Owen Sound Church History: First United Church was in fact the very first church in the Owen Sound community. It was preceded only Rev Neelands a circuit rider.
This past week I received a book about Owen Sound church history featuring the story of First United Church. After reading this very interesting book I realized that the word “First” in that Church’s name has much meaning!
First United Church traces its origins in the Brooke area to 1841, when Reverend John Neelands visited the native village of Newash. In October of that year, Reverend Neelands of the Wesleyan Methodist Church held a service in the native community. This was probably the first Methodist service held in this area.
In July 1841, Neelands was appointed by the Barrie Mission of the Methodist Church to provide missionary work to the Owen Sound region. How he arrived in this area is an interesting story.
When Reverend Neelands and his wife left for the Owen Sound area they followed a unique path. Instead of traveling together they chose separate means of transportation but traveled together. Neelands rode a horse along the shoreline, while his wife traveled in a boat operated by a friend. Although all of their possessions, which included only a bed and their clothing, were loaded on the boat, the Reverend found the trip along the shoreline of Georgian Bay extremely arduous.
He reported that he waded “through deep mud and creeks swollen with water”, while his wife and friend sailed their boat a short distance off-shore. Somehow. they managed to travel forty miles a day by boat, while Neelands covered close to fifty miles along the shoreline each day. Once they arrived at St. Vincent the Neelands set up their home.
The minister made trips to Owen Sound to take care of the spiritual needs of the native and non-native communities located there. Neelands had two possible routes to follow when he travelled to Owen Sound. The first was a path through the forest. But due to the numerous swamps along the route, it was only passable during cold weather when the land was frozen solid. The alternative route entailed travelling by boat.
In 1841-42, work began on a permanent building for the Methodist Church, and with that Owen Sound church history was inaugurated. The church was not completed until 1845. By 1849, a Day School and a Sunday School were in operation.
The Native Peoples of Nawash left their traditional site for lands around Cape Croker after the signing of a Treaty with the Colonial Government. The Methodist Mission continued to operate and in 1861 the Methodist Church of Canada bought the property where the Church was located from the Colonial Government.
In 1881, the Methodist Church with a membership of 32, began a project of rebuild and refurbish the Church
The step in this Owen Sound church history occurred in 1905, when a frame building, which had belonged to Division Street Church, was moved to 21st Street West. After the building had been relocated, stone was added to the structure and the Church became known as St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church. In 1906, St. Paul’s boasted a membership of 81 members.
In 1925, some Presbyterian Churches joined with the Methodists to form the United Church of Canada. However, according to a member of the First United Church Historical Community, in 1920, St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church joined with the Methodist Congregation of Brooke. Their union pre-dated the official creation of the United Church of Canada by five years giving First United Church the distinction holding another “First” in their rich heritage!
A version of this story first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times in 1997.
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