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An Early Methodist Circuit Rider

Using notes from the Tweedsmuir Books of Westmeath and Laurentian Valley Women’s Institutes and other sources.

Some came up river using the Ottawa as their snow road in winter or their canoe route in summer. The settlers came on horseback overland as there were only trails through the woods. Later they came in carts, sometimes drawn by oxen; from all the surrounding country, even from Pembroke which had no church. We have no knowledge of how this church was served at first.

This church had its beginning in the Wesleyan Methodist denomination.  The definite date in the early 1800s of its becoming a circuit has not been determined, only by stories handed down form one of George Tucker’s daughters.

Circuit riders were sent from the Methodist Church in Montreal to survey the settlers along the Ottawa River. Following one of these visits in the 1830s, a school house was built and the pioneer resident in Westmeath Front held their services in this schoolhouse.

Click here for further information about these Montreal Methodist circuit riders.

“The Methodist circuit rider often travelled as many as forty or fifty miles between appointments, enduring hardships that now seem incredible.  Travelling in all manner of weather through forests and fording streams and rivers, these riders frequently carried their few worldly possessions in saddlebag. When they finally arrived at a community, the place of worship was often a house, a barn, a school – and in rare cases a church. Many a circuit rider was responsible for the religious welfare of communities scattered throughout hundreds of square miles of territory.”

“Our early history of Methodists tells of a rider sent from Montreal to visit the hamlet churches of the Ottawa River, and coming to Westmeath tells of the beautifully situated village. This man, when reporting to conference in Montreal, told of his hardship in making this journey. It was in the spring.  The rains had been heavy and water lay in great pools on the bush roads turning them into deep bogs in many places.  Many times his horse would get stuck and he would have to dismount and help the animal out. On one occasion the horse became so exhausted that after getting out of the bog he threw himself on the bank and no amount of coaxing could persuade him to rise. The minister feared his horse would never walk again.”

“Discouraged and aching in every joint he decided he too would take a rest and he lay down beside the horse. In the warm spring sunshine, they both fell asleep and several hours had passed when the man awoke with a start. The horse hadn’t budged. The sun had dried the mud and he was able to scrape most of it off he and his faithful companion.  He spoke to the horse and to his great relief, it sprang to its feet, shook itself and was ready to carry him on his mission.”

He then went on to tell of the kind women of Westmeath who made him so welcome.  His clothing was past repairing. The women knit his socks from yarn they had spun themselves and made him a shirt.  His pants had worn so thin from the saddle that he was afraid to go further, and he had no money to buy a new pair.  They persuaded him to rest a little longer while they made him a pair of pants.  He went on his way rejoicing.

One family traveling to church about six miles in a cart, over the rough road, had the cart dumped and all the children left on the road. This was not discovered for some distance.  They turned around, picked up the crying children, then proceeded to church.  They took their lunches and stayed for another service, visited and planned for the future. Some of the women gathered the children and told them bible stories and sang, often in the open air. Thus the first Sunday School was born and also the first Woman’s Organization.

Now we take it for granted there was a real Ladies Aid there. In 1844 a gift of ten acres of land was given for a second burying ground on  the banks of the Ottawa River.

Our church records early in the 1830’s show we had a resident minister with a family. There was a resident minister and his family stationed at Westmeath in 1833. This fact is substantiated in early records of the Methodist Church in Pembroke.  This church was supervised by the Westmeath Front church from 1836 to 1848 when they build their first church in Pembroke.

The Westmeath minister preached at Beachburg until 1850 and once a month at Waltham, Quebec, in later years.  People from Pembroke came to church in Westmeath Front from 1836 until the time their first church was built.

In 1844 a new church was built in front of the cemetery now in the village. The first cemetery was situated below Westmeath. This church was known as the Wesleyan Methodist Church and the first minister was Rev. Tomlin. They also built a parsonage; quite a large dwelling, built of logs donated by the congregation and covered with clapboards.  All the families were Protestant at this time.

As the congregation grew, it was decided to build a new church in 1893. The cornerstone was laid by Mrs. Alexander Fraser.  Before the debt incurred with its erection was met, it was partially destroyed by fire. While the church was being repaired the congregation worshiped at the Presbyterian Church in the morning and the Presbyterians had their worship in the afternoon.  The newly repaired church was reopened in 1898. In 1906 the present parsonage was built.

The Pembroke Observer & Upper Ottawa Advertiser, Friday, January 1, 1886
Pembroke Observer & Upper Ottawa Advertiser, Friday, December 14, 1888

The Wesleyan Methodist Church Ladies’ Aid

Using notes from the Tweedsmuir Books of Westmeath and Laurentian Valley Women’s Institutes.

The new brick church in Westmeath, built by the parsonage was to be known as the Wesley Methodist Church.

The Ladies’ Aid was largely responsible for the furnishings of the parsonage.  The minister in charge moved in before it was finished and helped with the work. Money was scarce in those days. The women spun and made their own yarn and made their own rag carpets.  These carpets were made from what was known as carpet rags and when woven were covered with coloured yards worked in a pattern.  These carpets covered the floors of several rooms in the new parsonage.  I remember when a very little girl I was visiting the parsonage with my Mother and remarked, “They are just like ours.”

Donations of money and labour helped pay the debt for the new church over the years. Money was borrowed paying as high as ten or twelve percent. Socials and tea meetings were held and our records show that now and then substantial gifts were sent from interested friends from the outlying districts.  When the mortgage was burned after several years of hard work, the ladies held a social evening and all members attended.  It was a day of rejoicing.

These early women all long gone, left a great heritage and our women have not failed them.  In 1874, after much discussion it was decided the expense of keeping a cow at the parsonage was too great.  One of the officials said he’d see the cow and if she was in good or fair order for beef, he would take her for $20. If he did not take her, they would dispose of her for what they could get. In 1884 the Ladies raised enough money to build a fence around the burying ground.

As the congregation grew, it was decided in 1893 to build a new church.  The late Mrs. Alex Fraser laid the cornerstone.  Mr. Alex Fraser gave a donation of $900.00. The Ladies Aid promised a hundred dollars and later added another $100.00.  Before the debt could be met the church was partially destroyed by fire and the contents lost.  There was some insurance, which did not cover the cost of rebuilding.  Subscriptions were taken up to help cover the cost of rebuilding, and the Ladies Aid promised a new organ.

At the opening of the newly repaired church in October 1898 the Ladies Aid served cake and coffee Monday evening for 154 persons, following the opening.  The annual New Year’s Tea Meeting was left for the Ladies Aid to supervise, the proceeds to go to the trustees.  The charge in those days was 25¢.

In 1903 it was decided to build a new parsonage. In 1906 the new parsonage was finished and had a debt of nearly $3,000.00.  Again the Ladies Aid were ready to help. With a membership between 15 to 20 each member was given a dollar talent money.  $400.00 was raised and paid. At a social meeting held in the church each member told in rhyme how she raised her money.  The Ladies Aid now raised their money by collections, socials, ice cream, candy, etc. to take care  of the parsonage. A carpet for the church was provided, also equipment for the church pantry.  We contributed to the Superannuation Fund.  In 1912 they bought new individual communion service.

In 1915 there was still a debt on the parsonage. They Ladies gave another $100.

Instead of so many socials and teas, the members decided they would give a cent a day to be paid monthly.  Rugs and a desk were added to the parsonage and another donation to Trustees of $50. The church doors were recovered.

Beachburg’s Episcopal Methodist and Wesleyan Methodist Churches

Methodist Church and Manse on Main Street in Beachburg, 1864, later destroyed by fire.

“In the early church life of Beachburg one hears of the Episcopal Methodist body in 1859.  Later it is found they served served by the following clergymen:  Revs. Betts, D. Brill, Badgeley, Sanderson, Ferguson, Robinson, D. Smith, S. Duprau, T. Richards and W. Bass.  

“A church as built in 1864 by the Wesleyan Methodist congregation.  They were served for years by ministers posted at Westmeath.  Among them were Rev. Tomblin, J. Howes,   J. Simpson, George Washington was the first resident minister in Beachburg followed by Rev. W. Craig, Rev. J. Follick and Rev. W. Peck.  The two churches united in 1884 and were called the Methodist Church of Canada.

“The first minister after union was Rev. W. Knox followed by Carl Snell, J. H. Murray, G. Mossfor, J. B. Robinson, John Hurst, S.N. Maxwell and G.A. Robinson.  In 1925 the Methodists and the Presbyterians united to become the United Church of Canada.”   – from “Centenary- St. Andrew’s Beachburg”.

Evelyn Moore Price’s 1984 book, (Pages 91-93) gives more detailed information on the Beachburg Methodist Church:

The history of the Zion Wesleyan Methodist Church was also described in Evelyn Moore Prices 1984 book, offered here.

Divergent beliefs caused the beginning of smaller sects such as the Holiness Movement Church and the Standard Church with passionate followers  – both founded by the charismatic Ralph Cecil Horner.

The Ottawa Journal, Monday, July 22, 1895.

The “Hornerites“, an evangelistic off-shoot of the main stream Methodist Church of Canada, were founded in the 1880’s by a resident of the Shawville, Quebec, area opposite Ontario’s Renfrew County. Ralph Cecil Horner, farmer, Methodist clergyman, revivalist, and holiness bishop, found some fame in the area and beyond.

“He disobeyed established regulations by evangelizing wherever he decided he could be effective, even if his “flaming” revivals interfered with the work of the local clergy.”

“With his highly emotional and enthusiastic preaching, emphasis on entire sanctification and the pentecostal third blessing, and reliance on wild physical manifestations such as shouting, crying, flailing about, and prostration, Horner was soon censored by his superiors and Methodists intent on keeping the denomination respectable.”

Remnants Today of Methodist Mission Roots

Westmeath Methodist

The Methodist Mission heritage of St. Andrew’s United, Westmeath, is shown on the inscription of a crest on a wooden plaque hanging in the church:

“In memory of the men who gave their lives in the World War 1914 – 1918. Memorial Buildings Erected in Methodist Mission Fields”.

The maple leaf on the plaque has a band inscribed:  John Harold Chattaway Smith.  Sergeant Harold Smith, Service # 304600,  served in the 9th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery and was killed in action on October 26th, 1917, the first day of the Canadian Corps attack on Passchendaele, at age 22.  He was the son of Alfred and Harriett Smith of Westmeath and is buried at the Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery located near Ypres, (now called Ieper), Belgium.  Click here to view his photo.

Greenwood Methodist Church

The Pembroke Observer & Advertiser, Friday December 28, 1888

Opposite the Greenwood United Church, on Greenwood Road,  in a pretty, small parkette, a marker on a white stone base is inscribed:

“On this site in 1863 the pioneers of this community erected the first Methodist Church named Greenwood.  1863 – 1963 In grateful memory by Leslie and Etta Cotnam.”  The white stone base reads:  “Doorstep of First Church 1863.”

Perretton Methodist

In the gable end of Perretton’s Grace United Church, Beachburg Road, above the front door,  a special stone-carved Maltese Cross is inlaid in the red brick.  It’s inscription reads:    “Grace Methodist Church 1891”.

Methodist Marriage Registry

Wesleyan Methodist, Marriages for Westmeath Township, Renfrew County and Surrounding Area, 1858 – 1899

1858 -1899 Methodist Marriages