Drummond Hill History
Agnes Ainslie
© Drummond Hill Presbyterian Church

What a rich heritage is ours in Drummond Hill, our place of worship! Its tower and Celtic cross, the stained glass portrayal of the Burning Bush on the narthex front and the understated purity of its design reflect the traditional simplicity of the Presbyterian faith. We can all be proud of this church, it’s setting and its history.

Our church here in Canada had its beginnings when Scottish, Irish and French fled to the new world to escape religious persecution at home. But the French Huguenots who were freed by the Edit of Nantes and the French Catholics who were in this country under Sieur de Monts and Champlain fought constantly over control of the Indians. An English expedition in 1627 against the French was triumphant and by the Treaty of Utrecht Britain secured Nova Scotia including what is now New Brunswick. The French Acadians, intractable to the last under British rule, were sent south. Freedom of conscience was once more guaranteed and more and more Presbyterians, as well as Protestants of other denominations came to Canada.

Since Presbyterians had been divided in Scotland the same division persisted in the Maritimes. There were three strands of faith – auld kirk, free church and secessionist. By 1960 Presbyterians were firmly established with kirk sessions and synods, all using the Westminster Confession of Faith. Pictou College and Dalhousie University were the training grounds for some of the most tough-minded clergymen of the New World. By the end of the 18th century there were 110,000 Presbyterians and 60 ministers.

The Beginning: The Adventurous Calvinists

While many of these devout Calvinists stayed in the Maritimes some wandered through the Canadian wilderness as far afield as Upper Canada, some adventurous once appearing here on the Niagara frontier. These were soon joined by United Empire Loyalists from the south.

It was into this wilderness along the Niagara River that our first missionary advanced. The Rev. Daniel Ward Eastman, later known as the father of Presbyterianism in the Niagara Peninsula, was a licentiate of the Associate Secessionist group from Morris County, New Jersey, which had its origin in Philadelphia. He was a most dedicated man of God. In 1801 he arrived, full of zeal and thirsting for adventure in Christian ministry. Where hunters, keen-eyed and watchful, trailed the denizens of the wilds, Daniel Eastman tracked down humans who were lost in a world of hazard, privation and misery. To these men and women enduring the roughness of frontier life, he represented the comfort of a church home and the security of a heavenly promise.

We are told by those who have delved into the stories of early Niagara life that in 1801 Rev. Daniel Eastman preached his first sermon at Beaver Dams near St. Catharines; a few days later he was in Stamford where he found a Scottish settlement, even a small church building. In 1802 he settled on a 50-acre tract at Beaver Dams from which base he ranged around Stamford, Queenston, Drummondville, Chippawa, Grimsby, Barton and Ancaster, meeting the people in homes or by the wayside. He rode his horse on mud-clogged trails; he struggled through swollen streams in springtime and in winter on snow-packed ways, sometimes to the eerie accompaniment of howling wolves. And what did he accomplish: During his 50 years of ministry this dedicated man married 3,000 couples, christened their children and buried hundreds of his wide-flung parish who had died in the primitive struggle of frontier life. His home was riddled by bullets during the war of 1812-14.

The Rev. Daniel Eastman, while without initial Presbyterian connection, was later associated with the United Presbytery of Canada and in 1833 with the Niagara Presbytery which stemmed largely from his efforts. His last nine years were spent in total physical blindness but his spiritual vision shone with a clear, bright glow. He died in 1865.

While Rev. Daniel Eastman had been ranging about the whole peninsula a few settlers had built a rough-hewn log meeting place just west of a small graveyard. The patent for the land including the graveyard, our church’s present location, and a log house had been deeded to Sarah, wife of Christopher Buchner, from her father James Forsyth. He had secured it in 1798. Close by, where Drummond Rd., and Lundy’s Lane meet, was the old MacKenzie estate. Round about 1800 there had been great growth in Niagara South. There were blacksmith shops, taverns, stores and a small meeting place where the old manse now stands. The north slope of the hill was steep and unbroken; the graveyard was fenced with logs and shaded by oaks and maples. Orchards and small farm clearings nestled along the trail that came to be known as Lundy’s Lane, leading from the old Lundy farm.

It is to Christopher Buchner’s great granddaughter, Miss Jennie MacKenzie, who died in 1921, that we are indebted for a most interesting history of the early schools and church. Before the first church was built two schoolhouses had been used in turn by the settlers, we are told. The first was a log structure in the north-east corner of the north end of what is now Drummond Hill cemetery. It was 15 by 18 feet in measurement, had one window on each side and a window and door in front. The door was enclosed in a small shed. This little schoolhouse was in use when the Welland canal was being dug.

From stories passed on to her, Jennie MacKenzie tells of the frightened children huddled close to the teacher behind locked doors while funeral rites of canal workers were conducted amid violent and drunken altercations. This log schoolhouse was replaced by a stone one which was used as a church by all denominations. It was years later before a proper church was built on a lot a few feet east of it.

War of 1812

The British and American forces had been locked in unceasing conflict since 1812 and it was over this frontier community that battle erupted in raging fury, on the 25th of July, 1814. The devastating fire swept over the hill where our church now stands. A soldier who fought in that holocaust left this memorandum: “We fought in and through the Presbyterian church and left it a shambles.” Thousands of dead were left on the hill and in a long trench, dug along the MacKenzie property, south from where Drummond Road now meets Lundy’s Lane. Countless brave men, British victors and American vanquished alike, found rest in the pioneer cemetery which was later to become an historic landmark for all who visit our church.

It must have been a disheartening problem for the sturdy settlers in Drummondville. The community had been incorporated under that name in honour of the British general. Now they must start afresh. But men of the Presbyterian faith, descendants in the stern tradition of Calvin and Knox, had something of their unbending faith and granite strength. For a time services were resumed in private homes.

A Presbyterian meeting house is built

Our church annals go back to the year 1844 but organization of membership was begun in 1831 by the Rev. W. Buell and completed in 1832 by Rev. Mr. Sessions when he was formally inducted as minister. We are told in the quaint phraseology of the day that, “He laboured with the eight members agreeable on the hill.” It was from this core of devout stalwarts of the Christian faith that our present church has derived its recorded history.

After three years the Rev. Josiah Partington took over the responsibility and was inducted in 1835.<img src="../pics/old-church.png" width="254" height="127"  align="right" style="border:5px solid white" alt="A picture of old church surrounded by a cemetery" /> It was at this time that a meeting of freeholders and householders of Drummondville was held at the schoolhouse for the purpose (and I quote from the old records) “of discussing the propriety of selecting a site or piece of land upon which to erect a Presbyterian meeting house.”

Six trustees were chosen: James Hardy as chairman, Isaac Culp as secretary, Benjamin Chadwick, Richard Pew, Hermenius Crysler and Joseph Woodruff. They were to hold office for eight years. Their plans stated that the structure would be known as Niagara Falls South Presbyterian Church. It was to be built on a lot a few feet east of the stone schoolhouse, a part of the original Buchner estate. The dimensions of the building were to be 35 to 45 feet and 20 feet in height from top of sills to top of plates. It was to be of lumber cut at the Allanburg sawmill and of stone from the quarry in the area of Clifton Hill. The cost was to be $2,000

The church was built in 1836-37. It was a sturdy structure, enhanced by a gallery from which a comprehensive view of the battlefield, the river and clouds of spray from the mighty cataract could be seen. It must have been a great satisfaction to those early churchmen to have at last a suitable church of their own and to have it on the hill that had been held with such tremendous sacrifice. These were strong men, reverent and dedicated, men of great stature by any subsequent measurement.

In the new building

Soon after the completion of this early church structure it was rented by the government for the sum of 25 pounds to be used as a hospital in the turbulent days of the 1837 rebellion when William Lyon Mackenzie tried unsuccessfully to upset the government of Upper Canada.

After seven years of ministry the Rev. Josiah Partington handed over the responsibilities of the parish to the Rev. John Axtel and in 1844 he in turn was followed by the Rev. Dr. Blanshard. It was at this point in the time that our written church records begin.

Those early records have a unique beauty. The entries are, for the most part in exquisite penmanship and with meticulous care to retain the dignity of our church phraseology. The formal phrasing has been handed down through generations and combines austerity and tradition. In all accounts of meetings, and I quote: “members met agreeable to appointment” and were then “formally constituted with prayer.”

In 1844 the sum of 50 pounds was to be raised by subscription to finance the installation of a pulpit and seating for the church members. There had been no accommodation before this date. With only a dozen homes in the environs, a few shops, a bank, hotels, tannery, blacksmith shop, wagonmaster’s and butcher’s establishments, it was a truly ambitious programme.

We are indebted to Miss Jennie MacKenzie for a detailed description of that galleried church on Drummond Hill. It was rough cast outside with gabled front projecting over the door and supported by four square columns resting on the floor of the church stoop. Chimneys were brought from the ceiling up through the roof at the south end, one over each aisle. The church was painted white on the inside with the exception of the mouldings on top of the pews and the broad mouldings on top of the panels around the gallery. These were painted black. Wood stoves stood, one on each side of the church at the front entrance. Stovepipes snaked along the gallery and elbowed their way into the chimneys. When snow melted, black sooty water dipped from the elbows into tin pails, thoughtfully and strategically placed beneath. There were two tiers of square windows on each side and centrally hung for gallery and the main floor. Iron rods with hooks held them stapled to the middle. Thus half the window was inside and half outside when they were opened. Two aisles with crude narrow, backless benches between and side pews under the galleries completed the plan. The church was lighted by tallow candles, later sperm oil, then coal oil.

Beginning with Dr. Blanshard in 1844 the Presbyterian and Congregational communicants worshiped together. The Rev. Edward Ebbs ministered to all of these people from 1848 until 1851. Miss MacKenzie in her account of this period in our church history tells us that Mr. Ebbs lived in a small cottage on the south side of what is now Ferry Street. A donation party was held and gifts of food and candles were brought to this small manse. 

Onerous Work for Elders

The small church was still maintaining its connection with the Buffalo Presbytery when Rev. Charles Rattray was inducted in 1851 and was stoutly upheld by the truly conscientious efforts of the church elders – Messrs. Burnham, Havel, McClive and Kalar. Mr. Kalar’s first assignment was to petition the Buffalo Presbytery to take the church under its care as one of its missions. This was accomplished and some of the financial strain was alleviated.

A public prayer meeting was held every Monday evening and a conference on the last Sabbath of each month for, and I quote: “religious exercises of social prayer, religious experience and praise”. These meetings were, of course, in addition to regular church services. Our more casual attitude would not have been countenanced by the early churchmen.

It was a difficult procedure, that of being accepted into the communion in frontier days. When a person sought to join he was asked why he sought to invite himself into the church of Christ. After conversing at considerable length on the doctrines and experiences and vows of Christianity, and after satisfactory reference as to his moral character, the session would agree to receive him into the fellowship of the church.

Since it was with difficulty that one was permitted to attach oneself to the Presbyterian church, any laxity in attendance was considered a major exhibition of backsliding. The minister and an elder would visit each member of the church who had been absent from worship and the means of grace and would inquire into the reasons for this neglect of duty. Counsel would then be given when deemed needful. One can picture those stern, uncompromising men in solemn conclave, with furrowed brows, as they considered the feet that had strayed from the narrow path.

It was difficult to hold a minister for more than a few years. After the Rev. Thomas Rattray had resigned in 1854, the Rev. John Scott was ordained. His stay among the Drummondville Church people was the shortest on record, from September until the beginning of January 1855. It must have been a difficult pastorate; and the attempt to maintain a close and meaningful relationship with such a sparsely settled and scattered community most difficult.

What a responsibility for the elders who must try to hold the little church together, when the ministers came and went with such alarming frequency! But that is the strength of Presbyterianism – a rule by elders. Their authority is very real and very lasting and their resultant responsibility correspondingly heavy. The minister is a teaching elder, and the layman, who is voted into the eldership by the congregation, a ruling elder. He is thus voted into a chain of rule – session, presbytery, synod and assembly.

The obligations of eldership are daunting and many good men cannot honestly promise to meet all the requirements in belief and in practice. An elder must believe the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God. He must concede the Westminster Confession (from 1875) on) is agreeable to the Word of God. He must accede to the line of rule – session, presbytery, synod and assembly. He must believe in the purity of worship. He must be a faithful attendant in the courts of the church; no divisive course is possible. He must sow zeal, love and a desire to save souls; in short, he must lead a holy and circumspect life.

The Rev. William Dickson, who had come from Thorold as a helper, stayed for three years. His chief concern, we have learned from old records, was to preach sound doctrine. He stayed for three years. By 1850 the community had grown until there were 500 inhabitants. There were four churches, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist and Baptist. By 1858 a growing concern was manifested that a measure of irreligion had crept in among the young people. A wish had also been expressed, at first tentatively, then with growing anxiety, for a closer union with the Canadian presbytery. It was expressed in these words: “That the church might manifest its legitimate power for spiritual edification and means of grace.” During these early days Rev. Mr. Cameron and Messrs. Kalar, McClive and Archibald Gray were as a veritable tower of strength on the session.

In 1862 Rev. William Dickson took over another pastorate and was replaced by the Rev. William Christie. He stayed for two years and again the pulpit was empty. The year 1864 marked the beginning of the first Canadian Presbytery and a degree of independence long desired by the Niagara South congregation. It was understandable that they had longed for firm commitments within their own country’s jurisdiction.

The Rev. Robert Wallace accepted a call in 1864. He proved to be a magnetic personality with a special interest in youth. He instituted tea meetings and encouraged the women of the congregation to assemble big baskets of sandwiches and other delectable food to entice the young people. Some of our Scottish ancestors believed that the Catechism and oatmeal could best fortify youth; Rev. Mr. Wallace added to the reinforcements.

Welcome the new ear of sociability

Miss MacKenzie in her account of the early church describes the first choir assembled with Mr. Wallace’s encouragement. It was his custom to call for a lively tune before the sermon. No doubt this sympathetic and earnest preacher was sadly missed when he left in 1868 after four years. A settled ministerial tenure seemed ever more elusive.

Finally in 1869 some degree of stability was attained with the arrival of the Rev. J.A.F. McBain. He was to remain in the community for 10 years. There was something rugged and durable about him. Confidence crept into the session meetings and a feeling of great expectation triggered off a most astounding event in this small church circle; a soiree was planned to mark the arrival of the reverend gentleman.

Larger and more elaborate receptions may well have been planned since that time, but none with more solemn and deliberate address. It would not be difficult to picture decorous hands folded over long black coat-tails and the soft swishing of the women’s long skirts over the rough floor as tea and cake were passed. Gentle, almost apologetic chuckles broke through the usual stern expressions as churchmen and their wives eased their way into the first “social” in the church’s history. This would be a pattern for many such occasions in years to come.

By 1870 there were 49 names on the church roll and 18 baptisms had been recorded. The word “siderunt” was first noted in our annals, a particular Latinism which would persist to our time. At every communion several names were added and elders’ circuits were instituted.

It is not to be assumed that music had been entirely neglected. A precentor had been at work against heavy odds trying to make some sort of adjustment between volume and harmony. The old tuning fork was much in evidence and is now a prized possession of our church. In 1870 a choir leader was appointed but by the following year he appeared to be losing the battle to control opposing voice tendencies. He had a deep desire for peace and so resigned. An impasse having been reached in the musical life of the church, it was felt that some change was inevitable.

It was in 1872 that someone first mentioned, after the session had been duly constituted with prayer, that instrumental music had been used in some places of worship. The session rejected such a novelty in the worship of God. The idea met with a solid front of Calvinistic disapproval and so the idea of instrumental music was held in abeyance.

Youth contributes its influence

This attitude was a reflection of the whole Presbyterian church in Canada at that time.

A treatise marking the various pitfalls of musical license had been distributed among the hierarchy of the church and those who longed for a more melodious accompaniment were forced to control these aspirations for many years.

In 1874 a superintendent of Sunday School was named. Rev. Mr. Cameron, the high school principal, was to expand his weekday efforts to encompass the religious teachings on the Sabbath. The session solemnly went over the roster of members and made a smaller list of those they deemed fit to teach. This was a most select and dedicated group. It is difficult to imagine the supreme confidence of those church elders, to know they could choose some and discard others. In modern times it becomes increasingly difficult to find those who are willing to assume this responsibility, the onus usually being placed on a few. It was possibly due to the extreme conscientiousness in choosing personnel that in the late 1800s an exceptionally strong school was developed.

In numbers attending Sunday school we can trace the results of the 18 baptisms and the 154 in the old record book, 59 of these performed by Rev. J.A.F. McBain and most of the others by Rev. John Young who followed some years later. The staying powers of these two ministers meant so very much in the strengthening of congregational ties. It was a common happening in the latter part of the 19th century for four to six members of a family to be baptized at one service and almost every communion service was preceded by an adult baptism to allow such persons to become full-fledged members.

On Nov 2, 1886 the name Drummondville church was changed to Niagara Falls South. At this time the idea of union among Presbyterian churches in Canada was first bruited, but the thought of the responsibility for theological education, which had been suggested, was looked upon with reservation, even with a degree of suspicion.

By 1874 the precentor had been complaining bitterly about the singing in the congregation of 76 members. Improvement was badly needed. He made an unusual suggestion, “There could be a regular practice of singing.” It did not work and in 1876 he resigned. The session had to resolve the problem of harmony or rather lack of it in the church. Men whose hearts were attuned to the rugged beat of Calvinism were suddenly asked to accept an innovation, an order, to assist in divine worship. Two of the elders resigned. They had been a tower of strength to successive ministers; now they had to obey an even more demanding conscience. The order music was introduced after they resigned.

Even then money was a problem

A big membership is a good thing in any congregation. An even better thing, according to the Niagara Falls south session was that they be dedicated. To accomplish this end a purge of membership was carried out. The theory was simple; unless a member saw fit to commune with the congregation at appropriate intervals the session felt he must be dealt with. Those, who after settling in the community, had been tardy in seeking to join the church, were finally accepted but with grave reservations and with proper exhortation and advice.

When the Rev. J.A.F. McBain was called to a new charge the Rev. Robert Thompson from Edinburgh was inducted in 1879. New elders took the place of those who had resigned and a new era was begun in our church. Among the elders of that time were Andrew Cruikshank, Robert McClive, Dr. Shaw and John Dobbie, who was named Clerk of Session. The names of Mr. Soule, Hugh McClive, William Taylor, James Wilson and William Lowell were added a little later. The Rev. Robert Thompson was moderator from 1879 to 1886. We are told that the minister was an exceptionally good preacher and a veritable “walking encyclopedia”. He was in the habit of bringing sightseers to see the oaks in the graveyard and describing the Lundy’s Lane battle.

We find for the first time some mention of union services with other community denominations. In 1880 a new hymnal was examined and accepted by the church session.

There was ever marked concern that there be exemplary behaviour and a religious frame of mind in all new communicants. Even the sheriff of the county, who had grown up in their midst under the guidance of highly dedicated and religious parents, must be examined closely before being accepted. Each young person wishing to join must be given a word of suitable exhortation. It was not to be a “primrose path” but something more in the nature of a Pilgrim’s Progress.

Always there was the preoccupation with money problems. Church funds were inadequate to cover the general expenses and the varied programme of missions, local, national and foreign. It was in 1884 that an alert board of managers allocated sitting, charging a minimum of $4 a year to guarantee a seat holding for each member. The financial stress was thus relieved to some extent.

In 1886 the very learned Dr. Thompson gave up the pulpit when he realized his eyesight was rapidly failing. He and his family returned to Edinburgh and in November of that year Rev. John Young was inducted.

The building that had housed the rapidly growing congregation for a half century was becoming inadequate. It was sold to J. Harrison Pew who moved it to his property on Lundy’s Lane where the Bon Villa Hotel now stands. (now 6565 Lundy’s Lane) It was at this critical time in church planning, in 1886, that William Lowell, long a staunch supporter, made a generous offer to the session; he would have a brick church built at his own expense and present it to the congregation. On August 29 the cornerstone was laid by Mrs. Lowell and on March 5 the following year it was dedicated in honour of Queen Victoria’s jubilee. This is our present sanctuary to which later additions were made. In fact the building had to be enlarged within three years.

The pipe organ makes its advent, 1888

It was in 1888 that Robert L. MacFarlane presented the church with a pipe organ. Twenty years earlier controversy had raged over the possible use of any instrument; now the members of session were ready to embrace this simple aid to harmony.

During Rev. John Young’s pastorate, 1886-1892, there was a marked increase in the numbers joining the church and 53 baptisms were performed. More elders were elected and communion cards were printed, to be delivered by members of the session.

The Sunday school assumed a much greater stature in this decade and soon maintained a disciplined organization within the church. It assembled a library of its own and named a printing committee to provide tracts for use of its teaching staff. There were well-defined areas of responsibility among its members. Mr. Marcom was superintendent for a time, to be followed before the year’s end by John Dobbie. The Misses Green and MacKenzie were his most competent assistants.

The importance of the Sunday school was emphasized by a special service for the children when the new church was opened. On March 5th a soiree was held for them with guests from Chippawa. Singing and recitations delighted that most appreciative audience, the parents. A Sunday school convention was organized with representatives from Niagara Falls, New York, Thorold, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Chippawa. Yearly picnics by train to various centers made that early Sunday school an exciting junior club.

So that the young people would not be unduly carried away by all the social life, the minister gave quarterly talks of a restraining nature. In April 1899, he gave a talk on the evil effects of alcohol and the benefits of pure water, illustrating the contrasting results on plants. In July a lecture was delivered on “The Straight Path Leading to Heaven.” These concerns at the turn of the century make a startling contrast with the anxieties of our time over drugs and crime. Falls View Sunday School was invited to join and more teachers were needed.

During the last decade of the 19th century the church was a hive of activity. Seven missions were being supported and the meager resources of the 169 members were strained to the utmost. The moderator and the session were dissatisfied. An extension had been added to the church proper; stained glass windows added a luminous beauty to the simple, austerely planned sanctuary. On the more practical side, new heating pipes with a register at the door, an oil tank and a water cooler lent a degree of comfort to the congregation. An organ pump added zest to the flagging efforts of the organist and encouraged a greater abandon in the flow of song.