EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Future of historic St. John's Anglican Church in Chapleau to be discussed

 In 1845, John Sanders, one of a family of 20, was born to Ojibway parents at Flying Post, a settlement on Groundhog Lake, about 60 miles north of the present community of Biscotasing.

About 1860, Rev. John Horden, who in 1872 would become the first bishop of the Diocese of Moosonee, journeyed by canoe from Moose Factory to Missanabie, and on his return on the river byway to old Brunswick Post south of Peterbell,  about 60 miles north of Chapleau, he struck overland to Flying Post.

The missionary priest of the then Church of England, now Anglican Church of Canada, met the young John Sanders, who in 1872 was ordained deacon, and in 1879 with his ordination to the priesthood likely became the first First Nation person to become a priest of the church in Canada.  Rev. John Sanders carried out the work of his church before the Canadian Pacific Railway became the main connecting link across Canada. In 1882, he held a service on the banks of the river at Chapleau.

Rev John Sanders
In 1982, when Rev. William P. Ivey was rector of St, John's Church, he organized a re-enactment of the service with Rev. Canon Redfern Louttit, portraying John Sanders. Canon Louttit had attended the Indian Residential School and Chapleau High School. The service was conducted in Cree, Ojibway and English.

REV JOHN SANDERS http://michaeljmorrisreports.blogspot.ca/2010/02/missionary-john-sanders-travelled-by.html

During those early years Rt. Rev. Edward Sullivan, bishop of Algoma, was carrying out missionary work in his vast diocese. In 1882, he described Algoma, which at the time included the future community of Chapleau as a vast wilderness, "a land of Christmas trees and rocks of ages."

The bishop found Rev. Gowan Gillmor, who delighted in his nickname 'The Tramp' as he walked the railway line as it was being built from Sudbury to Chapleau and beyond. 

In 1884, Rev. Gillmor conducted a service in the fledgling community at Mileage 615.1, in October 1884, and was instrumental in founding St. John's Church in 1885.

Rev. Gillmor described his work along the CPR: "I ministered to the construction people numbering about 5,000, holding services as I  went along in camps, shanties and box cars sleeping in them overnight; my experiences were the roughest."

Rev. Ivey organized another historical re-enactment with Rev. E. Roy Haddon, a former rector of St. John's playing Rev. Gillmor.

By the Spring of 1885, plans were underway to build a church in Chapleau, and in December, Rev, Gillmor attended a meeting in the partially completed railway station to discuss the matter. He also conducted services there.

A grant of $400 was available from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts in England but Chapleau people would have to raise $500, a tremendous amount in those days. The first motion placed before the meeting was that "the matter be dropped."

Mrs. R.V. Nicholson preserved an account of the meeting, which was available to me when I wrote 'Sons of Thunder ... Apostles of Love' to mark the 100th anniversary of St. John's in 1885.

When it looked like the project would fail, Mrs. Nicholson had recorded the next development: " At this point Miss Annie Nicholson, although only seventeen years old got up and said that if the meeting would allow her, she would volunteer to collect the amount with the assistance of her friend, Miss Minnie Richardson."

Despite several "prominent" members ridiculing the idea, they were permitted to proceed and at the next meeting Miss Nicholson commented that "a really strong box" would be needed as more than $1,000 had been collected and paid.

As St. John's marked its 100th anniversary in 1985, Rev. Jerry Smith, then the rector, organized a re-enactment of the 1885 meeting when Annie Nicholson and Minnie Richardson became the fundraisers. They were played by Sharon Henderson and Linda Tebbutt.

Tenders were called and a contract let for the building of St. John's, which was opened and dedicated on July 1, 1886, by Bishop Sullivan assisted by Rev. Gillmor. W. Hepburn became the first Rector's Warden and G.B. Nicholson, People's Warden, a position he held for many years. Mr. Nicholson became the first reeve of Chapleau in 1901.

G. B. Nicholson
The original St. John's Church, located across from the present church beside the rectory was a 20 by 32 foot frame building.

According to the bishop's calendar on the Anglican Diocese of Moosonee web site, the Rt. Rev. Thomas Corston, the ninth bishop of the diocese and Archdeacon Huskins will meet with Andre Byham, the mayor of Chapleau on October 19, 2012, to discuss the future of historic St, John's.  The notice says a report will be given to the congregation following the service on October 21.

Original St John's. Rev. Robert Warrington
Tom Corston as most readers know was born and raised in Chapleau, and was ordained deacon at St. John's in 1974.

Like so many churches, in recent years, St. John's has fallen on hard times.

I decided to share some of the highlights in the history of St. John's from its first 100 years, recognizing that it is and was the home church for so many throughout its history, and now another challenge is being faced.

Rev. W.L. James, decsribed as "a flame of fire" became rector in 1904 and it was he who conceived the vision for the present St. John's. At the outset of discussions a majority wanted to enlarge the existing building but Rev. James held out for a new one. A motion was placed before an Easter congregational meeting on Monday April 23, 1906, "Moved by Mr. Wallace and  seconded by Mr. H. West that it is necessary to build a new church. Carried unanimously."

Mr. James died before the new church was opened. The  first service was held in it on March 29, 1908 when it was dedicated by Bishop George Holmes, with Rev. P.R. Soanes, who had become the rector assisting. The total cost was $18,000.

For a time, Bishop Holmes lived in Chapleau and St. John's was the Pro-Cathedral of Moosonee.

Interestingly, the original St. John's was dismantled and shipped on two flatcars to Cochrane, making the last part of its journey on horse-drawn carts. It was used as a church in Cochrane for several years but was destroyed in a great fire there.

After some renovations in 1913  a new pipe organ was installed in  memory of Thomas Nicholson. The story has often been told that air for it was supplied by hand pumping. In a small space under the organ two boys, including the fathers of many of us who attended St. John's were delegated to work the bellows and pump the air.

Quite often, the organist had to send frantic signals down for air as the boys would be engrossed in telling stories or carving their initials into the woodwork around them. As far as I know the initials are still there, although I forgot to look when I visited St. John's during the Chapleau High School reunion.

St. John's celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1935 with the Rt. Rev. Derwyn T. Owen, archbishop of Toronto and Primate of all Canada as guest speaker. 

Prior to the actual celebration, St. John's lost one of its most outstanding members when G.B. Nicholson died on January 1. For 25 years he had conducted an adult Bible class coming home by train from Ottawa on weekends when he was a member of parliament to conduct it. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary, Rev. Harold Hesketh was the rector and Charles W. Collins and Albert Evans
were the wardens.

With the arrival of Canon H.A. Sims in 1947, renovations to the church got underway, and were completed by the time he retired in 1950 with the vestry book for 1949 containing the entry that the advisory board had named rooms in the basement of the church the Anderson Hall after Most Rev. John George Anderson, bishop of Moosonee 1909-43 and the Renison Hall in honour of Rt. Rev. Robert John Renison, also a bishop of Moosonee.

In January 1946, St. John's was advised by Bishop William Wright that St. John's had been transferred to the diocese of Algoma. It was later moved back to Moosonee.

Rev. E. Roy Haddon arrived in 1950 as rector and made a tremendous impact on the parish during his three years there. St. John's was also aided with the boom that Chapleau experienced in the 1950s. After he left, new rectors were confronted with someone who would comment to the effect. "You may do a good job here, but it won't be like the Haddon years. He packed the place." And indeed, he did.

For example, on Christmas Eve, 1952 the largest congregation ever recorded in the entire history of St. John's was recorded. The total was 267 people. I still remember the chairs in the aisle on a beautiful winter evening. Also in 1952 St. John's was redecorated and Mr. Haddon noted that one would have to travel many miles to find such a beautiful church.

St. John's celebrated its 75th anniversary when Rev. J.G.M. Doolan was rector and Jim Broomhead.,also Chapleau reeve at the time  and Lindsay 'Andy' Anderson were the wardens. a highlight was a reunion of the Bible class founded by Mr Nicholson. It was conducted by P.J. Collins who had been the assistant for many years. They sang hymns on the same portable organ used many years previously and played by the same organist Mrs. C.W. Swanson.

The Haddon attendance record was finally shattered on October 9, 1983 when the parish and community gathered to say farewell to Rev. Wiliam Ivey, who had been rector for nine and one half years, and his family. There were 298 people at the farewell service.

Rev. Jerry Smith, now the rector of St, Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Nashville, Tennessee, was rector when St. John's celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1985. In  a message in 'Sons of Thunder... Apostles of Love' he wrote in part  about a "Christian community carved out of the wilderness. Sometimes St. John's has acted more like the son of thunder than the apostle of love, and sometimes vice versa. But the bottom line is ... 'Where do we go from here?. What is God calling us to do and how are we going to respond?'"  My email is mj.morris@live.ca

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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