Something old, something new
CLAUDE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IS HISTORIC LANDMARK
STORY by HEATHER GHEY BROADBENT – PHOTOS courtesy of Town of Caledon Heritage Resource Office
Caledon has a landmark building which may not be as extraordinary as the CN Tower but one very dear to Caledon residents and a century older than the Toronto building.
Several years ago the steeple was reclad in copper. This led to the appreciation of how important the building was to the whole community as anxious visitors arrived from every direction as the scaffolding was erected to inquire if the steeple was to be dismantled. It also led to very generous donations towards the cost of the refurbishing.
It was not the first building used for worship by Presbyterian immigrants in north Chinguacousy and south Caledon Township (who held the original services in Gaelic). The first place was a member’s home and then a log school building. Eventually a frame building described as having one door and three windows on both sides was constructed in 1850 across the road (then called Centre Road) from the present church.
The land was donated by the Robinson’s, a prominent Claude family (who also build the two spectacular historic buildings further south on the west side and north of Boston Mills Road). Reportedly the pulpit was made from a tree trunk and the pews were rough planks resting on blocks of wood. The Reverend David Coutts was the first Minister. The 1861 Census described the building as worth $600 and that it seated 250.
By the end of the 1860’s the congregation decided to build a more permanent structure and the present Church was built by 1870. There have been later additions to the building on both sides and to the rear over the years none detracting from the overall appearance, and the main sanctuary, now restored, is a very elegant space.
The church has not been without its drama over the years probably the most significant being the amalgamation of Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregational congregations, nationally, in 1926.
Several of the families at Claude were not in favour – although some were. When the vote to merge with the nearby congregation in Inglewood was taken in January 1926 (prior to the establishment of the United Church of Canada in June of that year), it was obvious that unanimous agreement was not possible and shortly afterwards many members asked to be withdrawn from the membership roles.
Eventually these members petitioned the Ontario Church Property Commission for retention of the Church and its Manse. Held in October 1926 in Orangeville the petition was successful but the trauma of the split divided families and life-long friends and caused emotional distress, which took years to heal.
Added to the upset was the fact that the Claude congregation had to buy, for the second time, the Church and Manse.
The congregations of churches in the area still contain descendants of families that faced the trauma of the division, but Claude Presbyterian Church holds a special place it the lives of many residents.