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.


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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 I had been asked if I would attend this function and provide details about various historical documents that area citizens were invited to bring to the event.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 There were many interesting historical documents brought to Discovery Days.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.

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