Mount Forest’s Landmark Spire
Mount Forest. Coming in from the south you see the Saugeen, the tall, white water tower, and two spires. The one on the left is of importance to the town. It is the one that houses a congregation that has moved from place to place many times throughout the course of its history, has produced politicians, soldiers in both World Wars, musicians, friends, family, and a place of worship. This congregation has been everywhere from the town hall to churches that have long since been brought down, and even churches that stand to this day before arriving at this spire. The congregation of the church has also been everything from Methodist, to Presbyterian, to the United Church of today. The history of this United Church holds true to its name for it was one person who wandered throughout this area that decided to build a small church here in 1844. This church is also home to many touching memories that many of the more senior members might remember, and that the youth of today might hear about. This place of worship has also seen everything from the confederation of Canada, to see its own TV show, to have its own library. From Christmas pageants to world-famous pianists, this church has truly put Mount Forest on the map.
During the early 1800s, settlers spread themselves across southern Ontario, bibles in hand, most of them being Presbyterian and Methodist. At first, there were no churches, just the odd farmhouse, and no official place of worship, thus making it impossible for any type of organized worship to take place. To satisfy the spiritual hunger of the settlers, ministers also called “Saddle-bag Preachers” roamed the countryside going from home to home to perform baptisms, funerals, weddings, and anything else they might be needed for. The first of these “Saddle-bag Preachers” was Reverend John Shilton in 1842. Just two years later he organized the building of the first local church for the people.
It was the New Connection Branch of Methodism and included a new circuit from Hanover to Arthur. This church was built on the corner of Highway 6 and Sligo Road. In 1863, Mount Forest was considered to be an individual circuit with 147 members.
The second church to be built was the Wesleyan Methodist church in 1852 where the present-day Catholic Church stands in 1852. In 1874, the New Connection Branch and the Wesleyan Methodist united to form one church at the corner of Wellington and Elgin Street. Two hundred and fifteen members contributed to the building of the structure, which had cost a total of $16,000. Again, another church was built on the corner of Wellington and Egremont streets, but then in 1884, both of the congregations united to make one strong body.
In 1856, Presbyterians had decided that they too wanted a place of worship and made their plea to Hamilton Presbytery for some help. Before help arrived, there was a split in the congregations and there were then two temporary places of worship built, Knox, and St. Andrew’s. The Knox church was built near the present-day one and St. Andrew’s was built on the Corner of King and Fergus Street. Within a short time, a preaching station was built at Woodland with ties to St. Andrew’s and a Gaelic station with ties to Knox. In 1873, Knox church constructed the new church building that stands today, under the guidance of Reverend John Macmillan. This church was so large that the old church had to be demolished before that new one could be built. The Masonic’s Grand Master of Canada laid the cornerstone of the church. Within the cornerstone was placed a copy of that day’s service; a list of the names of the officers belonging to St. Alban’s Lodge; copies of the C.P. Home and Foreign Record; The Craftsmen; The Globe and Mail newspapers; a Copy of the Confederate; and the current coins of Canada. In 1884, the church had become Mount Forest Presbyterian Church when St. Andrew’s Church and Knox Church United, and was later changed to Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Starting in 1902 and then later emphasized during the First World War, talk of uniting churches began due to the idea that being one united church would be stronger than being little individual ones. On June 10th, 1925, the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregational Churches joined to become the United Church of Canada with Rev. Pigeon being the First Moderator. The Mount Forest Methodist Church entered Union without a vote while the Presbyterian Church entered with several votes and a final outcome of 255 to 32. Because of the two already existing churches, it was decided that they, like the denominations, should unite in one building, which was later decided to be Westminster church. In June 1934, the Mount Forest United Church was created and thus began the life of the “United and Uniting” Church of Mount Forest.
The Christian Education building was started in Construction on September 26th, 1955, where the Teacher of the Sunday school and the children helped turn the soil for the groundbreaking. The cornerstone was laid on June 24th, 1956, and Mrs. G.P. Bateman placed in it a box of items that symbolized traditional Methodism and Mr. Harold Crow laid the cornerstone and represented Presbyterianism. Rev. Douglas Facey, son of the former Minister of the Wellington Street Church, dedicated it on June 23, 1957.
Many people agree that music is one of the things that drive a church and this one is no different. Mount Forest United has had a wonderful musical history with a total of three organs throughout the years, a Junior Choir reaching a membership of 74 in 1965, and even a musical ensemble containing flutes, trumpets, and saxophones, not to mention the soloists at different times of the year. Dorothy Brown was one of the most accomplished choir directors with over 30 years of experience.
In 1890 the first organ was installed with a manual pump for the air and was located at the back of the choir loft. In 1905, the organ was refurbished. In 1910, a new organ was installed for a cost of $2000. In 1916 the electric blower was installed for the organ and was much appreciated. In 1948 the organ was electrified and in 1957 the third organ was donated and was dedicated to all those who served in the first and second world wars.
Rev. Allen McDowell first introduced the Television Ministry, with the intention to reach the sick and shut-ins of the community. It was soon noticed that the audience was more than that and was to include the 52 Sundays in a year plus special services like Christmas. There have been people that have actually dressed up in their good clothes to watch the broadcast at home.
The Resource Center was formed in 1988. Books and shelves were either donated or bought; Mary Harris catalogued the books using the Dewey Decimal system found in most libraries. Here, it is opened up after services for people to sign out books and videotapes of the sermon and other materials. There was a supply of 100 videos and 500 books that provide a wide range of religious content. There are many contributions to it made annually.
The memories of this United Church are what make it unique. This church with its amazing history wouldn’t be the same without all of the memories. Some memories of the church that members come up with were when on one Sunday morning when a child in the gallery dropped a hymn book and landed on the brim of Miss Galbraith’s hat, and when there where two large chandeliers in the center of the Church Sanctuary with the fluted glass shade and the matching brackets along the wall.
There are also many stories that give a sense that the church is in fact a family, for instance, on one February Sunday in 1959, the choir boys wanted attention, so they started squeaking the bench they were sitting on. Usually, this would have been exceptionally annoying for the congregation, and especially the parents, but this was no ordinary Sunday. The day before, these same choirboys had spent their Saturday afternoon playing hockey in the local arena, while seven of their friends were off playing at the Listowel arena. The roof of the Listowel arena collapsed resulting in the death of those seven boys and their recreational director. After that, the congregation didn’t mind the squeaking bench. And there are also some good stories from the church like when on one particular Christmas pageant, the children decided to use a real calf instead of a fake one. They were watching it so carefully in fact that they forgot to sing their song and ignored the teachers trying to get them to sing. There are also odd stories like when one time when someone working on the steeple fell to the ground. He survived, but the holes in the ground where his heels were attracted many people that evening.
The Mount Forest United Church also has some fascinating facts such as Miss Flora Grieg, (a member of the choir) was the mother of the famous pianist Glenn Gould. In 1982, the moderator of the United Church of Canada visited with many people coming out to visit. And there was a recital by well-known Toronto organist Kathleen Stokes who performed on radio shows such as “The Happy Gang” and “at the Console of the Mighty Organ”.
The Mount Forest United Church has a long history stretching back to before the confederation of Canada. With many different locations throughout the town and joining two denominations, this church has been a truly defining feature of Mount Forest and the surrounding towns. The Church has been sharing its talent with Mount Forest with everything from the many musical talents, to the TV ministry to the resource center. Mount Forest United Church has been around for 73 years, and the congregations have been around for 165 years and will continue to shape our town as “Mount Forest’s Landmark Spire”.
Whereas we understand, accept and value differences between people and strive to create an atmosphere that is both supportive and respectful, we strive to remove all barriers, discrimination, and intolerances so that all feel included. Mount Forest United Church Council supports the painting of the front steps as a symbol of our desire to be a welcoming and inclusive community, where love is love.”
Acknowledging the Territories
As we gather for worship we acknowledge the land on which we meet: the traditional territories of the Petun, Odawa, Anishinaabe and other Indigenous peoples who preceded them and came after. We acknowledge their history, their spirituality and their culture. We seek a new relationship with the original peoples of this land, one based on honour and deep respect.