|The First St. Thomas' Church|
**Article originally published in the April 2018 edition of Outlook newsletter.
In 1816, the inhabitants living at the mouth of the Moira River finally had a village with surveyed streets for their stores and homes. Religion was not neglected. There were itinerant preachers of all faiths meeting in homes around the village. In 1818, James McNabb was appointed chairman of a group of prominent citizens wanting to have an English church. The group included Captain John Walden Meyers, Allan Taylor Esq., Captain Thomas Coleman, Mr. Roswell Leavens and Mr. Andrew Maynes.
On December 28, 1818, McNabb sent a petition to: “His Excellency Sir Peregrine Maitland KCB on behalf of the Trustees who humbly sheweth: that your petitioners view with regret the high expediency of the immediate Commencement of Building an Episcopalian Church wherein divine service will regularly be attended to in Bellville – that it will be the means of good effect upon the minds of youth in this part of the Province, and be a leading and glorious step toward the very desirable object to promote Religion and Morality in Bellville. Therefore, your petitioner prays that Your Excellency in Council will be pleased to allow and grant the whole or part of the lotts between Church Street and Rear Street in Bellville, in Trust, to be adopted to such use of Church and Burrying Ground only.”
The grant was promptly approved. On April 15, 1819, the tender of Allan Taylor to build the church for £700 was accepted and the sod was turned and building began.
Sketch by Edwin Whitefield, 1854 CABHC HC0918
Susanna Moodie described the Anglican Church in her book Life in the Clearings as she first saw it, about 1840: “The English church was built many years ago, partly of red brick burnt in the neighbourhood, and partly of wood coloured red. ... Belleville was but a small settlement on the edge of the forest, scarcely deserving the name of a village, when this church first pointed its ugly tower towards heaven. Doubtless its founders thought they had done wonders when they erected this humble looking place of worship; but now, when their descendants have become rich, and the village of log-huts and frame buildings has grown into a populous, busy, thriving town, and this red, tasteless building is too small to accommodate its congregation, it should no longer hold the height of the hill, but give place to a larger and handsomer edifice.”
What happened? Why all the disparaging remarks?
We find out from the Kingston Gazette on May 21, 1819: “Died – at Belleville on the 19th, aged 31 years, Allan Taylor Esq. The death of Mr Taylor is an event which will be long and fervently felt by his numerous acquaintances. He was one of those meritorious individuals who by his personal exertions and scrupulous attention to honesty in all his dealings, acquired a large property, accompanied with respect of all who knew him.”
We also find out from the Daily Intelligencer on November 16, 1901, in an interview with Allan Taylor Petrie: “Allan Taylor, my uncle, was very much interested in the building of St Thomas Church. He died just after the walls had been erected, and was buried right in the centre of the church. The building was finished and the pews put in, and for years, in fact until her death, old Mrs. Agnes Taylor worshipped in a pew which was placed exactly over her son’s grave.”
In our picture collection at the Community Archives is this copy of a drawing in Library and Archives Canada, being a sketch of the church in 1854 by Edwin Whitefield showing the colours he will use for a painting. Susanna Moodie wrote: “There is an artist here, a Mr Whitefield, who is going through the country taking sketches on all our picturesque water. His views are the most truthful, and beautifully executed. He has several hundred of them, with which he intends to make a pictorical work on the Canadas.”
It is possible that Allan Taylor had managed to construct the red brick walls of the body of the church, and after his death the Trustees completed the front tower in wood, painted dark red as Mr. Whitefield indicated in his sketch. This early church stood close to the south side of the present church.
St. Thomas’ Anglican Church is celebrating its bicentennial this year.
First St. Thomas’ Church CABHC HC0920