St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Niagara-on-the-Lake

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St. Andrew's circa. 1878. Note the buggy shed to the left.

This Presbyterian congregation was established in Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) the first capital of Upper Canada, in June 1794, shortly after the arrival of Rev. John Dun. Mr Dun was sent by the Albany, New York Presbytery as a missionary to the Niagara area.By November 1794, construction had begun on a Presbyterian Church...the first church edifice in town...but it was intentionally burned down by the occupying American army in August 1813. For eighteen years after its destruction, the congregation met for worship in their school house (circa 1802) on the north corner of the church property.

  Rev. Robert McGill was introduced as the new minister of this congregation in 1829, and under his guidance, the Presbyterians of Niagara built a fine new church for themselves. The foundation of stone was laid on May 31, 1831, and the church was dedicated "St. Andrew's Church, Niagara, MDCCCXXXI".

After a cyclone struck the sanctuary in 1855, it was rebuilt under the direction of Kivas Tully. A major restoration was undertaken in 1937, when Eric Arthur supervised the work. A further major restoration was undertaken in 1991 and the sanctuary was rededicated on September 29, 1991. Today, both the interior and the exterior of the church appear much the same as when the church was built in 1831.

The Church contains three types of pews: box, slip and table. On Communion Sundays the pews have long old pine tables placed before them, covered in white linen cloths. The Silver Communion Service of 1831 is still being used. The lofty pulpit, a fine work of art, was made by John Davidson, a member of the church. It is surmounted by a golden dove. Below the pulpit is the precentor's desk.

"St. Andrew's is an architectural gem. It is rated by good judges amongst the finest specimens of simple colonial ecclesiastical style to be found on the continent...the very essence of delicate yet uncompromising dignity."  Hamish McDuff, Toronto.

1792- First meeting house built before or during 1792.
1794- First church built.

1796- 142 families were listed as members in the records.

1813- (War of 1812) On May 27, after a fierce conflict near Fort Mississauga in which many men from the church were involved, the American troops occupied Niagara under the command of General McClure.  In August of that year, he ordered the Presbyterian Church to be burned to the ground.  The Americans justified their actions by claiming that the tower was used as an observation post by the townspeople.  Rev. John Burns, along with several church members, was taken prisoner and preached to his captors.

The destruction of the Presbyterian Church was nearly 3 months before the rest of the town was put to the torch by the Americans as they retreated across the river - only a few buildings escaped the fire.

The School House escaped. As well as divine service and Sunday School, a weekday school was held in the School House.  The upper part was used as a school for black children of settlers who had escaped from slavery via the Underground Railroad.  In 1793 the Government of Upper Canada signed into law a bill abolishing slavery, six months before Britain.  Niagara became known as the "City of Refuge" to those who had followed the north star to freedom.

An account by a black woman of her schooldays in Niagara:

"I went to a black man upstairs in the school house of the Scotch church.  The room was full, full of children. The benches were slabs with the flat side up and the back of the trees down, with round sticks put in slanting for legs.  The children all studied aloud and the one that made the most noise was the head scholar in those days."

1831- Present church - built on the same site - style of the Greek Revival, based on the Temple of Theseus.  17 feet x 55 feet of yellowish red brick, and a portico of six Doric columns and a pediment. The tympanum (above the front door) had a gilt sun-burst, and an octagonal steeple pointed heavenward over the front of the church.

In 1831, the pews were purchased by the occupants ranging in price from 8 punds to 25 pounds and, in addition, an annual "ground rent" of 2 to 3 pounds was paid.  The box pew on the right entering the church was reserved for the minister's family.  One was called the Governor's Pew.  No pews are now sold or rented.

1833- Cemetery - In the graveyard are some interesting headstones - some unusual - one in oak of 1852, one of cast iron of 1854, and one marble of 1837.  The earliest date on any stone is 1829, although the body of a soldier hasitily interred in 1813, was found.  The Ministers' Burying Place is marked by a plaque on the outside wall over the plots below.

1836- The manse was built.  After 100 years of occupancy, in 1937 the Manse was restored.  Its colonial architecture, itsmantels, which have been called gems by architects and its old time doors and inside shutters add to its interior dignity and comfort.

1855- The church was restored after the cyclone.

1994 - Bicentennial Celebration - 1794 to 1994

The church appears today in its original state even to the foot scrapers, although an "Angel Gabriel" (now in the Historical Museum) formerly poised horizontally on the weather vane was too much eaten into by the elements to be put back in its place.  The Precentor's desk has been preserved.

Interior- capable of seating 600- colonial style gallery along three sides.  The pews were straight and severe each with a panelled door the same height as the pew.  The pulpit & sounding board were added in 1840, beautifully fashioned in black walnut.  All the rest of the woodwork as well as the walnut precentor's desk were painted white.  Two curving stairs with graceful handrails led to the pulpit (6 feet above the floor) with a dove on top.  There were two entrances at the sides for the congregation.  The interior layout was unusual in that the doors were at the front of the church.  Over the years this feature has produced several generations of punctual Presbyterian churchgoers.

There were three types of pews - box pews, slip pews & table pews, the latter centre pews at Communion have long tables placed at the front with long table cloths of spsotless, handspun linen, now very old.  The communion silver service of 1831 is still used, the individual cups added.

Excerpts from Special Collections in the St. Catharines Centennial Library.