Pioneer Clergyman:
John Neelands 

Pioneer Clergyman: John Neelands was the first to minister to the first settlers' spiritual needs riding on horseback through the wilds of early Grey County.

Last Saturday I attended Discovery Days at the Bognor Community Centre. I had been asked if I would attend this function and provide details about various historical documents that area citizens were invited to bring to the event. 

Although I was supposed to be the one providing the information, I came away from the Bognor Community Centre with new information about one of the first settlers in this region.

I was amazed at the dedication of the residents maintaining our rich heritage! There were many interesting historical documents brought to Discovery Days. They included a directory of Canada from 1857; a cash book from an area business in the 1870s and 80s; advertisements printed by an Owen Sound printer in the 1860s; an 1865 contract to build a barn; a Methodist Cradle Roll Certificate; and valuable information about the region's first pioneer clergyman the Reverend John Neelands.

Reverend John Neelands was the first clergyman to minister to the needs of the residents of this region and the information which I received in Bognor last Saturday provided me with further clarification about the life of this dedicated pioneer clergyman. 

I had always thought that Neelands arrived in the Owen Sound area shortly after Charles Rankin started surveying the town plot, which would become Owen Sound. 

In other records it has been written that Neelands lived in the St. Vincent area and commuted to the native village on the west shore of Owen Sound. 

According to the information that I received last week, Neelands was in this area almost six years earlier than I had previously realized. 

In 1834, he performed the first marriage in St. Vincent. At that time, he was a “saddle bag” minister, riding to this area on horseback from his home near Churchville, in Peel County. His travels to what would become Grey County were wide-spread, and in 1835 he conducted the first marriage in Derby Township. Although he spent a lot time riding from Peel County to this area, he built a log cabin in St. Vincent, but there is little indication that he lived there on a permanent basis. But in 1841 he did build a permanent residence in this area when he built a home in Derby Township. 

Neelands' farm was south and west of Rockford, and it was the site of one of the first plowing matches held in this region. 

According to the Neelands’ family history, John Neelands moved to Derby Township because he felt that the Churchville region was becoming too developed and the relatively easy way of life was having a negative impact on developing the spiritual and moral fibre of the family. He thought the strenuous hard life of  conquering the primeval forests would be best for raising grandchildren. It would develop character and the temptations would be less. 

From his farm in Derby, Rev. Neelands created Church missions throughout northern Grey County and his family was instrumental in the erection of the first Methodist Church in Owen Sound. (LINK)

In fact, some of the money raised for the construction of what became Central Methodist (United) Church came from a mortgage that the family took on their farm in Peel County. 

The information used in this article about Rev. John Neelands was provided by Norman Seabrook. The emergence of this information about Rev. Neelands is proof that in the study of history the story is never complete. Just when you think that you have all the answers some new information is discovered and you have to refocus your thoughts! 

A version of "Pioneer Clergyman: John Neelands originally appeared in my Local History column in an April 2000 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times.

More Grey County Pages

12-year-old Walks to Owen Sound in 1851 from the journal of a teenage boy's experience travelling with his brother in the untamed Upper Canadian wilderness.

1st Grey County Building in 1852 was only built after many hurdles were overcame.

Dr. Anna Henry  from Markdale, was a medical trailblazer for women doctors in Canada, who helped lay the groundwork for the establishment for Women's College Hospital.

Euphrasia Township in the early years when spelling the name was a problem for those who called it home and those that wanted settle this new Grey County township.

Georgian Bay's 1st pioneer settler arrived on the western shoreline long before any other settler reached the area.

Grey County Heritage: A Valuable Resource which is rich and varied, as an important resource for future use for business, political, and many other purposes.

Grey County's Creation in 1852, laid the framework for organizing a county in the last wilderness in the southern region of what would become in the future the province of Ontario.

An Unlikely Hero From Grey County (Part 1) found his way from the farming community of Flesherton to missionary work in the Ottawa Valley, and beyond.

An Unlikely Hero Vs. The KKK (Part 2) Our hero from Grey County took his missionary zeal south of the border and ultimately crossed paths with the infamous KKK!

Barn Raising: A Pioneer Economic and Social Necessity as it provided settlers with an opportunity not only to build a barn, but also build a community.

"Barring Out": A Pioneer School Tradition was a custom which the settlers brought to the new world from England, or Scotland.

Ceylon Ontario: How it Got its Name: It is always interesting how a community got its name, but I doubt any place received its name from a more unique source!

Chatsworth Ontario: First Settlers took advantage of fulfilling the needs of pioneer travellers and built a thriving community in the Upper Canadian wilderness.

Clearing Trees a Daunting Task for Settlers as they worked to fulfill their obligations for their land grant.

Dornoch: or is it Smithville? Originally it was Smithville, then it became Dornoch. But, surprise it is still, in reality Smithville!

First Pioneer in Durham: Archibald Hunter established his family, and a hotel, in what would become the centre of the town of Durham.

Durham Ontario Influenced by the Saugeen River. This river provided a means to create new industries, but especially in the spring it can also pose a menace to the community.

Grey County Bylaws to the 1890s reveal a lot about the financing of local government, especially education in the early days of the region.

John Muir, the legendary naturalist, who promoted the idea of protected nature spaces, spent time in Ontario and I went to help find evidence of his stay in the Owen Sound area.

A Heroic Woman From Grey County who made great changes as a doctor in China in the 1890s and early 1900s.

Jesse James: In Grey County? An interesting question. Did the notorious gangster hide out in Proton Township? We will never know. But it is fun to speculate!

Kilsyth's Train Engine was one for the history books. It brought an evening of joy followed by disappointing news soon after.

The Knight's of Meaford have long history in that Grey County community. Their business forged by early settlers employed many locals and supported the economy.

Leith: Tom Thomson's Birthplace is part of the rich heritage of this community located on the east shore of the Georgian Bay north of Owen Sound.

The Leith Golf Course has provided many families with great memories. The history of this golf course starts, and ends, with the generosity of one family.

Agnes Macphail was a political trailblazer in a part of Ontario that one could hardly expect such radical action for the era in a rural region.

Markdale Ontario: The Beginning: originally known as Glenelg East, but the coming of the railway and the name of owner of the land for the station led to a change of identity.

Meaford Ontario, first called Peggy's Landing located on the shores of Georgian Bay has a rich history.

Meaford vs Purdytown. Conflict over the name of a new community was not unusual in early Grey County but electing a school trustee was the "hot button" issue in this rivalry.

Pioneer Clergyman: John Neelands was the first to minister to the first settlers' spiritual needs riding on horseback through the wilds of early Grey County.

Pioneer Doctor: Dr. James Smith, a local boy who became a doctor and served his community for his entire life was a testament to Grey County community spirit.

Pioneer Healthcare in Grey and Bruce counties was not administered by doctors, nurses, or pharmacists, no it was the responsibility of the women of the community.

Pioneer Ingenuity created many labour saving devices and methods and quite often helped to create a sense of community.

Pioneer Christmas: A Family Tradition as told to me by may grandparents who experienced Christmas as children in the 1880s and 1890s.

Pioneer Settlement Plans for Grey County began almost two decades before the rest of Grey County was available for settlement.

Pioneer Teachers in Grey and Bruce Counties had a long and arduous task, not to mentions strict and confining job requirements for very little salary.

Plowing Match in Grey County in 1933 the first International Plowing Match held in Grey and Bruce counties and it's success led to more such events in Grey.

Settling Osprey Township: Parts of Osprey were considered too rugged to settle, but today they are prime real estate because of the great view!

Swamp College: Proton Township: this colourfully named institution of education in Grey County has provided many stories to the heritage of the region.

Sydenham Township's First Council undertook the often difficult task of creating a new municipal infrastructure.

The Impact of Snow is not what is Used to be! As snow removal equipment has improved the impact of snow on our lives has reduced significantly from previous eras.

Unique Characters: Nathaniel Herriman lived in Grey County and owned an inn to provide food and and accommodation to early travellers. Each day he performed a unique practice.

Unique Maps: Quilts Guided the Underground Railroad to enable runaway slaves to escape to Canada and freedom from the shackles that enslaved them.

The Women's Institute is a group of rural women that has made a difference to the quality of both urban and rural life in Grey County and across the country.