Researched and written by Shirley Geigen Miller
Chapter X - Metamorphosis Continues
More on the 1940s
By the time of Rev. French’s departure in February, 1945, the members of St. Anne’s were well-practiced at taking responsibility for the functioning of the church. They had also learned to co-operate and negotiate with the other two churches in the three-point parish. A growth-spurt indeed.
Just as French had empowered church members to serve as leaders, parishioners could now empower each other to accept opportunities to serve.
To be sure, the priest would always be the spiritual/pastoral leader who would also act as adviser, listener, teacher, visionary, administrator or cheerleader, as required. Still, many parishioners now saw their own roles as being essential to the life of the faith community, as well.
In this spirit, St. Anne’s welcomed their next priest, the Rev. John William Donaldson into their midst on April 22, 1945. The son of a priest and a “seasoned” priest himself, Donaldson brought his own gifts and experiences to his ministry at Byron, Hyde Park and Lambeth.
John W. Donaldson was born in Halifax in 1907, grew up in Nova Scotia and graduated from Dalhousie University with a B.A. He earned a Licentiate in Theology (L.Th) from Wycliffe College in Toronto and was ordained deacon in 1934 by Bishop Warrell of Nova Scotia. Then he went to serve “Christ and His church” in the Peace River District of Alberta.
In April, 1935 he married Katherine Elizabeth Hessey at Spirit River and in May he was ordained priest at Peace River by Bishop Sovereign of Athabasca. Living near two rivers with inspiring names – Spirit and Peace – the couple spent over five years in the area with Donaldson serving the church as he intended.
In 1941 the Donaldsons travelled east to Ontario, entering the Diocese of Huron. At the bidding of Bishop Charles Seager, Rev. Donaldson ministered at Ailsa Craig (a three-point-parish), and then at Lucknow (a four-point-parish), before arriving at Byron, Hyde Park and Lambeth in April, 1945. The Donaldsons moved into the rectory at Hyde Park.
At this time, all three of the parish communities - Byron, Hyde Park and Lambeth - were experiencing rapid population increases. St. Anne’s was struggling to accommodate the needs of a “fast-growing” congregation.
Board of Management considered putting an addition on the West Wing to create more space for the Sunday School. But there was a snag. The Canadian government had imposed wartime restrictions on many construction materials which were needed by the military. Any materials available were expensive. The board put the plan on hold until restrictions were lifted and construction was “feasible”.
In this time period, Kae Hart resigned as Sunday School Superintendent. Milton Keam and J. R. Mitchell acted as superintendents from 1945 to 1948.
In May, 1945, when the board was informed that the primary Sunday School class had doubled in size, board members ordered “another table and benches.” (from board minutes)
A more realistic solution would be found later.
War Front News
Into the midst of this quandary came good news from the war front. On May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered to the Western Allies and to Russia on May 9. Both dates marked V-E Day, Victory in Europe. A relief in stressful times.
War in the Pacific Theatre, however, was to continue for another four months. The people of St. Anne’s, of course, had no idea when the war would be over. They turned to a more do-able project at the church. With so many factors beyond their control, there was one thing they COULD do – build a fence.
For some time, the congregation had liked the idea of installing a new fence across the front of the church building. Iron and wood fencing were in short supply, therefore costly. A stone fence, however, was in the financial ballpark.
On Sunday, April 29, 1945, at a meeting of the congregation, the board presented a proposal for a stone fence. The members of St. Anne’s approved the proposal and urged the board to hire an architect and proceed.
Action was taken immediately. There were sketches by an architect, a detailed design by stonemason, Alfred Frank, and a fund for the stone fence was started by the Bible Class.
The adult Bible class, led by layreader W.P. Simpson, ran for several years in the 1940s.
Enthusiasm for the new stone fence seems to have touched most sectors of the congregation. Whether it was because of the fence itself or because the project gave parishioners a diversion from worldwide woes, we’ll never know.
However, in July, 1945, circumstances suddenly changed. From the first of the month, some restrictions on construction materials were lifted.
During a meeting of Board of Management on July, 10, parishioner George Cotton presented the wardens with a cheque for $500. toward the fence. He said that “more [money] would be given if needed” and “he and his wife wish the fence to be whatever the people wanted.” (from board minutes)
The end result from Cotton’s generous gift was – not a stone fence – but a wrought iron gate and fence with stone pillars. As Grace Bainard put it, the fence “makes a graceful and dignified entrance to the church.”
In early August, the United States took action against Japan, dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The devastation caused by the bombs was huge. On Aug. 15, Japan announced its intention to surrender. The formal surrender took place on Sept 2, 1945, officially ending the Second Global War.
Between the date of Japan’s intention to surrender and the date of formal surrender Rev. Donaldson held a “peace service” at St. Anne’s on Aug. 19.
Meanwhile, some of the younger church members had already been thinking ahead. The Junior Auxiliary (JA) had presented the church with an Honour Roll listing the names of St. Anne’s members who did active service in the war.
The JA was a group of pre-teen girls affiliated with the Women’s Auxiliary (WA). Names on the Honour Roll were inscribed by Kae Hart and the Roll was placed in the church entrance.
Sunday School Accommodations
Then the congregation was ready to tackle a pressing issue – the overcrowded Sunday School.
Still expecting to build an addition on the parish room in the near future, church members looked for a temporary solution. It was found quickly. St. Anne’s was fortunate to obtain permission to use a classroom in the “old school” next door. The church could avail the classroom on Sunday mornings until an extension to the West Wing was possible.
Due to unforeseen circumstances that addition was never built. And temporary solutions for the Sunday School would be needed for more than 10 years. Nevertheless the issue of the overcrowded Sunday School WAS resolved. For the time being.
It was an era when circumstances and regulations were constantly changing. St. Anne’s successfully adapted to the needs of this chaotic time.
Through it all, the congregation faithfully maintained a Sunday School program for an ever-growing number of children. This required more teachers and helpers, more supplies, more planning and organization. At various times, classes were held in the church nave, the parish room, the old school, the church basement, and eventually the rectory, to meet the need.
In total, all these sites helped provide enough room to accommodate those who came to learn the Faith.
In his rector’s report to the annual Vestry meeting, January 20, 1946, Rev. Donaldson remarked on how unforgettable the year 1945 had been. He urged parishioners to give “heartfelt gratitude to God for the great victory.”
He also introduced the Anglican Advance Appeal campaign. A donation to the appeal would be a thank-offering for the victorious ending of the war and would be used to support the church’s work throughout Canada.
There were now 53 families on the parish roll – a total of 192 souls. Average attendance at Sunday services had risen to 58.
During vestry, Thomas Sulston was recognized for his 35 years of untiring service as People’s Warden for St. Anne’s. Archie Kains presented him with a billfold and $50.
A year later Mr. Sulston was laid to rest in St. Anne’s Cemetery.
During the remainder of 1946 and 1947, St. Anne’s dealt with a number of issues simultaneously. They will follow, one at a time, for the sake of clarity.
William Handley was the church sexton, also known as custodian, from 1942 to 1955. He cleaned the church and parish room and saw that they were properly heated as needed. He tended the gas furnace. When the classroom in the old school was being used by the Sunday School, Handley cleaned that as well. In winter he kept the school’s coal furnace operating on Sunday mornings.
Besides all this, the sexton was responsible for maintaining the cemetery which included digging the graves. (from A History of St. Anne’s Anglican Cemetery)
In late 1946 or early 1947 “an unfortunate accident occurred when our sexton, Mr. Wm. Handley was badly burned while inspecting the gas furnace…The explosion caused considerable damage to the heating equipment. (from Grace Bainard)
Handley’s injuries were so severe, he required in-hospital care. This was long before OHIP was in effect.
On April 17, 1947, Board of Management received a letter from Handley about making a claim on Union Gas Company [for damages]. Board member A.R. Clinchy agreed to contact the gas company on Handley’s behalf. (Board Minutes)
A reply from Union Gas was read to the board on June 5. The company wrote that “they do not accept nor assume any responsibility” [for the incident]. (Board Minutes)
The board moved to “offer Handley payment of his doctors and hospital bills to the end of his stay in hospital” and to “inform him that neither the gas company nor the church accept responsibility.” (Minutes, June 5, 1947)
The church would later have the furnace repaired by Stacey & Co. Then on Sept 21, 1948, the board announced that $200 had been “paid by the insurance company for damage to the furnace.” (Minutes)
While St. Anne’s was dealing with issues involving the sexton and the furnace, they were also grappling with a bigger challenge.
A Crack in the Wall
W.P. Simpson was the first to publicly sound the alarm.
In September, 1946 he spoke of the large crack in the church’s northwest wall, a crack that was gradually increasing. He predicted “they would have to erect buttments at each corner to balance or else tear it all down.” (from Board of Management Minutes, Sept. 11, 1946)
Simpson’s warnings went unheeded for several months, until…. On Jan.31, 1947, Rev. Donaldson raised the matter of “repairs to the north end of the church,” (from Board Minutes)
THEN the action started. A committee was formed which, in turn, engaged Philip Johnson as architect to make an assessment of the north end and make recommendations.
Johnson was a parishioner, familiar with the building. His professional findings included: the church building was sagging and falling away from the windows, the ceiling could collapse, the foundation was inadequate and needed to be upgraded, and the northwest wall had to come down. (April, 1947). By September, Johnson added the “rotten state of the wood in the porchway” to the list.
Addressing Board of Management on Sept. 10, 1947, Philip Johnson, architect, stated: “If there was any idea of extending the church, now would be the time to do it. The approximate cost of adding 10 feet would be $3,500.” The contractor would be a Mr. McClure.” (Board Minutes)
After much discussion, the board agreed to put the matter to the congregation with the board recommending the 10-foot extension. (Minutes)
Four days later the congregation approved the addition.
Once again a major project was under way. The work would include rebuilding the whole north end of the church and porch, plus extending the church to the north by 10 feet.
Financing the Project
St. Anne’s launched a fundraising campaign the week of October 19, 1947. The goal was to raise $4,000 in one year.
Rev. Donaldson got the ball rolling. He prepared a mimeographed letter to send to current and former parishioners of St. Anne’s, explaining the reason for the campaign. The letter was endorsed by Archie Kains (Rector’s Warden) and A.B. Sabine (People’s Warden). A mailing committee of five church women readied and posted the letters.
Shortly thereafter – with work on the building already in progress – canvassers visited all members of the church. These dedicated canvassers answered questions on the building project and offered suggestions for making cash or pledge contributions.
Just three months later, the building committee reported the campaign results to date: $3,245.06 received and approximately $1,000 [in pledges] still to come in. (from Annual Vestry Minutes, Jan. 29, 1948).
The campaign had surpassed its target. This was a great blessing to St. Anne’s, especially as the full $4,200. was needed in the end. An extra $400. had been required for strapping the church with InsulBoard and $50. more went to a new porch roof.
With the nave out of bounds due to rebuilding, changes were made to keep the church functioning. Sunday services were held in the West Wing and a couple of Sunday School classes were moved to the church basement. Worshippers and children, at their appointed times, entered by the West Wing door.
Current parishioner Barbara Kightley remembers attending Sunday School in the church basement.
A Pile of Dirt
In June, 1946, the sexton requested the removal of a pile of dirt in the cemetery at the back of the church. The request was approved by Board of Management, but follow-through was delayed until running water could be installed in the West Wing. Water installation was completed in Sept. 1946. Then a bee was arranged for Oct. 7, when willing church members removed the pile of dirt and distributed it as needed in the cemetery.
Rectory Costs – Paying our Share
In January, 1947, the rector pointed out that Church of the Hosannas had been paying all the taxes on the rectory at Hyde Park for some years. He wondered why Hyde Park had “shouldered the expense entirely.” (from Board of Management minutes)
As a result, St. Anne’s board voted to pay one third of the taxes for the rectory. (from board minutes, March 5, 1947). This may sound like a reasonable response but it’s not the end of the story
Hosannas had been paying the insurance on the rectory for some time, as well, without any input from St. Anne’s or Trinity. The cost of insurance and taxes together was $50 a year. Negotiations by the three congregations were required.
Hence, wardens from Hosannas, St. Anne’s and Trinity met on May 20, 1947 to discuss rectory expenses. A motion was put forward that rectory costs be met on the same basis as the rector’s stipend. Archie Kains, from St. Anne’s, said he wanted to speak to his Board of Management before agreeing to the motion. (from meeting minutes). Archie’s uncertainty may have been because Byron’s share of the rector’s stipend was now 50 per cent. Hyde Park and Lambeth contributed 25 per cent each. It was no longer an even three-way split.
Nevertheless, after discussion, St. Anne’s board decided in July, “to pay our pro rata share of taxes, insurance, telephone and minor repairs” at the rectory. (from minutes)
Precisely when the rector’s stipend arrangements were changed, is not clear. However, it is likely the stipend shares for the three-point parish were modified sometime between January 1944 and March 1945. Curiously, St. Anne’s Board of Management minutes for the relevant 14-month period are either missing or were not recorded. They are not located at the Diocesan archives nor have they been found at St. Anne’s. It seems highly unlikely that the board would stop meeting altogether for such a long stretch. They must have met “in camera” (i.e. in private).
After the 14- month hiatus, board minutes went on as usual and St. Anne’s 50 per cent share of the stipend was definitely in effect. The change occurred, therefore, during the latter months of Rev. French’s incumbency.
As to why the rector’s stipend payment was changed?
Archdeacon Tanya Phibbs explains: “The stipend arrangement would have been negotiated among the three parishes according to the time the rector spent ministering to each one.”
This is the same today for multi-point parishes. Churches that need or want more of the rector’s time, agree to pay a larger share, while those requiring less of the rector’s time pay a smaller share. Reasons for wanting more time can vary. It could relate to the number of members in the various churches. But not necessarily.
In Byron’s case in 1944-45, it may simply have been that St. Anne’s parishioners enjoyed getting to know their rector as a friend. What better way to do that, than to have more of his/her time?
The first thing that Byron, Hyde Park and Lambeth probably agreed upon was to negotiate in private and not to keep minutes. No surprise this time - records of these negotiation meetings from Trinity and Hosannas are not located in the Diocesan Archives, either. So all three kept that agreement!
The Rector – A Profile
Rev. John Donaldson seems to have been a mild-mannered priest with the strength and patience of God within him. He arrived into St. Anne’s during a chaotic time – in the world (due to World War 2), in the community of Byron (due to a population explosion), and in the church itself (where parishioners were dealing with changing realities). Through it all, Donaldson was a steadying presence as he focused on his purpose…. “For Christ and His Church.” (Donaldson’s slogan)
He was compassionate as was shown in his kindness toward the sexton, William Handley. Handley’s pay had started at 40 cents an hour in 1942, and was increased by small increments thereafter. At the annual Vestry meeting, January, 1947, Donaldson proposed that St. Anne’s supply Handley with a telephone. But “due to a shortage of phone equipment, the matter was put over to next year.” Handley did receive a raise that day, however, of $3, per quarter, making his annual income $108.75. (from vestry minutes)
Whether Handley ever received a telephone was not recorded. He may have. Or not. Perhaps he preferred the extra pay anyway. And maybe the rector’s gesture moved church members to respond kindly.
Donaldson was also a man of integrity. Later in January, he asked the Board of Management to ask the school board for a bill for the coal being used on winter Sunday mornings. To him, it was enough that the school board provided space for a Sunday School class. His intention was not to cause the school board extra expense.
Again, the result of his gesture was not recorded.
A major piece of Donaldson’s profile was the wholehearted support, help and advice he gave to the entire congregation, as they worked through the upheaval of church reconstruction and raised all the money required for the project. Whenever the rector himself was unsure about something, he visited the bishop (Seager) for advice.
Given the rector’s attributes, the members of St. Anne’s were dismayed when he made an unexpected announcement on Nov. 17, 1947.
Speaking to Board of Management, Donaldson said the bishop had asked him to undertake missionary work at Muncey. Stressing he could not ignore this challenge, he cited two factors in favor of him accepting the new post. (1.) ”The living conditions might be happier, at least as far as his wife was concerned,” and (2.) “the nature of the work as the bishop expressed it was quite a challenge.” (from board minutes.)
Reaction was swift. “Bebe McEwan expressed the regret we all felt at the thought of Mr. Donaldson leaving us and said how tremendously we should all miss him.” And “Archie Kains expressed regret and indignation that the bishop had seen fit to suggest Mr. Donaldson’s removal from us.” (minutes)
Two ways of expressing the pain of loss.
The rector “promised to see the bishop again and said he had no idea the people of St. Anne’s might want him to stay on.”
John Donaldson’s last Sunday services in the three-point parish took place on Jan. 4, 1948, after two-and-a-half years of ministry here. He also resigned as AYPA and SS secretary of West Middlesex, a position he held throughout 1947.
After serving at Muncey, Chippewa and Oneida for two years, he transferred to the Diocese of Arizona, in 1950. But Donaldson didn’t forget the people of Byron.
Prior to this church’s 100th anniversary (1953) he sent greetings to all at St. Anne’s from Morenci, Arizona. (from Grace Bainard)
Following Rev. Donaldson’s departure, the three-point parish was pleased to receive the Rev. Sidney Semple as their interim priest. Semple was a pioneer in his field of work as an industrial chaplain. With the bishop’s blessing he served the workers of three major industries in London.
Using a pastoral ministry of listening, he sought to help, not convert, those who came to him for counsel. As a chaplain, he accepted all who asked for his services, regardless of church affiliation. (from London Free Press)
Semple put his regular work on hold to minister to Byron, Hyde Park and Lambeth for nearly eight months, until a permanent priest was confirmed. According to Grace Bainard, Rev. Sidney Semple “made many friends” at St. Anne’s.
Researched and written by Shirley Geigen Miller
Chapter IX - The Winds of Change
The Reverend Durnford’s official farewell marked not only the end of an era but also the beginning of significant changes for the parish life of St. Anne’s.
Changes blew in with the person of John William French, an energetic 30-year-old theology student from Huron College. On April 12, 1942 – just one week after Durnford’s farewell – French officiated at the 11 o’clock service. He signed in as “student-in-charge” in the parish Preachers Book. Following the service, this plucky young man presided over a Special Vestry Meeting.
It was a time when St. Anne’s, Byron, was still part of a three-point parish along with Trinity Church, Lambeth, and Church of the Hosannas, Hyde Park. The vestry meeting was called due to a request from the Lambeth church for a change in their Sunday service time.
The faithful folk of Trinity Church had worshipped at three o’clock in the afternoon for nearly 80 years. They sought a morning service.
St. Anne’s members, being content with their 11 a.m. service, sympathized with Trinity in a guarded sort of way. Vestry passed a motion made by W. P. (Percy) Simpson, seconded by M. A. Sabine, “that the wardens be empowered to change the time of morning service, if necessary, to meet the requirements of the members of Trinity Church, Lambeth.” (from vestry minutes)
Grace Hertel suggested that St. Anne’s send a message to the Lambeth congregation “expressing our willingness to co-operate with them in every way possible.” (minutes)
The following Sunday Trinity got its morning service – at 9:30 a.m. St. Anne’s cruised along with 11 a.m. worship for another eight months. Hosanna’s Sunday service stayed at 7:30 p.m.
French’s able and friendly debut at St. Anne’s was the start of a multi-faceted growth spurt in the parish.
Born in Woking, Surrey, England, in June, 1911, John W. French received early schooling at the Church of England School in Whitley. While still young, he moved with his family to Canada, settling in Windsor, Ontario. Later he attended O’Neil business college, there. In 1934, he married Ena Evelyn Millican. Another move took French and his wife to Chicago where he attended McKinley Roosevelt University, graduating with a B.A, in 1941. He promptly applied for admission to theology studies at Huron College, London, and entered the three-year program in September.
These were uncertain times. French would be pastoring much sooner than he might have expected.
A New Reality
Effects of the Second World War had reached most sectors of Canadian life by then. The church, for example, was experiencing a severe shortage of clergy. Much like a worldwide pandemic, worldwide war compelled all of society to adapt and change to a new reality.
According to Rev. Canon Dr. Doug Leighton, an associate professor of history at Huron University College, “Many clergy volunteered for overseas service [during the war]. Finding interim priests for them was difficult enough. The human resources of the diocese were stretched to the limit.”
In appointing John French, a first-year theology student, to the three-point parish, the bishop [Charles Seager] would have taken into account that French was “mature” (age 30) and “stable” (married), Leighton pointed out.
The plan was for French to continue his theology studies while working part time in the parish communities. This, in turn, would require parishioners to take on more responsibilities in the churches.
The congregations must have agreed to oblige. They certainly pitched in.
French was ordained deacon by Bishop Seager on May 31, 1942. The next day, the Rev. French and his wife, Ena, moved into the rectory at Hyde Park. Hence the “student-in-charge” became the “incumbent.” He was ordained to the priesthood on Sept.19,1943.
At St. Anne’s, French introduced changes and new appointments gradually and often step by step. One of his first appointments would have been that of a new Sunday School Superintendent. The position had been vacated by Rev. Durnford himself. French chose Kathleen (Kae) Hart for the job.
Kae was a lifelong member of St Anne’s who had been a Sunday School teacher for seven years. She enjoyed the children, particularly her class of mischievous boys. With her experience, dedication, enthusiasm and willingness to serve, Kae was the ideal choice. Indeed, the Sunday School flourished under her leadership.
In the early 1940s, Sunday School gathered at 10 a.m. before the morning church service. Since a separate parish hall had not yet been constructed, children and teachers met in the church and in the large West Wing parish room. This was also before church offices were installed in the area. There was enough space for several Sunday School classes in the parish room. Moveable room dividers were used to divide the children into age and gender groups for lessons and Bible Stories.
Sunday School enrolment in 1941 “was down to 18 pupils and two teachers,” Kae said. But growth soon picked up and spiked after the war ended, due in part to the baby boom.
“We always had an opening hymn,” Kae went on. Music was provided by the Sunday School organist playing on an old organ. Later, violins were added. Her Sunday School “staff,” as Kae called them, were all parishioners glad to come to church early to contribute to the Sunday School.
By 1953, St. Anne’s Sunday School had skyrocketed to 110 pupils, nine teachers and six other officers. Although this may be explained partly by the changing demographic, a great deal of credit must go the outstanding leadership of the Superintendent.
In her later years, when asked to describe what John French was like, Kae (Hart) Ellis replied: “He was redheaded, very nice, and a lot of fun.” With all the appointments that followed hers, the church was soon a-buzz with cheerful, albeit meaningful, activity.
First Board of Management
At the annual vestry meeting January 27, 1943, St. Anne’s formed a Board of Management for the first time. The rector named Frances Hart, Bebe McEwan and John Meriam to the board. Taking nominations from the floor, vestry elected Kate Chapman, Muriel Foyston and Archie Kains to be on the board as well. Board members would hold their positions for one year and would meet monthly starting in February.
Vestry also established a rectory committee of two, naming Grace Hertel and Anne Simpson to keep track of any needs or improvements required at the rectory. As for the wardens, French appointed W. P. Simpson to be rector’s warden and the long-serving people’s warden, Thomas Sulston, was reelected for another term. In March, the Board of Management decided to inaugurate the duplex envelope system for offerings. They ordered 20 boxes for the year and Frances Hart agreed to become envelope secretary.
When the rector first shifted St. Anne’s Sunday service time from 11 to 11:30 a.m., he did so for a limited period – from Jan 3 to May 2, 1943. He then reinstated 11 a.m. worship for the warmer months.
But the subject of changing back to 11:30 was raised again in July while W. P. Simpson was presiding over a Board of Management meeting.
Simpson asked the board “if we were willing to change [our] service time to 11:30 to meet needs of Lambeth who felt [their] church attendance had dropped since they had had to revert to 9:30 services.
“The general feeling [of St. Anne’s board] was … that we, without much inconvenience, could have our service at 11:30 in place of 11. Majority in favour.” (from Board of Management minutes, July 18, 1943.)
St. Anne’s once again received a short reprieve. The 11:30 a.m. service time did not come into effect until Oct. 3, 1943. From then on the later time (by 30 minutes) lasted to the end of French’s tenure, and beyond.
Meanwhile, the rectory committee had been hard at work, checking through the rectory and identifying what needed to be repaired or replaced. Cost of improvements would be about $1,000, the committee reported. This caught the attention of all three congregations.
On March 30, 1943, the wardens of St. Anne’s, Trinity and Hosannas held a special meeting regarding the condition of the rectory. They decided to have the rectory put in good condition immediately. Work would include installation of a water pressure system, a new cesspool, furnace (secondhand if available), insulation in the attic, screen doors and windows, hardwood floors and linoleum in the kitchen. These jobs were contracted out to ensure best possible results.
Money for the improvements was borrowed from the diocese. Payments on the loan were divided equally among the three churches.
“In October, 1943, a reception was held in the rectory at Hyde Park, and many came to call and admire the improvements. Ladies of the Guild assisted at the tea.” (from The Story of St. Anne’s by Grace Bainard)
Changes in church services themselves also occurred during French’s incumbency. From the time of his arrival at St. Anne’s until the time he was priested (Sept. 1943), French was not eligible to celebrate Holy Communion. To fill the need, other priests were called upon to offer Eucharist about once a month. Often Durnford, but there were others, who made it possible for the congregation to receive the sacrament on a regular basis.
It is not clear when an altar guild was initiated. However, it was noted in Board of Management minutes on May 10, 1943, that “The Altar Guild is now functioning and made the preparation for Easter Communion.” In 1943, Easter Day was April 25.
Added to Sunday worship were services of Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage and Burial. At a special service, W.P. Simpson was invested as a Lay Reader.
During 1944, wartime concerns escalated in the parish. On June 6, Byron United Church and St. Anne’s Anglican held a combined “Invasion Service” at 8 p.m. The two denominations marked the original D-Day together with praise and prayer. The service took place at the United Church with Rev. L.C. Harvey and Rev. John French officiating. Subsequently, French introduced St. Anne’s to weeknight services of intercessions for the armed forces.
Just prior to this time, French had ended his study of theology at Huron College. His academic records show that he attended the college until May 19, 1944. He did not receive a theology degree from Huron.
Nevertheless, French continued to pour his time and energy into serving the three-point-parish. Reports at St. Anne’s next annual vestry meeting (January 29, 1945) disclosed that average church attendance had increased to 53 per Sunday and finances were in good shape with $418.70 left in the balance at the end of 1944. The women’s guild reported $451 receipts from fundraising efforts, and $331 disbursements with a balance of $120 plus a $50 victory bond, going forward. Sunday School attendance, of course, had risen as well. Not to be forgotten, the cemetery had been given a complete survey during this incumbency.
In February, 1945, French was granted a temporary leave of absence to become a chaplain in the Canadian Army. He conducted his last services in the three-point parish on Feb. 18. At a special gathering in the parish room, St. Anne’s bid him a fond farewell and presented him with a stole. French went overseas, was stationed in England, then in Germany after the war.
Upon his return to the Diocese of Huron in 1946, he was appointed to St. John’s Church, Tillsonburg and St. Stephen’s Church Culloden. The following year he transferred to the Episcopal Church Diocese of Michigan, where he continued to serve as a priest and was named a Canon there.
French did reappear, some years later, for a special occasion at St. Anne’s. On Oct. 5, 1956, he travelled to Byron from the U.S. to assist in the wedding service of Kathleen Hart and Nelson Ellis.
A grand and happy finale to his memorable connection with St. Anne’s.
Researched and written by Shirley Geigen Miller
The Durnford Era – Part B - Church Improvements
At the end of the roaring twenties, parish life was flourishing. Having accomplished so much in the previous decade, the congregation approached the 1930s with high expectations.
They began to think of making improvements to the church building, which now failed to accommodate their needs. Parish organizations dreamed of having an on-site parish room where they could hold meetings and events. So far they had been meeting in members’ homes or going elsewhere. Coincidently, Bishop Williams, in conversation with the rector, had suggested that St. Anne’s chancel be enlarged and upgraded.
Hence, in the early thirties, with only a vague idea of what the future shape of the church structure might be and with no idea how they would pay for an addition, members formed a building committee and established a building fund. This was a remarkable act of faith in the days of severe economic depression.
As early as 1932, the women’s guild quickened its efforts to raise money for the building fund. But it was a seesaw battle. While the building fund inched upward, the general church revenues fell.
At the vestry meeting on January 16, 1933, the report on general accounts showed a deficit of $67. This, after 10 straight years of successfully meeting expenses. Even a special appeal to the congregation failed to bring in enough money to cover the year’s costs. Parishioners were struggling to make their own ends meet. It was only thanks to the rector, that the budget was met. Without fanfare, Durnford supplied the funds needed to close the books.
A year later, when the church’s financial situation had improved, vestry decided “that the sum kindly donated last year by the incumbent to balance the books be returned to him.” (from vestry minutes, January 15, 1934)
At the same 1934 vestry meeting, Matilda Hart, representing the women’s guild, raised the subject of building a parish hall. Some St. Anne’s women, it seems, had visited the United (formerly Methodist) Church down the road, and were impressed with that church’s activity room. It was just what St. Anne’s needed, they felt.
(The United Church of Canada had been established in 1925, the result of an amalgamation of Methodists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians.)
Vestry threw the ball back to the guild. Minutes of the meeting state: “After a lengthy discussion the matter was referred to the Guild to investigate as to the cost of such a building as the United Church Room.” (January 15, 1934)
And the guild ran with the ball. By the following January, Ms. Hart was able to present vestry with an architect’s letter, plans for a proposed parish hall, and an estimate (nearly $5,000) for labour and materials.
The plans, although favourably received, were not implemented at the time. The building fund had only reached $1,700 and the congregation was reluctant to put the church into debt.
Turning to more affordable goals, the guild continued to press for church improvements. A few months later, the organization offered to donate money “toward some satisfactory heating arrangements for the Church.” (from special vestry minutes, October 14, 1935)
Again, no immediate action took place (in fact, the meeting was adjourned due to poor vestry turnout). But at least the subject was placed on the agenda for the next annual vestry meeting and the women could anticipate progress in the near future.
While the struggle for funds was not over, a turning point in the financial standing of St. Anne’s was reached at the vestry meeting of January 27, 1936.
Firstly, the general accounts for the year showed a surplus of $124.60, which was good news in itself. Secondly – and more importantly – Lily Kains presented the rector with two cheques for $1,000 each from the estate of her late husband, Fred, who had died the year before. One cheque was designated for cemetery upkeep and the other was for church repairs.
The new bequest brought the building fund, including the guild’s fund, to $2,765.35. The prospect of a church addition was in sight.
A New Furnace
The congregation’s first priority was to modernize the heating system. During the summer (1936), the old box stove with its overhead stovepipe was removed from the building. Soon afterwards, a new gas furnace was installed beneath the floor near the front of the church. This was no simple task.
St. Anne’s had no more than a crawl space (no basement) under the floorboards. An excavation was required to make room for the furnace.
A large round hole, three or four feet in diameter, was cut in the floor. The hole extended partway into the area that is now the foot of the chancel steps. When the furnace installation was complete, the hole was covered with a metal grate to allow the heat to rise and fill the building. The grate was later to cause an inconvenience for some parishioners.
After the raised chancel was added to the church a year later, parishioners were required to walk over the heating grate on their way to the altar rail. This meant women wearing high heels had to do a sidestep to avoid getting a heel caught in the grate as they proceeded to Holy Communion. It also meant the sidesmen needed a steady hand with offertory plates. If they lost their grip and the plates were dropped, the coins could roll down the grating. That, by all accounts, never happened, though it was often speculated upon by roguish parishioners.
The inconvenience of the grate, however, was more than compensated for by the comfort of even heat in winter.
Decision to Expand
By the beginning of 1937, the congregation was poised for the plunge into expanding and upgrading the church building. The building fund had a substantial start, the rector championed the project and many parishioners were itching to proceed.
At the vestry meeting held January 19, Durnford presented his own rough sketch of possible church alterations. His design called for using the present church as the nave, adding about 12 feet to the front for a new sanctuary and building an adjoining parish room at the side. The parish room was to double as a Sunday school room.
The general response to the design was favourable.
Durnford also reported having discussed expansion options with Bishop Charles Seager who had succeeded Bishop Williams as Bishop of Huron. Bishop Seager, it was stated, objected to the current arrangement of the altar, “it being on a level with the Church floor whereas it should be raised above the general level of the surrounding Church floor.” (vestry minutes) Hence, a raised chancel became an accepted part of the plan.
Only a few stumbling blocks remained to full endorsement.
While the overall concept was approved, a concern was expressed as to whether the original structure was strong enough to withstand alterations. A committee was appointed to investigate and they later reported that the condition of the building was sound.
Some parishioners at vestry urged caution in proceeding with the project before enough money was in hand. At least one person felt the church should be kept the same, with no addition at all. But the sentiments of F.B. Hertel carried the day when he proclaimed that now was the time to begin “before prices commenced to rise again.” (vestry minutes)
Vestry unanimously agreed to ask Mr. Murray, architect, to draw up detailed plans for the project.
In March, the women’s guild made a last-minute request for a slightly larger parish room (22 feet by 25 feet inside, 24 by 27 outside). And they volunteered to raise an extra $400 to pay for the change.
After the building committee had accepted the guild’s proposal, the rector put forward a progressive suggestion. Durnford moved “that the building committee should include some of the ladies and those who have been instrumental in making provision for the Parish Room.” (from special vestry minutes, March 8, 1937)
As a result, the following five women were named to the building committee: guild president Grace Hertel, past-president Matilda Hart, Alice Ormond, Lily Kains and Mabel Wickerson. They joined the existing committee, made up of Durnford, Bert Foyston, Thomas Sulston, Alfred Kains, F.B. Hertel, W.P. Simpson, John Meriam, A.Y.P.A. president Philip Chapman, and Miss D. Grove.
From then on, this 14-member group navigated the expansion of the church building, moving through preliminary steps with lightning speed.
The architect finished his plans and submitted them to the bishop for approval. With that granted, tenders from contractors were called for. On April 12, five tenders were opened and read at a meeting of the congregation. J.B. Pittaway of London, who offered the lowest tender, was awarded the contract. Members of the building committee signed the agreement and in no time, construction was under way.
Full Steam Ahead
The next five months were action-packed for the congregation of St. Anne’s. The church site, of course, was bustling with construction work. Pittaway’s crew dug a basement for the new addition, removed the south (i.e. front) wall of the original church, extended the front of the church to accommodate a raised sanctuary, and built an attached parish room on the west side (now called the West Wing). The crowning touch was the stonework on the new exterior walls. Using mostly fieldstone, the workers created a look similar to the original cobblestone. Today, it takes a trained eye to see the difference in stonework between the original side walls (built in 1854, repaired in 1877) and the walls added more than 80 years later.
Off-site, parishioners had their own work to do. Some, like their predecessors in the 1850’s, went out to nearby fields, pushing wheelbarrows, and gathering stones for the walls of the addition. The women’s guild, meanwhile, was fundraising to meet its commitment, the collections committee was drumming up further cash donations, and the rector was conferring with members of the parish about donating suitable memorials. Durnford requested a set of pictorial stained glass windows with Christ as the central figure. Several parishioners answered the call and began the process of choosing the size and theme of their memorial gifts. Others opted to donate new pews or other church furnishings.
In June the congregation directed the wardens to sell the old wooden drive shed which still stood to the west of the church. Since most parishioners drove automobiles by then, a horse and buggy shelter was no longer needed. In fact, it was in the way, hindering access to the proposed parish room.
In due course, the wardens succeeded in selling the shed for $65. Its removal from church property marked the end of an era at St. Anne’s.
When alterations to the church building were completed on August 20, the project was into the home stretch.
On September 8, five memorial windows were delivered and installed by Robert McCausland Limited of Toronto. (For details on these windows, see page .) A reputable glass manufacturer, McCausland agreed to give St. Anne’s donors a reduced group rate on the windows. Final cost was $1,200 for the set of five. For the donors, this still represented a hefty sum. But in light of the inspiration the windows have provided to St. Anne’s worshippers ever since, the fee was a bargain indeed.
The historically significant Henry Hall window had been removed from the original south wall before the wall came down. The window was given a new home on the nave’s east side, where it remains today.
Just one task – the installation of furniture - remained.
On September 9, new oak pews and other furnishings (altar, rail, clerical chairs with kneeling stands, pulpit and lectern) were brought to the church and anchored in place. The furniture was made by The Valley City Seating Company of Dundas, Ontario, a firm known for quality materials and craftsmanship. (The company is now called The Valley City Manufacturing Company Limited.)
Except for the choir seating, all the furniture in the sanctuary, plus a number of pews in the nave, were paid for by individuals and families as gifts and memorials. These donations, like the windows, were above and beyond donations made to the building fund.
And so everything was ready for the official opening of the expanded and refurbished village church.
The congregation was justly proud of its accomplishment. With careful planning and clockwork execution, with an eye to preserving the building’s history and character, and with a desire to bring glory to God, members had persisted to the end. Adverse economic conditions had not stopped them from reaching their goal.
Much credit for the successful completion of the project must go to Durnford. Although he had already passed his 70th birthday and might have been excused from such a large undertaking, nonetheless he devoted countless hours and seemingly endless energy to overseeing the extension and improvement of St. Anne’s. Certainly, decisions and actions were handled democratically. But it was Durnford’s unwavering resolve that led the way.
His role in the beautification of the church received special mention in The Story of St. Anne’s. Grace Bainard wrote: “These beautiful windows and oak furnishings, though lovingly given in memory of friends of the parishioners, are in a way also a memorial to Mr. Durnford’s untiring efforts to beautify the Church.”
The renovated church was opened and consecrated on September 12, 1937. Archdeacon George B. Sage, a former rector of St. Anne’s, officiated at the 11 a.m. service, and Bishop Charles Seager at the 7 p.m. service. Edith Kains, organist and choir leader, provided a special musical program for the occasion. And the people rejoiced.
When the work was finished, all necessary expense had been provided for. This was mainly due, as Durnford said, to the “outstanding generosity” of parishioners. The final tally in the building fund was $6,271.80, accumulated from bequests, fundraising efforts and donations. A new generation of living stones had made their mark on the church.
Once the choir had seating in the new raised chancel, it seemed fitting that choir members be properly robed. The guild and some of the choir mothers, being a creative and industrious lot, took the matter in hand and began to make the vestments.
According to Marjorie (Foyston) Soper, who was in the choir at the time, the outfits consisted of “a white surplice over a long black smock topped by a mortarboard-type hat which was made from a man’s bowler hat, cut to shape and topped with a cardboard square covered with matching black fabric. It was completed by a lovely black tassel on one side. We felt very smart indeed…” (from Serendipity, memories of St. Anne’s seniors, 2003).
The choir was robed for the first time on Easter Day, 1938.
Prior to church expansion, the small parish choir sat in two short rows of seats at the front of the church on the east side. Nearby and next to the front wall, sat the pump organ, played, since 1933, by Edith Kains.
The enlarged chancel allowed for a much bigger choir, hence some of the young people were recruited to fill out the space, said Marjorie, “whether or not we could sing.” But the congregation was indulgent and with their “real” vestments, at least the choristers looked the part.
Financial strain due to the Great Depression continued to plague individual members and the church itself. In early 1939, Durnford’s generosity – to the point of self-sacrifice - kept the church afloat.
At the annual vestry meeting, January 17, 1939, a letter was read from Bishop Seager stating that the incumbent’s stipend had been below canonical minimum for years. The bishop urged the congregation to take some action on the matter.
Passing over the issue lightly, however, Durnford suggested it be kept in abeyance. He pointed out that St. Anne’s had consistently met its budget apportionment to the diocese and had covered all other expenses. These were his priorities.
Vestry (and indeed the incumbent) must have known that parishioners’ purse strings were already stretched to the limit. Those attending the meeting gratefully accepted the rector’s suggestion and took no action on the matter of raising his pay. Appreciation for Durnford’s efforts, however, were “duly expressed.”
Another World War
Some months later, parishioners were taken up with other concerns. In September, 1939, the outbreak of another world war tore their world apart.
Once again, young people in Byron, along with thousands across Canada, volunteered for active duty in the armed services. Many of them proceeded to Europe to try to stop the advance of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi forces. The deadly conflict was to rage on for six years. Eventually war would encompass most of the globe and would cost more than 60 million lives.
Members of St. Anne’s who enlisted for service in World War II were: Philip Chapman, George Cross, Marjorie Foyston, John French, Ernest Grove, Dennis Holland, Bruce Johnston, Barbara Kains, Nora Kains, Milton Keam, Grace Lamb, Harry Lamb, Jean Lamb, John Lamb, Thomas Lamb, Edward McFadyen, Charles Minzen, Walter Middleton, Lloyd Osborne, Harriet Sabine, William Shearme, Daniel Ward, Gordon Ward, Reid Waring, Albert Watson, Bartholomew Wells, Cecil Wells, Harold Wickerson, Oscar Wickerson, Richard Winnett.
The war dramatically altered parish preoccupations. Everyone had a friend or family member or at least knew some one who was serving overseas. This meant the war and the soldiers were constantly in the congregation’s thoughts and prayers. Which naturally led to action…
To help with the war effort, St. Anne’s was pleased to allow Byron Women’s Institute (W.I.) to use church kitchen facilities for its war-time jam-making project. The kitchen, at the time, was located in the basement of what is now called the West Wing. Toiling in the heat of summer, the women – many of them members of St. Anne’s – cooked great quantities of fruit on the church gas stove. The resulting jam was canned on site and shipped to Britain for the service men and women.
According to Anne Keam, the two people in charge of the jam-making were parishioners Dorothy McEwan and Muriel Foyston. The project was under the auspices of the Red Cross who imposed strict regulations on how the jam was made. The product, after all, had to survive a long journey and then a different climate, without spoiling. The following story shows they achieved their goal.
Anne’s husband, Milton Keam, was stationed in England during part of the war. Just before VE Day, while hospitalized outside London, England, Milton was served some Canadian jam. When he checked the tin, he found it was marked “Made by Byron Women’s Institute,” said Anne.
Milton must have been thrilled to receive a taste of home, thousands of miles away, especially since the jam was made at his own home church and by people he knew.
Besides jam-making, the W.I. undertook other war-time projects in the village. The group equipped the activity room at Byron United Church with sewing machines so that women could go there to make pyjamas and other items for overseas. A number of St. Anne’s parishioners took part in the sewing project as well. Then there were the special boxes, provided by the W.I., packed and shipped to Byronites serving in the war.
Clearly, the women who stayed home in the area, served their country well.
Early in 1940, Durnford tried to bring his ministerial duties to a close. At the age of 73, the long-serving priest who was pastor of three parishes (Byron, Lambeth and Hyde Park) and chaplain at the sanatorium, was running low on energy. At the vestry meeting, January 16, 1940, he announced he had handed in his resignation but the bishop had not accepted it. On the bishop’s request, Durnford would continue his work until arrangements could be made for another incumbent.
A full year later, with no sign of a new incumbent, Durnford told vestry he had “definitely decided to hand in his resignation this year, to take effect October 1, 1941.” (from vestry minutes, January 21, 1941)
Durnford was officially superannuated in 1941. But he remained as priest-in-charge, or as he called it, “supply rector,” for months to come.
At the vestry meeting of January 20, 1942, Durnford read a letter from Bishop Seager, explaining that “the delay in appointing a new rector was due to the inability of the three congregations to meet the $1,600 [annual] salary expected.`` The bishop found only $940 could be raised by the combined three parishes. (from vestry minutes)
Extra expenses were draining church resources. St. Anne’s budget apportionment, for example, had jumped considerably, and the gas bill had risen, due in part to the W.I.’s jam-making project in the kitchen.
Durnford suggested the wardens (Thomas Sulston and John Meriam) make a thorough canvass of the congregation to determine the amount the church could count on for the current year.
Guild president Anne Simpson immediately promised the wardens $150 from guild funds for 1942. Her husband, W.P. Simpson, thanked Durnford ``for carrying on for a number of years without full salary.``(from vestry minutes)
The Simpsons were highly regarded members of the church community. For several years, W.P. Simpson had been president of the Laymen`s Association for the deanery of West Middlesex. He had spoken in many churches of the diocese, inspiring lay people to redouble their work for the church. One can easily picture Simpson advocating for a positive response to the wardens` canvass at St. Anne`s.
With Durnford, now 75, presiding, the wardens reported the results of their canvass at a special vestry meeting on March 9, 1942. It was good news. They had raised enough in cash and pledges to meet minimum stipend requirements for a new incumbent and to cover church operating costs for a year.
The wardens apparently knew the incoming incumbent would be a theology student. Vestry minutes indicate the church would "offer to pay $5 per Sunday to the new minister until he is made deacon, then his salary would be $750 a year."
St. Anne`s share of Durnford`s salary had been $550 a year, at the time.
Shortly thereafter, in April 1942, Durnford retired from full-time ministry. But because the new incumbent was not qualified to do so, Durnford continued to administer Holy Communion periodically for another year at least.
St. Anne’s beloved rector for 31 years was honoured and celebrated at a special evening in the parish room he helped to bring into being. Gifts for Durnford and his daughter Mary Tuckey, though generous, could not possibly express the depth of gratitude felt by the congregation towards this man of God. His legacy of love lived on in the beautified church building and in parishioners` hearts.
Durnford died in London in December 1953. His funeral was held at St. George`s Anglican Church, London West, and he was buried next to his wife, Isabella, in Lakeview Cemetery, Sarnia.
Researched and written by Shirley Geigen Miller
Chapter VII - The Durnford Era - Part A
Despite the influx of even more modern conveniences (electricity, the radio, the motor car), life in the next 30-plus years would be like a roller coaster ride. Slow climbs and exhilarating highs would be followed by crashing lows, as the effects of the first world war, the roaring 1920s, the depression of the 1930s, and another world war, would rock the world scene.
Byron, of course, would experience its share of upheaval. Yet through it all, the people of St. Anne’s were provided with a human anchor. The Rev. Villiers Montague Durnford, a faithful and devoted pastor, shepherded the congregation through these turbulent times.
When Durnford took the parishes at Byron and Hyde Park in 1911, the world was still in a “slow climb” period. Originally assigned as an interim clergyman, presumably for a few months, Durnford wound up staying as rector for 31 years – until 1942.
He was 44 years old and already “seasoned,” when he arrived at St. Anne’s. A merchant for a few years before training for the priesthood, he was ordained deacon in 1895 and priest in 1896 by Bishop Baldwin, then spent 15 years serving in other parishes. Durnford and his wife, Isabella, had two sons and two daughters.
The Rectory at Hyde Park
Like the Rhodes family, the Durnfords took up residence at Hyde Park. Soon plans were underway to build a rectory there, on property donated by Vaughan Morris. The land was located adjacent to Church of the Hosannas property.
The commitment of the two churches (Byron and Hyde Park) to provide a rectory for the new minister, must have been a factor in determining that Durnford’s stay would be long term rather than “interim.” In any case, he settled in.
Byron offered to contribute $600 towards the cost of the rectory; Hyde Park agreed to raise $1,200. In a written statement signed by V. M. Durnford on December 14, 1911, the executive committee of Church of the Hosannas promised to repay St. Anne’s its $600, in the event that the parishes became separated and were no longer served by the same incumbent. (When the separation took place some 40 years later, the money was returned to St. Anne’s, as agreed.)
A substantial brick house was built for the allotted $1,800. Durnford himself did much of the construction, which was typical of him throughout his ministry. Not only was he prepared to tackle hands-on labour when he deemed it necessary, but he was also loathe to take advantage of his parishioners’ money – to the point, later in his ministry, of financial self-sacrifice.
St. Anne’s raised its share of the rectory cost by canvassing members for subscriptions. A small loan was needed to make up the total.
In terms of its general accounts, however, the parish was, as the rector put it, in “a very prosperous condition.” (from vestry minutes, April 9, 1912) Fiscal reports show a surplus of funds at the end of each year from 1911 right up to 1919. Byron readily increased its share of the rector’s annual stipend from $225 to $300 in 1912, then to $350 in 1917, and up to $400 in 1918. In the same period, wages for the sexton, whose job included tending the fires and sweeping the church, were raised from $15 to $20 a year.
A Mighty Wind
About a year into Durnford’s incumbency, St. Anne’s saw what is probably the most spectacular event in its history. Durnford recorded the occurrence in his diary, and contributed his notes to Grace Bainard for The Story of St. Anne’s (1853-1953). The description is worth repeating here as Durnford wrote it:
"Having been requested to recall some of the outstanding incidents in the history of St. Anne’s Church, Byron, I might mention the wind storm of Good Friday, 1912, which lifted the roof completely off St. Anne's Church and dropped it at the front of the church shed. After the Good Friday service Mr. Frank Kains and myself remained talking about church matters in front of the shed after which Mr. Kains left for his home and I decided to go and call on Miss Maud Meriam who was dangerously ill. On my way to the Meriam home a terrific wind sprang up and for some minutes my horse was unable to pull the buggy and endeavoured to turn around. After my visit to the Meriam home, the wind having subsided, I started for Hyde Park. When passing the Church I observed that the roof of same had been ripped off and was lying on the very spot where Mr. Kains and myself had been standing after coming out from the church service. I called at the Ormond home and informed them of what had happened. Mrs. [Alice] Ormond immediately started to phone the members of the congregation, telling them of what had occurred. The following night there was a heavy fall of snow which spoiled the plastered ceiling.
“The Easter Day service was held in one of the rooms of the school, while the rest of our Sunday services until the repairs were made were held in the Methodist Church, having received a most cordial invitation from the officers of that church. A meeting was called and arrangements were made to start replacing the roof, which was done by the men of the congregation, and I was asked to draw a plan for a wood ceiling which I furnished Mr. Kernohan, who supplied the material, and the work of placing same was done by Mr. Cyrus Wells and his brother Lawyer. The work of staining the wood of the ceiling was done by myself, the Wells Bros. having provided the scaffold which was moved as needed from place to place.”
The congregation and rector responded to the incident with characteristic practicality. They rolled up their sleeves and proceeded to repair the damage. If there was a moment when Durnford’s relationship was cemented with St. Anne’s, it would have been when parishioners saw him up on the scaffold, staining the ceiling. Yet, besides assisting with repair work, he also made sure that worship services continued on schedule.
Durnford’s parochial duties were increased late in 1912, when Bishop David Williams added Trinity Church, Lambeth, to his charge. (Once again, Byron and Hyde Park were linked with Lambeth in a three-point parish.)
Later, Durnford took on further ministerial work. For some years, he was also chaplain to patients at Beck Sanatorium. The sanatorium (now site of Child and Parent Resource Institute) was opened in 1910 to house persons with tuberculosis.
Synod reports document some of Durnford’s work at the sanatorium. In 1936 alone, he made 122 trips to the institution, visited 1,017 patients, and administered Holy Communion to 107. He received a grant of $100 a year from the diocese for his chaplaincy work and was praised by Synod for his “most excellent work among the patients at the sanatorium.” (from the 1954 synod journal)
Meanwhile he fulfilled all his priestly responsibilities in the three parishes. His reputation as a tireless pastor was well-earned.
It is not surprising that, when the horse and buggy gave way to the automobile, Durnford was among the first in the area to acquire motorized transportation. With all his on-the-job travel, he needed it. His “machine,” however, did not always work properly. This meant that parishioners took a great interest in the car on a Sunday morning, especially when something went wrong. An audience often gathered outside the church after the service, to watch the rector’s precarious take-off. (from a published article by Grace Bainard)
In his early years at St. Anne’s, Durnford organized, strengthened and expanded parish activities. He organized an Anglican Young People’s Association (A.Y.P.A.) in about 1912, supported the formation of a women’s guild in 1922, and established a cemetery board in 1925.
At the same time, the W.A. maintained its work for missions, adding a Junior Auxiliary (J.A.) in 1917 and a Girls Auxiliary (G.A.) in 1925. The choir thrived under the faithful leadership of Alice Ormond who was church organist from 1903 to 1933. And the Sunday School grew.
Durnford assumed the role of Sunday School superintendent throughout his incumbency. While numbers of pupils had been small in previous years (just six children in 1906), attendance increased to about 25 by the late 1920s. Lessons were held in the church nave, and started one hour before the regular Sunday 11 a.m. service.
Marjorie (Foyston) Soper, who attended the Sunday School during the 1920s and early 1930s, remembered the church as being cold and dark. In winter, the children who squeezed into the long front pew kept most of their outdoor clothing on, to stay warm, she said. The heating system – a wood-burning box stove at the back – sent precious little heat to the front. The heat was supposed to travel through the overhead stove pipe that ran the length of the building to the chancel. But it didn’t, to any appreciable extent. Meanwhile, the youngsters meeting at the back of the church sweltered near the stove. A similar variation in temperature prevailed when the adults came to church afterwards.
Another inconvenience of the era was the outdoor privy – a drafty structure located at the back of the church property – which some parishioners avoided using, if at all possible.
Still the children came, week after week, for their religious education… because it was expected, because it was their way of life, because they were part of the small St. Anne’s community.
As for the lessons, “there were no Sunday School books or materials except for a calendar-type book which hung on an easel and was turned weekly to the appropriate lesson,” said Marjorie. “Of course we also had a Bible and a Prayer Book.” (from “Serendipity,” memories of St. Anne’s seniors, 2003)
In Marjorie’s time, three classes – junior girls, senior girls, and a boys’ class – were conducted simultaneously in the church. Each class had its own teacher.
When Durnford started St. Anne’s A.Y.P.A. in 1912, he could not have anticipated that a world war would interrupt the group’s existence. The organization was set up to provide recreational, cultural and spiritual activities for the youth of the parish. Meetings were held in members’ homes.
But as Orlo Miller wrote in his book London 200 An Illustrated History (1992): “World War One abruptly ended the blissful age of innocence so familiar to the entire country.”
After war was declared in 1914, local young people began signing up to join the armed forces. Before long, some of them were headed for the battlefields of Europe. The A.Y.P.A. in Byron disbanded when Cuthbert McEwen, one of the group’s presidents, enlisted for the war. These were trying times.
Many women of the parish did their part for the war effort by sewing and knitting for the Red Cross.
Although the war ended in 1918, it was 1923 before the A.Y.P.A. was revived at St. Anne’s. The group then continued to function until the outbreak of the second world war in 1939.
Between the wars, the youth of the parish were active in area A.Y.P.A. competitions, held card parties and breakfast cookouts, participated in church services and gave dramatic presentations. In 1932, they performed “Good Morning Bill” in Byron and neighbouring villages. For many participants, this was the highlight of their experience with St. Anne’s A.Y.P.A.
St. Anne’s Guild
The women’s guild that operated at the church in the 1890s, apparently stopped functioning by the end of the nineteenth century. Subsequently, parochial work and fundraising had become somewhat haphazard, depending on new (or same-old) volunteers, every time a job needed doing.
But in 1922, the congregation was in high spirits. The church had just been electrified and members were ready to spread their wings in new ways.
The women of the parish were eager to meet the needs of the church in a more planned and organized fashion. Hence, with Durnford’s blessing, they met on an early summer afternoon in 1922, and formed St. Anne’s Guild. Isabella Durnford was named honorary president, with other officers being Alice Ormond, president, Matilda Hart, secretary, and Minnie Grove, treasurer.
Putting their heads together and hands to work at monthly meetings, guild members soon devised ways to raise money. They sold home baking, preserves, crafts and articles of sewing, hosted afternoon teas and social evenings. Profits were used for improvements to church property and occasionally for general church expenses.
One year, Ms. Durnford invited the guild to hold its June meeting at the rectory in Hyde Park, where the women served refreshments and offered home made goods for sale. This turned out to be the inauguration of the “June Tea,” an annual parish event for decades to come.
From the beginning, the guild also took on the duties of arranging flowers on the altar for special occasions (later, every Sunday), delivering food or flowers to the sick and bereaved, welcoming new babies with gifts, assisting with Sunday School picnics and Christmas programs.
Similar work is carried on in 2019 by the Anglican Church Women (A.C.W.).
The Cemetery Board
Care of the cemetery was sporadic through the early period of Durnford’s incumbency. The church wardens would call a “bee” when maintenance was needed, and no charge was made for burials.
But the congregation was in a mood to run its affairs more efficiently. When Durnford called a parish meeting in June, 1925, to consider the upkeep of the cemetery, many concerned parishioners turned out. A six-person Cemetery Board was established, three members being appointed by the rector and three being elected. Durnford named the two church wardens (Alfred Kains and Thomas Sulston) plus Wesley Meriam to the board; the congregation elected Mabel Wickerson, Leslie Griffeth and Elsie Frank.
A breakthrough decision was made at the first meeting, namely, that “a fee of ten dollars be charged for the privilege of breaking ground for a burial.” (from board minutes).
Furthermore, a committee was named to canvass for funds for cemetery maintenance. Canvassers received a “hearty vote of thanks” at a follow-up meeting a month later, when they reported collecting $147.75 for the cause. The same July evening, Mabel Wickerson became secretary-treasurer of the board, a position she held continuously and conscientiously until 1954.
The first custodian of the cemetery was Fred Kains who started work in the spring of 1926 for 40 cents an hour, and continued tending the grounds until 1933. He was followed by a Mr. Woollard.
There is nothing in cemetery board minutes to indicate that Kains and Woollard, as custodians, were expected to dig graves. However, William Handley, their successor in 1942, was responsible for digging the graves as well as maintaining the cemetery grounds. His starting wage was a meager 25 cents an hour, which was raised the next year, on Handley’s request, to 40 cents.
The cemetery board executed a number of improvements in the early years. They had earth hauled in to fill in the cemetery’s low spots, obtained proper drainage, started an endowment fund, and drew up a plan to ensure that the names and grave locations were correct. Seemly functioning of cemetery business was well-launched in Durnford’s time.
A Family Calling
Durnford’s ministry at St. Anne’s was a family affair. Several of his family members played an active part in parish life.
His wife, Isabella, for example, besides being honorary president of the guild, was also a Sunday School teacher, a choir member, and belonged to the Women’s Auxiliary.
When she died on August 2, 1931, the entire congregation mourned her loss.
Grace Bainard remembered the day of Ms. Durnford’s death this way: “One sad Sunday morning, our rector V.M. Durnford came as usual and conducted the service but instead of the sermon he said, ‘My dear wife died this morning at five o’clock.’ Quite a shock and some tears shed.”
With sympathy, prayers and support from the parish, Durnford carried on.
The Durnfords’ daughters, Mary (Tuckey) and Louise (later Clark), continued their active involvement at St. Anne’s. After the loss of her husband Arnold, Mary and her daughter, Mary Lou, resided in the rectory with Durnford.
Mary Tuckey made some significant contributions to the parish. Even though a Junior Auxiliary (for girls ages 6 to 10) had been started in 1917, it had only lasted for three years. In 1925, Mary revived the J.A. and also started a Girls Auxiliary for teenagers (ages 11 to 18). She ran both groups with assistance from other parishioners. Like the W.A., with whom they were affiliated, the girls’ branches supported missions. Later a Little Helpers group for tots under the age of seven was added. Mary, along with Muriel Foyston, led this group as well.
Mary was also a dedicated Sunday School teacher and her daughter, Mary Lou, attended Sunday School and J.A. at St. Anne’s.
Researched and written by Shirley Geigen Miller
Chapter VI - The Next Thirty-three Years
From 1877 to 1893, St. Anne’s endured a series of short incumbencies. The congregation apparently took this in stride. Having learned to be well-organized and to take charge during recent renovations, perhaps parishioners simply carried on in the same way. Every new rector was accepted into their midst in a leadership role. But the congregation had become accustomed to sharing in the responsibility for the affairs of the church and continued to do so.
After De Lew, Rev. Robert Fletcher was named rector for Glanworth, Lambeth and Byron. Scottish by birth, Fletcher ministered to St. Anne’s from 1878 to 1881. He was made rural dean while serving here.
Next came Rev. George Bloomfield Sage, a capable and personable young man who had just been ordained deacon. During his four years at St. Anne’s, he became highly regarded by the parish.
Sage was appointed to Byron and Lambeth in 1881, and was priested the following year. In 1882, the congregation at Hyde Park was added to his charge. At the time, services in Hyde Park were conducted in the village school. The Church of the Hosannas was built and opened in1888, said to be a result of Sage’s efforts there.
While rector at St. Anne’s, Sage resided in London and travelled to his services on horseback. Usually entertained for dinner on Sunday, horse included, he took the opportunity to get to know his parishioners. When he dined at the Kains home, he would wade his horse across the Thames River and proceed to Hyde Park through the woods.
The river was not always accommodating, however, and on one occasion, at least, Sage would not have been crossing it.
On July 11, 1883, the Thames became a torrent. Severe flooding washed away the Byron bridge and badly damaged Kenny’s grist mill, Sissons hame factory, a distillery, and the wooden dam at the pump house, upstream. Some 17 lives were lost in London and area due to the flooding.
Sage would have had his hands full ministering to a community affected by such devastation. Fortunately for him, he would soon have a life partner who would assist him in his parish work.
In 1884, he married Jessica Olivia English, who, besides helping her husband, would also make her own mark on the church as a leader of the diocesan Women’s Auxiliary.
Sage sustained a long and accomplished ministry in the Diocese of Huron. After serving in Byron, he was rector of St. George’s Church in London for over 50 years. He was made a canon in 1912, archdeacon in 1923, and was examining chaplain to three consecutive bishops.
He also spent a number of years as professor of apologetics and church history at Huron College. In a particularly lean period, when the college ran short of funds, Sage and others lectured free of charge. Recognition for his work came later, though, when the University of Western Ontario conferred on him an honorary doctor of laws degree (L.L.D.). Sage died in St. George’s rectory in August, 1938.
The Drive Shed
It was during Sage’s time at St. Anne’s that another building project was undertaken. The congregation decided to build a shed to house horses and buggies for parishioners attending services.
The wooden structure, open on one side, was erected to the west of the church in 1882 or 1884 (sources vary). According to historian Roy Kerr’s research, the builder was J. B. Wells with material being donated by the Kains brothers, Wesley Meriam, Meredith Ormond, Walter Boler, Henry Wickerson, Robert McEwen, Burley Janes and John Stevens.
The drive shed was a fixture beside the church for many years. Anne (Ormond) Keam, a life-long parishioner, remembered that, in the early twentieth century, a special walled section of the shed was reserved for the rector’s horse, and that all the horses would be covered with warm blankets against inclement weather.
“If there was not enough room for all the parishioners’ horses, [some] would have to be tethered outside,” she added.
The drive shed had another important use, as well.
“The school [next door] always had a ‘Fair’ in September and the shed would be used as a market where chickens, eggs and produce of all kinds would be sold. This was a special and happy day for the people of Byron,” said Anne. (from “Serendipity,” memories of St. Anne’s seniors, 2003)
The shed was dismantled and removed in 1937 after the coming of the automobile made it redundant.
More Short Incumbencies
From 1885 to 1888, following Sage, Rev. Clarence Widmer Ball was rector of Glanworth, Lambeth and Byron churches. Ball had been a lawyer for a few years before entering the study of theology in Toronto.
In Westminster Township, he lived in the rectory at Glanworth, and married a local woman, Frances Shore, in 1888. Soon afterwards, the couple moved to Port Burwell where the work of this kindly man was cut short. He was struck while driving his horse and buggy to a service in 1893.
The next incumbent of St. Anne’s lasted only a few months. Rev. Richard Dingwall Freeman was assigned to Lambeth, Byron and Glanworth in May 1888. He died in October and was buried at Glanworth.
Still another short incumbency followed. Rev. Simeon Emmanuel Gottfried Edelstein was appointed to Byron, Glanworth and Lambeth at the beginning of 1889. Eighteen months later the parishes were realigned and Byron became attached to the Ilderton and Hyde Park congregations. This meant Edelstein was no longer rector of St. Anne’s. He did minister at Lambeth and Glanworth, however, for a full 20 years.
Edelstein was known as a man of deep spirituality and high moral character. Born in Poland of Jewish parents, he later converted to Christianity and migrated to Canada He was ordained deacon in 1877 and priest in 1878 by Bishop Hellmuth. Edelstein and his wife, Elizabeth Mary, had four children. Besides fulfilling pastoral and family responsibilities, Edelstein was also a professor of Hebrew at Huron College for 15 years.
The arrival of Rev. Henry Robert Diehl, on July 1, 1890, heralded a lively three years for the parish of St. Anne’s. A freshly-ordained deacon, Diehl took on his charges at Byron, Hyde Park and Ilderton, with vigour. He was soon ordained priest in 1891 by Bishop Baldwin.
His time at St. Anne’s was marked by many parish social events, with Diehl himself sometimes providing entertainment. His tenure also saw the formation of a women’s (then called “ladies’”) guild, although the group was later disbanded. And during his incumbency, Diehl encouraged inclusiveness by inviting other churches and denominations to take part in parish events.
Some of the social occasions were reported in the London Advertiser, a London daily newspaper that competed with The Free Press for many years. Among the events given coverage in the Advertiser were:
- a program of music and recitations presented by the Sunday school, featuring an opening address by 13-year-old Mabel Wickerson, and solos by the rector and his brother, Rev. Louis W. Diehl (January, 1891);
- a Sunday school picnic, sponsored by St. Anne’s, to which “four other Sunday schools [were] invited viz., the Methodists of Byron and the English, Presbyterian and Methodists of Hyde Park.” After races and “an excellent tea,” activities concluded with a “keenly contested tug-of-war” between Hyde Park and Byron, (June 30, 1891);
- a garden party and concert, sponsored by the guild, held “in the open air by torchlight” in James Griffith Grove. Musical entertainment included the Routledge Orchestra of Hyde Park. Tea and strawberries were served. (June 30, 1893).
The good times notwithstanding, Diehl’s departure was on the horizon. A controversy arose in the parish over the rector’s position on a theological issue. The following article published by the London Advertiser on August 18, 1893, helps explain the situation.
“A correspondent from near Byron writes, ‘A largely signed petition has been gotten up both here and at Hyde Park, asking [the] Rev. Mr. Diehl, Church of England, to resign his charge in both places. The cause of this action … arises from some alleged heterodoxy on the part of the reverend gentleman. He emphatically denies the Scriptural authority for eternal punishment and he further asserts that there is nothing in the articles or dogmas of the Episcopal church that teaches eternal punishment.’
“Quite a sensation has been created in religious circles in Byron and Hyde Park … and the Rev. Mr. Diehl has a great many sympathizers in all the churches. Several in both congregations in Byron and Hyde Park have appealed to the Bishop of Huron on the matter and it is thought a commission at an early day may be appointed to try the case and determine this theological point.”
It is unlikely there was ever a commission or a trial. However, on August 31, 1893, less than two weeks after publication of the aforementioned article, Henry Diehl resigned from this three-point parish. He was appointed to Florence and Aughrim parishes (north of Chatham) in September and married Caroline Maria soon afterwards. Diehl served in various churches throughout the diocese for the next 40 years. He died in 1943.
Given the circumstances of Diehl’s resignation, it could have been a tricky situation for a new rector entering the congregation. The parish needed a minister who could calm the waters and steer a steady course. The next rector, Rev. Arthur Hugh Rhodes, an Englishman and a man of strong faith, was the right man for the job.
Rhodes took the congregations at Byron, Ilderton and Hyde Park in October, 1893. His was to be the longest incumbency any of them had seen yet, which, in itself, brought stability to the congregations. During his tenure, Grace Church in Ilderton was built and opened in 1896, giving the Anglican community there a permanent home.
Rhodes had been ordained priest by Bishop Baldwin in 1892. He married Eva Lorena Jane in early 1893, and after his new appointment, the couple moved into a home of their own in Hyde Park.
Fred Kains (of St. Anne’s), who was helping them move, stopped to rest after wrestling with a heavy piano. He remarked, “We won’t move you again for 10 years.” His words turned out to be prophetic. Rhodes did not resign until 1903.
During his incumbency, Rhodes spent long hours visiting parishioners, sitting with them in times of sickness and grief, and even giving money if needed. He became a familiar figure driving along the road between Hyde Park and Byron with a fine Shetland pony. Sometimes those journeys presented challenges.
A story is told about Rhodes making his way to St. Anne’s for services at a time when Byron bridge was closed to vehicular traffic. Tying his pony to a fence under the trees at the top of the riverbank, he would descend the steep hill and cross the bridge on foot.
Such was this cleric’s commitment.
At the time, the rector’s total annual stipend from the three parishes was $750. With four children and a home to maintain, Rhodes could have used every penny. Still, he managed to spare some for those in greater need.
Years later, his daughter, Frances Rhodes, wrote: “Father’s great passion was to win souls to Christ. He so often quoted, ‘For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.’ I Corinthians 2:2. He endeavoured to lose no opportunity in sermon or conversation.” (from The Story of St. Anne’s)
In his preaching, Rhodes was evangelistic and his services were augmented with music. While specific details are not available, it is known that an old pump organ, an organist and a choir were in place at St. Anne’s before the turn of the century.
Parish social events, which had become traditions by then, continued as usual, during Rhodes’ tenure. The London Advertiser, once again, provided coverage. In its June 20, 1896 edition, the newspaper reported that the annual garden party, strawberry festival and concert had taken place the evening before “at the residence of Misses Flint … in aid of the guild of St. Anne’s Church.”
“Everything was done ‘up to date,’” the article said. The program included a humorous speech, rousing music, and an address by the rector.
The Women’s Auxiliary
It was also in Rhodes’ time, that the women of St. Anne’s decided to move their focus beyond the immediate community and assist the broader church. Inspired by Jessica Sage, who spoke to them in June, 1900 on behalf of the diocesan Women’s Auxiliary (W.A.), the Byron women formed a W.A. branch of their own.
In so doing, they joined Anglican women from across the country who supported missions in Canada and overseas. In practical terms, this meant sewing and quilting and sending bales of items to native missions in the Canadian north, plus raising funds for foreign missions. At their gatherings, the women learned about and prayed for missions around the world.
With the guidance of Ms. Sage, (wife of former rector Rev. George B. Sage), the St. Anne’s group organized immediately, electing Elizabeth (known as Lily) Kains as president, Mabel Wickerson secretary, and Margaret Kenny treasurer. Then they set to work.
Scrounging materials wherever they could find them, the W.A. met in members’ homes, hand-sewing garments and household articles (no electricity in those days), and forwarding their output for missions. Quilt-making was a major activity for the group. For several years they gathered fortnightly, then changed to monthly meetings. Tea, a biscuit, and a good chinwag, were no doubt part of the agenda.
The tasks begun by these dedicated women have been carried on by succeeding generations.
At a national level, the establishment of the W.A. made a significant impact on the mission work of the church. Even though the official mission society remained male-controlled, a shift in this ministry occurred. Women, in large numbers, were now involved. And they were organized.
Founded in 1885 by Roberta Tilton of Ottawa, the W.A. touched the hearts of Anglican women and spread rapidly. Within 23 years, there were branches across Canada – including the one at St. Anne’s.
The rector must have been gratified to see this development of outreach in the parish.
Leaving St. Anne’s on a solid footing, Rhodes went on to Point Edward where he served for 26 years. At his funeral in 1936, Bishop Charles Seager said: “I thank God for men of the caliber of Mr. Rhodes.”
His successor at St. Anne’s, Rev. Henry Heylon Tancock, is remembered as a jolly man who enjoyed children. He became rector of Byron, Hyde Park and Ilderton in 1904. Maintaining his own home in London, he drove a horse and buggy to the three parishes.
Although born in England, Tancock had come to Canada at a young age, and had been a choir boy at St. Paul’s Cathedral in nearby London. A fine singer, he often rounded off his service with a solo. He made much of baptisms and gave gifts to the babies.
Ordained deacon in 1897 and priest in 1898 by Bishop Baldwin, Tancock married Alice Claris of St. Thomas. He left St. Anne’s in 1911 and went to Norwich.
By then, the world had changed. The twentieth century had arrived, the Victorian era had ended (Queen Victoria died in 1901 after a 64-year reign), and an eagerness for progress was in the air.
The landscape around Byron had changed as well. After purchasing acres of riverfront property, the city of London had opened Springbank Park to the public in 1896. It was situated right on Byron’s doorstep. At first, residents of London reached the 325-acre park by horse-drawn streetcars. Later the tramline was electrified. Either way, Londoners came by the thousands to enjoy the immense parkland - a park that neighbourhood villagers could access, on foot, every day. Springbank Park remains a major city and area attraction in 2019.
Probably the biggest lifestyle change for Byron residents in the period, however, was due to the arrival of the household telephone. Day-to-day life altered in this rural community, after local folk formed the independent Byron Telephone Company in 1906. Soon lines were extended throughout the district and a telephone became a “must have” for homes and businesses alike. Byron, by this time, was connected.
Researched and written by Shirley Geigen Miller
Chapter V - Rejuvenation
Exciting news arrived for the congregation of St. Anne’s in the summer of 1877. A bequest from Dr. Henry Hall, who had died in Peru 14 years earlier, was finally available for the church. Deliverance from their financial plight had come.
Henry, of course, was a member of the Hall family who were responsible for the founding of St. Anne’s. Even after his death, Henry’s spirit seems to have continued to move on behalf of the church. Through his will, he provided funds for the renovation of the building and, as a result, sparked the rejuvenation of the congregation.
Not only would extensive repairs be done, but the church would also become properly fitted as an Anglican church with communion table, rail and so on. Prior to this the inside of the church resembled a meeting house.
In the congregation, leaders would emerge to usher the church into a new era. The church would be prepared for consecration by the bishop and Anglican clergy would be appointed to provide regular worship services. St. Anne’s would become the “English Church” it was intended to be, from the start.
Without a doubt Henry Hall’s bequest breathed new life into the church and its members.
A certified copy of Henry Hall’s will is preserved at the Diocese of Huron archives.
Written December 30, 1862, in Huanuco, Peru, the will was witnessed by Henry’s brother, Cyrenius, and another doctor. As he penned (or dictated) his last will and testament, young Henry, being a physician himself, would have known he did not have long to live. Despite his deteriorating condition from tuberculosis, he had the prudence to set down how he wanted his estate to be distributed.
He bequeathed to his stepmother, Margaret Hall of Hamilton, Canada West, the yearly income of $2,000. After her death the money was to be divided equally among his brothers Cyrenius and William, his sister Mary and her husband, James Stanton, a St. Thomas barrister. Additional bequests were left to the family.
Henry also remembered to forgive his brother’s debts to him. The will says: “To my aforesaid brother Cyrenius Hall I will and bequeath all my effects and instruments in Peru and whatever money is due me from him at the present time.”
Regarding the church, the magic words “ …and to St. Ann’s Episcopal Church at Westminster I give the sum of two hundred dollars.”
The gift was significant to the cash-strapped church. The statement also reveals an interesting fact. The church, as early as 1862, was known as “St. Ann’s.”
Sources disagree on the date of Henry’s death. It was either January 1 or July 1 in the year 1863. Yet the copy of the will now kept in the diocesan archives, was not certified by a registrar of the Surrogate Court of Middlesex County until July 3, 1877. The reason for the 14-year delay is not known. But the wait turned out to be profitable. The $200 for the church must have been invested in the meantime, because the amount received in the end was considerably more – approximately $430.
The bequest with accumulated income was placed, in trust, with the Synod of the Diocese of Huron and the parish was required to apply for funds as needed.
The situation called for organization, planning and resolution by the congregation. And parishioners quickly rose to the occasion.
Archibald Kains, a pioneer member of the church, played a major role in organizing church renovations. A committee was formed to oversee repairs and, for the first time in the church’s history, the names of two church wardens – Robert Sadler and F. H. Kenny – were on record.
Parish leaders lost no time in applying for funds.
On September 5, 1877, they were granted $200 from the Hall’s Mills Trust Fund towards “repairing and fitting up St. Ann’s Church.” The expenditure was to be supervised, once again, by the rural dean. (from Minutes of the Standing Committee of Synod) The Church Society, by then, had been amalgamated with Synod.
Work on the church building proceeded immediately and with gusto. Spurred on by the legacy of Henry Hall, a number of parishioners worked tirelessly at rebuilding the church. Local tradespeople were hired for specialized jobs; volunteers pitched in with hands-on assistance.
After three months, the church repair committee applied for another infusion of funds. A letter to the Standing Committee, written by Archie Kains, describes the work that was already finished and explains the need for further money. The letter, dated December 4, 1877, begins as follows:
“We the undersigned churchwardens and committee appointed to superintend the repairs needed in Byron Church beg to report that we have found the work more expensive than was anticipated. We found it necessary to secure the foundation and roof in order to make the building safe. The roof had to be properly secured and shingled and the floor had to be entirely new together with three dwarf walls to support the same, also a new chimney together with a partition across the rear end of the church to form a chancel and vestry. Also new window sash and glass and new front door, also plastering the ceiling and partitions as well as painting all the new work, amounting in all to $247.23 as far as we have gone.”
More plastering, glazing and painting were needed, the letter continues, “before the building will be ready for occupation …[It] will cost a further sum of at least $100 to complete the work.” The letter is signed by A. Kains, Robert Sadler and F. H. Kenny.
The application was heard the very next day and the Standing Committee of Synod granted another $150 from the Hall’s Mills Trust Fund towards repairing the church. (from standing committee minutes) About $80 remained in the fund after that. The final amount was turned over to the church in 1878.
Kains’ letter indicates the renovations were more extensive, as well as costlier, than expected. Still the congregation forged on.
Besides striving to make the building structurally sound, they were also endeavouring to outfit the church for dedication and consecration by the bishop. This meant providing a pulpit, reading desk, communion table, and “other things necessary for the decent performance of Divine Worship.” (from the deed of consecration)
Accounts and receipts for 1877 and early 1878 give a glimpse of what was entailed. Construction materials were purchased, of course – lumber, nails, paint, varnish, glass. And some individuals were paid for labour – P. Flint (masonry and plaster), S. Sutton (carpentry), Fulton (painting).
Colonel R. Lewis of Ontario Stained Glass Works in London received $25 for a memorial window. (This may have been the Henry Hall window, and if so, it was placed front and centre in the church, at the time. The window was moved to the east side wall during 1937 renovations, and remains in that location in 2019. It is the oldest memorial window in the church. See page for details.)
Another London firm, A. & J. G. McIntosh & Company, importers of staple and fancy dry goods, was paid $21.24 for crimson carpet, plush and damask. D. A. Denham, builder, received payment of $110 for items including pulpit, communion table and rail. Shingles, flooring and lath were purchased from James H. Belton Lumber Company for $97.66. A bill from T. & J. Thompson Hardware totalled $27.17. Others who were paid for materials or labour included J. B. Wells, McClary, W. Ayling and Sissons.
Pews are not specifically mentioned in the accounts. However, it is possible that the original pews were built and installed during these renovations.
The final tally for church repairs and “fitting up” was $447.03. The gift from Henry Hall, which amounted to $430, almost covered it. Because a church has to be debt-free before it can be consecrated, the remaining costs must have been met through other donations.
A New Rector
Into this buoyant, bustling and sometimes frenetic atmosphere of rebuilding, came a new rector, Rev. Louis De Lew. A former rabbi who held a Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Utrecht, De Lew was a lecturer, author and scholar. He was appointed to the Glanworth, Lambeth and Byron parishes in the latter part of 1877.
Since the members of St. Anne’s had the restoration well in hand, the new rector – an ardent Christian - would have been able to concentrate on giving spiritual guidance and direction. And he did lead the congregation through the consecration process itself, which members had looked forward to and worked towards for so long.
St. Anne’s was consecrated on January 27, 1878, by Bishop Isaac Hellmuth, who had succeeded Bishop Cronyn as Bishop of Huron in 1871.
At the appointed time and with the congregation waiting expectantly in the church, the bishop arrived at the door. There, the incumbent, church wardens and a few others, welcomed the bishop and petitioned him by “virtue of [his] ordinary and Episcopal authority to separate [the] Church from all profane and secular uses, and to dedicate [it] for sacred and Divine purposes, and to consecrate it as a Church for the worship of Almighty God.” (deed of consecration)
The bishop consented to proceed.
As the congregation said or sang Psalm 24, the wardens and rector, followed by Bishop Hellmuth, advanced through the nave to the chancel.
These words resounded in the church:
“Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors: and the King of glory shall come in.” (Psalm 24: 7)
The bishop performed the ancient rite of consecration, declaring that “from this time forth forever, the public prayers shall be regularly read in the Church …, the word of God therein faithfully expounded and preached; the Sacraments and other ordinances celebrated; the Solemnization of marriage duly performed; the office of the Dead performed over the faithful …; and all and singular other things done and performed, which by Divine right, or by the canons, constitutions, or laws of the United Church of England and Ireland ought to be done in relation to Divine Worship…” (deed of consecration)
Hellmuth dedicated the church to God by the name of “St. Ann,” and signed the deed of consecration, “I Huron,” in traditional purple ink.
Although Hellmuth officially named the church “St. Ann’s” at the consecration, he did so at the request of the congregation. The name, in fact, was already in use. Not only had the church been called St. Ann’s in Henry Hall’s will, but the name must have been used before that – possibly since the church was built. The spelling was later changed from the original St. Ann to the prayer book version of St. Anne.
Anne (Ann, Anna, Hannah) is the traditional name for the mother of the virgin Mary. While Anne is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, her name derives from an early (second century) apocryphal writing called the Protevangelium of James, which professes to give an account of Mary’s coming into the world. (from The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, 1995) The name Anne is the Hebrew “Hannah” which signifies “grace.”
Nothing is known with certainty about the life of Mary’s mother, yet St. Anne became popular, especially in Brittany and Canada. Her feast day, July 26, is listed in the Book of Common Prayer.
In Byron, however, the name St. Ann is thought to have been chosen because of Ann Terry Lee, a devoted and faithful member of the church in the early years. (see Living Stones in Chapter IV) Naming a church because of a known, favourite person, was a common practice at the time.
St. Anne’s was consecrated for the exclusive use by the Church of England. (This still holds true in 2019, unless the bishop gives permission otherwise.)
Fortunately, by the time of the consecration, other Byron denominations had found alternative sites for worship. Most of the Methodist community had been holding services in the schoolhouse for a few years, by then. Seven years later, the newly-united Methodists built their own church nearby, on the north side of Commissioners Road. It was opened in September, 1885. Parish lore says a number of St. Anne’s members switched allegiance to the Methodist church, at the time. As for the temperance men, their subsequent meeting place is not known.
The life of St. Anne’s moved on. Regular worship services as well as all the special rites of the Anglican church were faithfully observed. The exact year that a Sunday school was introduced is not on record. But classes for children would have been an early addition to the church agenda.
It is said that Franklin Kains (son of Archie) was Sunday school superintendent around the turn of the century and that he had served in that position for 25 years. This indicates that classes were offered for children from the time of the church’s consecration, if not before. Youngsters gathered in the church, prior to services, for religious education.
De Lew Departs
De Lew remained as rector through most of 1878. A London Free Press notice on November 25, 1878, announced that De Lew, “an Episcopalian minister, residing near this city” would give a lecture that evening at the Mechanics’ Hall. His subject – The Jew: His Past, Present and Future.
The report appearing in the following day’s newspaper, testifies to the missionary zeal that informed De Lew’s faith. In his address, he urged his listeners to put forth strong efforts “in the name of Jesus” to convert the Jews to Christianity. “Then indeed, will be fulfilled the Scriptures,” he said.
He also pointed out that the Church of England had 100 “baptized Jews” in its pulpits, including “our respected” Bishop Isaac Hellmuth. And, of course, De Lew himself. The
lecture was praised by the Free Press for its “powerful eloquence.”
Shortly after this event, De Lew’s incumbency in Westminster Township came to a close. Before the end of 1878 he was appointed to Onondaga and Middleport (east of Brantford). In 1880, he left the diocese for the United States.
Gradually, the congregation of St. Anne’s expanded its activities to include dramatic presentations (Shakespeare being a favourite), Christmas concerts and summer picnics. And according to Grace Bainard: “On evenings during the week young people would meet in the homes for a singing class where the tonic solpha was taught and close harmony practised.”
Researched and written by Shirley Geigen Miller
Chapter IV - The Mystery Years
Information is scanty on the first 20 years of St. Anne’s history. One can only piece together the fragments which have been uncovered to date, and mix them with what is known about the era, to try to get a picture of that period.
St. Anne’s was not consecrated as an Anglican church until 1878. Still, it had an Anglican identity right from the start. In the community, it was called an English Church. The county’s general directories from the period, refer to it as a Church of England or an Episcopalian Church. And the church hierarchy, particularly after the Diocese of Huron was established in 1857, made efforts to appoint a cleric to Byron. The visits were infrequent, to be sure, since the clergy had large territories to cover and they travelled by horse. Diocesan records show that in 1857 there were only 42 clergy and 59 churches in the entire diocese. Nevertheless, from time to time a clergyman of Anglican orders arrived in Byron, called the congregation together and performed the rites of the church.
Another aspect of St. Anne’s identity was that it was a community church. As the only church building in the village, it was used for services by other Christian denominations as well. This arrangement was not unique to Byron. In the early days of London and Delaware, various denominations also shared facilities, gathering for worship at different times. Co-operation may have grown as much out of practicality as good will, but it was co-operation nonetheless. And folks were neighbours, after all.
Grace Bainard identifies the following denominations – besides Anglicans - as being those that held services at St. Anne’s during the first 20 years: Presbyterians, itinerant evangelists, New Connexionists, Wesleyan Methodists, Bible Christians and Episcopal Methodists. The latter four, along with the Primitive Methodists, amalgamated in 1884 to form The Methodist Church of Canada.
Another group using St. Anne’s in those years was an organization called the Sons of Temperance who rented the church for meetings. The building was evidently well-used.
The earliest written reference to an Anglican priest visiting St. Anne’s is found in the Goodspeed history of Middlesex County. While the report is listed under Lambeth, rather than Hall’s Mills or Byron, the information fits with what is known of St. Anne’s at the time.
The account states: “In 1856, Rev. [Abraham] St. George Caulfield, of St. Thomas, was appointed to the mission of Westminster. About 1859 a temperance meeting was held within the church (a stone building) for the use of which the temperance men paid one dollar a month rent. Some one complained that they were destroying the building; but Mr. Caulfield, who was sent to report, could not agree with the rumor.”
Three terms in this passage, “Westminster,” “stone building” and “temperance men,” indicate that the church Caulfield visited was St. Anne’s.
At the formation of the diocese, Caulfield was indeed rector of St. Thomas Church in St. Thomas, and he also had charge of “Westminster (Christ Church),” which would have been Glanworth.(from Clerical Register I) However, other sources indicate that Caulfield ministered to the whole township of Westminster, as well as St. Thomas, and that his circuit included Glanworth (a wood frame church built in 1844), the Lambeth congregation (whose white brick church was not built until 1863), and Hall’s Mills (stone church built in 1855).
One can reasonably conclude that Caulfield not only visited St. Anne’s in 1859 to investigate the complaint, but was also one of the first designated Anglican clerics to the church. Possibly THE first. He probably journeyed from St. Thomas several times to conduct services and succor the faithful in Byron.
Caulfield was an Irishman who graduated from the University of Dublin and was priested in Toronto in 1848. At St. Thomas, however, his responsibilities were impossibly rigorous and far-flung. He must have been delighted, therefore, to obtain the help of a young Canadian-born curate, Rev. Maurice Scollard Baldwin, in 1860.
Baldwin, who was ordained deacon by Bishop Cronyn in 1860, and priested in 1861, relieved Caulfield of many duties in the widespread parish. While stationed in St. Thomas, the new curate was called upon to make many long horse-and-buggy drives throughout the region. Baldwin’s biographical material affirms that the charge covered Lambeth, Byron and Glanworth, as well as St. Thomas, during his two-year posting.
Many years later, Baldwin became the third Bishop of Huron, succeeding Bishop Isaac Hellmuth in 1883. Baldwin had a reputation as an evangelist and an eloquent preacher. He is said to have given of his best, whether he was addressing a large city congregation or a little country church at the crossroads. An article by Dr. A. H. Crowfoot says of Baldwin: “He loved people wherever he found them, and people loved him.” (London Free Press, May 27, l961)
Bishop Baldwin died in London in 1904. St. Paul’s Cathedral was crowded with those wishing to pay last respects to the beloved shepherd of the diocese.
While Baldwin was a horse-and-buggy traveller in his early ministry (allowing him to take his fiancée along as passenger), most travelling clergy of the era journeyed from mission to mission on horseback. They often encountered obstacles such as swamps, storms or even rattlesnakes along the way. And their duties included carrying all their priestly needs with them.
Details of this are spelled out in Rev. David George Bowyer’s book, The Church at the Cross Roads, Trinity Church, Lambeth, 1863-1988.
“While on these jaunts into the surrounding settlements,” writes Bowyer, “these travelling priests would carry a valise containing gown, surplice, books, communion elements, chalice and cup, with a great coat and umbrella strapped over it. They would pass along to their parishioners religious tracts, books, Bibles and Prayer Books, supplied by an English missionary group, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.”
One can only wonder how the heavy-laden horses, let alone the priests, survived the treks.
It was one such horseback cleric, Rev. Alexander Potts, who was the next Anglican priest definitely connected to St. Anne’s.
Potts began his ministry to Lambeth, Hall’s Mills (Byron) and Oneidatown in late 1861. His short-lived ministry might have faded into obscurity, were it not for Bowyer, a former rector of Trinity Church, Lambeth. Bowyer delved into past records, minutes and letters for a parish history of Trinity in 1988. He uncovered documented information about the little-known priest.
Alexander Potts was born in Ireland in 1822. His first career was as a teacher and in the 1850’s, having moved to Upper Canada, he became schoolmaster at Muncey Indian Reservation. Coincidently, he served as an assistant to its missionary, Richard Flood – who seems to have inspired him. Potts decided to enter the ministry himself.
After his ordination as deacon by Bishop Cronyn in 1859, Potts was assigned “Missionary to Indians, River Thames.” (from Clerical Register I) He continued to serve native missions after becoming a priest the following year, travelling back and forth from the village of Delaware where he lived with his wife, Elizabeth, and young son.
His appointment to Lambeth and Byron in late 1861 would have been a change for Potts. But he continued to serve in Oneida and devoted himself to all three of his congregations.
During his first year he baptized 20 children. After three years, he had performed a total of 47 baptisms, eight of the recipients being listed as “Indians.” (from Trinity Church parish register)
Relevant to St. Anne’s is the record of Potts’ baptism of two Ormond children. Walter and Mary Elizabeth, children of Meredith and Matilda Ormond of Westminster were baptized on March 1, 1863. The Ormonds were a pioneer family of St. Anne’s, and their descendents still belong to the church in 2019. Although written in the Trinity Church register, the Ormond baptisms might have been held at St. Anne’s. All Potts’ baptisms were recorded in one book.
Also in 1863, under Potts’ charge, the Lambeth church was built and officially opened for worship. Trinity Church was consecrated in January, 1864.
Less than a year later, the life of this dedicated priest was cut short. Alexander Potts died at his home in Delaware on December 10, 1864, at the age of 42. The funeral was held at Trinity Church and Potts was buried in Trinity’s churchyard.
And here the mystery deepens regarding St. Anne’s history. No further clerical records have been traced until 1877. During the intervening years, Byron must have been attached to other Anglican pastors’ circuits. It is known that worship services of the Church of England were held periodically in the church. But the names of the clergy who conducted them, remain elusive, at this point.
At a time when church records were either hidden, lost, or were not kept in the first place, the pioneer members of the congregation were moving into the community. This core group of people would assure the future of the church. Stone by living stone, they laid the spiritual foundation of St. Anne’s
- Ann Terry Lee moved into her home on Centre Street (now 249 Hall’s Mill Rd.) in 1848, after the death of her husband, the renowned Dr. Hiram Davis Lee of London. Ann is said to have been a faithful worker for the church in the start-up years. She is also reputed to have operated a private school at her home, prior to the erection of the public school.
- Meredith and Matilda Ormond, after their marriage in 1850, settled on 150 acres on Commissioner’s Road, opposite Kains Road. They built a log house and raised eight children there. Meredith assisted with the original construction of St. Anne’s. Descendants have had an unbroken active involvement with the church ever since.
- In 1862, Archibald and Mary Kains and three children settled on a farm just west of Byron. Living in a log house close to the river, the couple was to have three more children to complete their family. The Kains had come from St. Thomas where they belonged to the well-established parish of St. Thomas. In Byron, Archie was instrumental in organizing the 1877 repairs to St. Anne’s, and also helped with the rebuilding. Life-long member Grace (Kains) Bainard was a granddaughter.
- One of the earliest worshippers, Elizabeth S. Hart, walked from her home in the vicinity of Commissioner’s and Wonderland roads to St. Anne’s Church in the 1860’s. She was the great-grandmother of Kae (Hart) Ellis, another life-long member of the church.
- In 1871, Henry Wickerson and Caroline Branston were married and resided on the family farm on what is now Wickerson Road. They raised 10 children there and the family was active in both community and church life. The Rev. Peter Wickerson. a former rector of St. Anne’s (2002-2005), is a direct descendant of the pioneer couple.
- William C. Meriam and his wife Susanna (Mulholland) bought 110 acres on Commissioner’s Road, west of Byron, in 1872, moving there with their grown-up family. One son, Wesley, married Annie Bella Ormond (daughter of Meredith and Matilda), thus joining two of St. Anne’s pioneer families. Wesley and Annie had 10 children. The entire Meriam clan was active in the church from its early days and all are buried in St. Anne’s cemetery. Barbara (Meriam) Kightley, life-long parishioner, is a descendant.
While the aforementioned individuals and families are not the only ones who played a role in the mystery years, they do provide examples of the faith and dedication that carried the congregation through until the church’s consecration. Other families who would have been there, such as the Wells’ and Flints, are mentioned elsewhere in this history.
The village of Byron, meanwhile, was enjoying a period of industrial growth. The manufacturing area along the Thames River spilled east of Boler Road, at this time.
Among the industries operating at Byron in the 1860’s and 70’s were: a hame factory for harness (John Sissons and Sons); two woollen mills (Griffith Brothers and J. and J. Dufton and Company); three flour and grist mills (F. H. Kenny, Charles Coombs and Robert Summers, proprietors); two sawmills (one owned by Sissons); two distilleries; a tannery; a chair factory.
Other businesses included: two blacksmiths, two hotels, a tavern, a boot and shoemaker, general merchants, carpenters, a weaver, a silversmith.
The village boasted tri-weekly mail by then and Robert Sadler was postmaster – as well as a general merchant – throughout the time period.
Some of these names (specifically Kenny, Coombs and Sadler) would also appear in connection with St. Anne’s. Hence, more “living stones” reinforced the small congregation.
Huron College Opens
Meanwhile, something important had happened in the Diocese of Huron. On December 2, 1863, Huron College, an institution for the education of Anglican clergy, was officially opened in London.
News of the event probably trickled down to the Anglican community in Byron. But local parishioners may not have realized that a turning point had occurred in the life of the diocese. While not affected immediately, St. Anne’s would eventually benefit from the creation and functioning of Huron College.
Bishop Cronyn had two main reasons for founding the college. One was to address the severe shortage of clergy in the diocese. (In 1863, more than 50 townships were still without the ministrations of the Church of England.) The second was to establish a theological college based on low-church teachings, rather than the high-church principles of Toronto’s Trinity College.
The direction of the diocese had been set for years to come.
Despite being part of a forward-looking diocese, and despite being located in a flourishing village, St. Anne’s hit a low ebb. Little by little, during the mystery years, the church fell into a state of disrepair. One might think this was a consequence of the building being used by so many groups, or of the irregular attendance of an Anglican cleric. But that would underestimate the problem.
According to Nancy Tausky, architectural historical consultant, the run-down condition of the church in 1874 “suggests poor maintenance and perhaps a ‘finishing’ job [of the roof and floor] that was meant to be only temporary in the first place.” (from her article, Memorials in Paper and Stone, in the book, Simcoe’s Choice, 1992) In other words, parts of the structure may have been unsound from the start.
At least one meager attempt had been made to keep up with the wear and tear on the church. An 1871 receipt for $1.38-worth of incidentals (putty, nails, glass, lumber, trim) says on the back: “Hall’s Mills Church Paid Dec. 30/71 Paid by Trustees at Hall’s Mills.”
This indicates that local trustees were attending to the business of the church – sort of. But a bit of putty wasn’t going to do the trick.
The receipt also demonstrates that although the village may have been officially named Byron in 1857, the name Hall’s Mills was still being used long afterwards.
In May 1872, an insurance policy was taken out on the church. The church and contents were insured for $250 with Westminster Mutual Fire Insurance Company. The annual premium, at the time, was 50 cents. Application for the insurance was made by (Rev.) J. W. Marsh, secretary of the Church Society of the Diocese of Huron, and the bills for payment went to him. So the diocese was lending support, too.
Nevertheless, the condition of the church worsened and the community became distressed. It was time to take action.
The following letter to the secretary of the Church Society was written at Byron on June 20, 1874:
“Dear Sir, I have been requested to write you about the Church at Byron. It needs the roof and Floor reparing very much. The Sons of Temperance think if you would alow the rent of the Building to go toward fixing it, it could be fixed by them for about $40.00 yours Truly, H. Coombs, Sec’y.
P.S. Please reply as soon as possiby.”
At its next sitting, on August 27, 1874, the Standing Committee of the Church Society approved the proposal and appointed the rural dean (Rev. M. P. Smith of Strathroy) to see that the repair work was properly carried out.
True to their word, the temperance men set to work and did some “fixing.”
Then, yet another obstacle arose. The group had difficulty in obtaining reimbursement for its expenses. A few months later, H. Coombs was obliged to write another letter, this time to the rural dean. The letter from Byron, dated December 7, 1874, follows:
“Dear Sir, The Amt. collected is seven dollars fifty-five cents. The amount expended is about Thirty-five Dollars. The floor, windows, chimney etc. have been repaired likewise We have whitewashed the whole building. I think there is no further fixing required at present. This is the second time I have wrote to you about this matter. Yours Truly, H. Coombs.”
Contrary to Coombs’ belief, “further fixing” WAS required. The 1874 repairs proved inadequate as well. And it is apparent from the second letter that a major hindrance, once again, as it had been 20 years before, was “the want of funds.”
More dark days followed. At the start of 1877, the church building desperately needed work and the coffers were empty.
But the situation was about to change …
Researched and written by Shirley Geigen Miller
Chapter III - Construction of St. Anne's
Soon after land was purchased in 1853 (when weather permitted, of course), the community of Hall’s Mills began the long, slow process of building their church. According to Grace Bainard in The Story of St. Anne’s, the cobblestone structure was not completed until 1855.
Stones were gathered by hand from surrounding fields, the mortar mixed by hand, and heavy materials had to be hauled to the site by horses or oxen. These things took time. Plus, the volunteers had their own farms and businesses to run, at the same time.
As work progressed, completion of the church was hampered by a shortage of funds. But financial problems developed later, and one can suppose that, in the beginning, the Anglican community set out with enthusiasm and high hopes, to build their house of worship.
Robert Flint, who had already built several stone buildings in the area, was engaged as stonemason. He was the obvious choice as builder of St. Anne’s. Besides being a longstanding member of the community and a talented, experienced builder, Flint was also a member of the Church of England. He brought to the church building, as with his other structures, a distinctive style – an adaptation of a building tradition he had known in England, his former homeland. In England, the tradition was to use flint for the stone. In Hall’s Mills, Flint took the materials at hand, provided by nature, and created buildings that are now considered works of art.
“The majority of the original church would have been made from cobblestones,” says Nancy Zwart Tausky, an architectural historical consultant, living in London. Tausky has studied all the surviving Flint buildings and is highly respected for her expertise.
When his choice of cobblestone was not available, Flint would have used a fieldstone in its place, she continues. Thick applications of lime mortar (softer than modern mortar), were used to hold the stones together.
Cobblestones are naturally rounded stones, typically found in rivers. The stones are smoothed and rounded, over time, by the movement of the water.
The question has been posed as to how the church could have been made from cobblestones when the stones for St. Anne’s were plucked from nearby fields. Wouldn’t that make them fieldstones?
The answer is no, not in this case.
“River stones can be found far away” from the banks of a river, Tausky explains. Over the centuries, a river changes course, leaving cobblestones behind on dry land. And that is what occurred with the Thames River in this vicinity. Cobblestones, in a variety of colours, were plentiful in the fields of Hall’s Mills, 165 years ago.
Having been moulded by flowing river water for hundreds of years, the stones were chosen to form the original walls of St. Anne’s Church – a fine tribute to God’s creation.
In 2019, although some original stonework still stands, the exterior walls of the church are mostly fieldstone, a result of renovations, additions, and many repairs.
Tausky thinks Flint would have done most of the original stonework himself. Volunteers probably helped by gathering stones, providing wood and other materials, and possibly doing woodwork.
By May 1854, however, work on the uncompleted church seems to have come to a standstill. A letter written at the time by Hannah Flint (the stonemason’s wife), provides descriptions, insights and opinions on the situation. The letter was later held by John Millerson, a descendant of the Flints, who gave permission for the letter to be quoted in this history.
Writing to her son Pirney, on May 30, 1854, Hannah does not mince words about the stalled construction.
“Your Father built a very pretty English Church last Summer in this place. It’s built with gothic windows and a Porch but it stands in a wrong site close to the school house,” she writes. “John Sims & Lackey and your Father they were four months putting up the walls. [Still] it is not finish’d for the want of funds. If there is a show come along or any other foolishness, they can all find money & go by waggon loads … but to God that gives them all, [they] can spare nothing.” Furthermore, “old Eakins would not let them have stone altho’ he had so many that he could not cultivate his land…”
Hannah is clearly exasperated with what she sees as a lack of cooperation and assistance in the community. “I wish I was able and I would finish it,” she claims stoutly. Nevertheless her husband, the builder, seems to have been patient in the face of obstacles and delays.
“Your Father worked faithfull 4 months … and I never heard him grumble,” she continues, “but only the walls are up and windows and doors this spring.”
Elsewhere in the letter, Hannah mentions that Robert is now 70 years old and “getting too aged” to look after the horses in winter. Yet he continued to put up buildings, one of them being St. Anne’s Church.
The Flints had already survived worse troubles in their lives, as their story illustrates.
The Flints’ Story
A native of England, Robert Flint had been a landlord and builder in Norfolk, and then the owner of a fishing smack in Suffolk, before he and his family decided to emigrate to North America in the early 1830’s. Just before leaving England, Robert was robbed. Undeterred, and possibly counting on better fortunes in the New World, the Flints set off on their long ocean voyage anyway, landing in New York.
Robert seems to have been intent on providing for his family as quickly as possible. He left them in New York City while he went upstate to Pottsville to earn some money. When her husband did not return as soon as expected, Hannah “became anxious, made inquiries, and heard that [Robert] had died of cholera.” (Goodspeed) Soon afterwards, she packed herself and the children back to England.
Then “three days after Mrs. Flint had started back to England, Mr. Flint [alive and well] returned to New York and found his family gone.” (Goodspeed)
It sounds like a nightmare come true.
Robert, however, was no quitter. He made his way to Upper Canada, settled in the village of Westminster (now Byron), and later sent to England for his family to join him. The Flints were reunited in Westminster in 1836.
(Robert Flint, incidently, arrived in the village around the same time as Cyrenius Hall.)
Robert now had his wife, Hannah, with him, as well as their four children – son Robert, age 20, George, 18, Mary, 15, and Pirney, 11. Being together again, the Flints were ready to put down roots.
In 1838, Robert bought 61 acres along the Thames River, east of the village proper, and built a cobblestone cottage there as his family home. Some years later, he also built a stone house for son Pirney, on the property. Today, both cottages stand in their original locations and are familiar landmarks in Springbank Park.
For about 20 years, Robert farmed his land and also erected a number of buildings throughout the district. Hannah, who could be critical of others, remained her husband’s constant and loyal supporter.
Luckily, a picture of the pair survives. It is the copy of a painting done around the year 1850 by Cyrenius Hall (junior), showing Robert and Hannah Flint in the main room of their cottage. The picture also provides a glimpse into the simple lifestyle of the times – although the Flints appear to be wearing their finest apparel, rather than work clothes, for the portrait.
By then, the senior Flints were on their own. Daughter Mary had married William Blinn and lived on a nearby farm; son George had died of unexplained causes; sons Robert and Pirney had gone to the United States.
When Hannah wrote her letter in 1854 about the church construction, Pirney and Robert (junior) were living and working in California.
Pirney returned home in 1855 after a ten-year absence. He married Ann Elson a couple of years later, and settled down to raise his family (eight children in all), in his own stone house on the Flint farm. The youngest son’s timely return gave him a chance to reconnect with his father during the older man’s final four years. It was an opportunity that Robert (junior) missed.
Robert Flint, the builder of St. Anne’s, died in 1859 at the age of 75. Hannah Flint died six-and-a-half years later. Both were buried in Brick Street Cemetery.
Flint the stonemason left an outstanding legacy in the Byron area – a number of delightful stone buildings. Some of the structures (including St. Anne’s) still attest to the creativity and skill of their mid-nineteenth century builder.
Hannah’s gifts to future generations (notably to the members of St. Anne’s), were her letters. She wrote forthrightly, albeit through her own eyes, about some realities in the initial days of the congregation.
Robert (junior) did return to Byron, briefly, in the 1860’s. He married Eliza Elson, sister of Pirney’s wife, and moved back to California with his bride.
Pirney, who had learned the trade from his father, was later hired to do masonry and plastering for St. Anne’s when the 1877 repairs were being done.
The Completed Church
No records have been found describing exactly how and when the “pretty English Church” was finished. But funds, materials and help must have come forth eventually. Tradition holds that the building was completed and open for community worship some time in 1855.
The little stone church, measuring about 44 feet long (plus porch) and 29 feet wide, suited its humble village surroundings. It was simple and unpretentious with its low-pitched roof and the absence of tower or spire. Yet it was picturesque because of its stonework and symmetry, and “church-like” with its gothic windows.
The parishioners must have beamed with satisfaction as they filed into the church for the very first service. At last! After passing through the porch and entering the worship area, they would have found their seats, which were probably plank benches or stools or chairs – something portable, at any rate, to allow for versatile seating arrangements. Perhaps some one set out flowers for the occasion.
The church was probably filled to capacity. Such an event would have drawn most of the villagers as well as residents of nearby farms. Among the worshippers, no doubt, were people with the names of Hall, Flint, Wells, Ormond, Lee, Lackey, Coombs.
The identity of the clergyman who led that first service, is unknown. Nor is it even certain which denomination he represented. But surely, the first gathering was one of praise and thanksgiving to God.
Although Hannah Flint felt the church stood on “a wrong site close to the schoolhouse,” the church was actually built on the right site, in one respect at least. The deed stated that the land was for a church and burial ground. And the property, when purchased, already had at least three graves on it. Two headstones on the west side of the property, near the fence, mark the graves of Fidelia Hunt, age 29, wife of Burleigh Hunt, their daughter, Asenath, age three years, two months, and an unnamed infant son. All three died in 1832.
Following a common practice in those days, Archibald McMillan (property owner) must have allowed Burleigh to bury his family there. Therefore, the land was already a burial ground, making it an appropriate site for a church and cemetery. Perhaps Hannah Flint had something else in mind when she denounced the site.
Once the building was in use, the congregation would not have waited long before installing a small wood stove for heat. They would also have needed coal oil or kerosene lamps for light. But it is unlikely that anything lavish adorned the interior. The life of St. Anne’s Church probably began with the bare necessities. And presumably with a congregation of grateful hearts.
Researched and written by Shirley Geigen Miller
Chapter II - Looking Back - currently under revision
Growing Up with St. Anne’s..... (A five part series of memories)
Written by: Author requests to remain anonymous
In 1923, I was born and subsequently Christened at the old St. Anne’s Church, by the Reverend Mr. Durnford. The manse was in Hyde Park adjacent to the Anglican Church. Rev. Durnford’s Parish consisted of 3 churches – Byron’s St. Anne’s, Lambeth at the intersection of Longwoods Road and Colonel Talbot Road and at Hyde Park.
St. Anne’s was his earliest Sunday service which began at 11:00 a.m. and Sunday School at 10:00 a.m., which was held in the church, the boys sat at the rear with their teacher and the girls in the front pew, listening to our Miss Shearme in her black button boots and elegant suit and neat little hat, flicking the pages of a 2’ x 3’ series of coloured pictures showing Jesus and his Ministry in the Holy Land. We were a group of seven – Doris, Betty, Marian, Eva, Shirley, Gwen, Marjorie – and most of us are still alive, perhaps proof that Byron is a very good place to live.