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.