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.