $375 with which amount together with subscriptions from the congregation the present school room was built at the rear of the church at a cost of about $700.

The early records of the managing board are not extant but the very prominent members of the board who served the congregation as managers for a long time were Peter McLaren, Jr.. and Jacob Gallinger, the latter of whom was chairman of the managing board for nearly fifty years.

At the close of the year 1892 after a long pastorate of over 30 years, the Rev. Mr. Wilson feeling the infirmities of age, retired from the active duties of the ministry, the congregation granting him the use of the manse for life, which arrangement  was afterwards changed to selling to Mr. Wilson the manse property for $450.  Under Mr. Wilson’s pastorate the congregation made considerable progress.  Having found it in unfavorable financial circumstances he left it in good financial standing.  The weekly collection had risen from sixty cents to about four dollars and the membership had increased to 128.  The attendance at the Sabbath School was about 60.

In so long a pastorate, the congregation passed through many experiences and the pastor had his days of discouragement as well as sunshine.  Probably the most trying period of Mr. Wilson’s pastorate were to have on more than one occasion has work interrupted by the introduction into the community of self elected and self named evangelists who would be better described as fire brands destroying the peace and retarding the progress of the Church of Christ.  In the midst of such scenes and against the opprobrium of those who were carried off their feet with the wave of popular excitement, Mr. Wilson remained true to his sacred trust and maintained the doctrine of the Word of God at all hazards.  To Mr. Wilson’s steadfastness to the doctrine of Presbyterianism, yea to the truths of the Gospel and to those staunch and stalwart Christians who stood by him in the face of all such waves of excitement must in a large measure be attributed the solid foundation of Presbyterianism in Lanark today.  Mr. Wilson is still with us and it is the prayer of his many friends that he may be long spared to enjoy his well earned rest and to spend the evening of his life among us.

After Mr. Wilson’s resignation, the pastorate was vacant for over six months during which time candidates were being heard.  At a meeting of the congregation on the 4th of June, 1893, Rev. D.M. Buchanan, B.A., was called and at that meeting it was also agreed to sell the old manse property and proceed to build a new one.  Mr. Buchanan having agreed to accept the call, was inducted by the Presbytery of Lanark and Renfrew in the church on July 20.  The elders at the time of his induction were Messrs. McIlquham, Blair, Charles McIlraith and Robert James who died a few months afterwards.  Nearly three years have elapsed under the present pastorate during which time the congregation has made rapid progress but the history and details of these years must be left to be written by another pen.  Permit us, however, to give a few of the leading particulars and the present numerical strength of the congregations.  The new manse which cost about $1,825 was completed and the minister’s family began to occupy it in December, 1893.  During the following summer, commodious sheds for the horses costing in all about $325 were built.  Additions were made to the session as follows:  on January 7, 1894 Peter Duncan was ordained as elder and on September 23 of the same year Messrs. John Smith, John Manahan and Stewart McIlraith were ordained.

Now, during the past year—the 75th in the church’s history—with feelings of deepest gratitude for our Heavenly Father, it is our privilege to acknowledge that the congregation of St. Andrew’s Church, Lanark, has never been larger and more prosperous.  The membership is now 194 and the attendance at the Sabbath School is between 100 and 120.  The ordinary revenue during the past year was the highest in the financial records of the church—the average weekly collection being $6.25.  The prayer meeting, which is, as some say, the thermometer of the spiritual life of the church, was never better attended than at present.  There are connected with the congregation a flourishing W.F.M.S.(?) and C.E. Society.  The missionary contributions of the congregation which were in all $282 last year, were a large increase over the previous year.  The present office bearers of the church are as follows:  In the session, the elders are Messrs. James McIlquham, George Blair, Charles McIlraith, Peter Duncan, John Smith, John Manahan and Stewart McIlraith.  The managing board is composed of Messrs. W.C. Caldwell, John McLean, John Manahan, James McLaren, Robert McFarlane and David Headrick. 

As we look upon the past 75 years, we see that St. Andrews Church has made substantial and with rare exceptions steady progress.  If at times a wave of reaction came over here it was only as it were, for a season that we might gain a stronger foothold and prepare to press forward with renewed vigor on the crest of a high tide of prosperity.  In any record of events in which the human hand has played its part, mistakes and failings are to be bound and whilst in the past three quarters of a century many things might be recorded which should lend to make and keep us humble, yet there are also many others, which should inspire us with fresh hope and above all fill our hearts with a deep sense of gratitude to Almighty God.  The good that has been done in our community through the agency of this church during the past three quarters of a century cannot be estimated.  Of those who have been led from darkness to light; of the prodigals that have been induced to return to their Heavenly Father; of the sorrowing hearts that have been tested and seen that the Lord is good and have found balm for the aching wound; we cannot here speak in detail for these things are largely beyond the scope of the human visage.

Now we who are here tonight—office bearers and members—be inspired by the records of the past to weave by the help of God as good and if possible a better web of history to be told by succeeding generations.  May we be faithful to our trust that we may be able to hand down to our successors the glorious heritage which we have received from our fathers that we, as they, when the battle of life is done, may hear the Master’s voice say “Well done good and faithful servant, enter then into the joy of the Lord”.

Era, July 1

Posted: 02 March, 2005