The Old Hay Bay Church as it stood in 1925
Seven years after the advent of the United Empire Loyalists to the Bay of Quinte district of Upper Canada, the plucky wilderness settlers of Fourth Town, afterwards named Adolphustown, raised a subscription list out of their penury, in the year 1791 to build a chapel for the worship of Almighty God. They supplemented this early in the following year by giving their services in the chopping, sawing and framing of the majestic oak, pine and cedar, growing along the south shore of Hay Bay - an arm of the Bay of Quinte, a mile wide and fifteen miles long, dividing the township into two parts. The choicest material was used, and the solid, rustic edifice, with galleries and a high pulpit, was completed and dedicated in 1792, from which time until 1860, great throngs of people from far and near of all denominations, including many Indians of various tribes, mustered in this Methodist chapel from Sabbath to Sabbath, by means of boats and forest pathways in summer, and over the ice in winter. Then, when roads had improved, and clearings had enlarged, and prosperity had rewarded faithful service, a more central church was built in that community by the Methodists, who robbed their mother church of her pulpit and furniture; sold her for a paltry fifty dollars, and abandoned her to bats and rats and all the trumpery of a general farm storehouse.
The present writer came upon the scene about that time, and soon, with the other lads of the community, often went fishing and swimming off the old church-dock, and lunched and slept on the green sward in the shade of the stately, mother-of -Methodism. Like many others I worshipped in the new church, near my father's door, until I saw it give way to the beautiful, brick, Centennial Church of 1884, which still adorns the site. But I could not forget the place where my United Empire Loyalist forefathers had worshipped; and when I moved back from the Western prairies to Toronto, in 1910, I found a sympathetic friend in dear old Chancellor Burwash; and together, we bombarded the good Methodists of Toronto for a Hay Bay church restoration fund. With the aid of a liberal contribution from the Bay of Quinte Conference we realized $1,500, which enabled us to purchase the property, renovate the structure, build a new wharf and place the clear title in the possession of the Methodist Church of Canada. Re-opening services were held by Rev. Dr. Carman, with throngs of people in attendance, transported by several steamers, motor-boats, cars and horse-carriages. Dr. Burwash and others, followed with other largely-attended services in following years, and then came the World War, and all else was forgotten. The lonely sentinel on Hay Bay, defying wind and rain and frost, valiantly stood throughout those anxious years, with few visitors to lift the latch-string, always hanging on the outside of the front door. Meanwhile the elements are causing decay, and soon the mother-church of Methodism in Canada must perforce, fall in ruins, after 138 years of service, unless immediate action is taken to preserve it.
Adjoining the Hay Bay Church is the boyhood home-site of the late Sir John A. Macdonald, who worshipped there with his good Presbyterian mother for several years when a lad, soon after their arrival as immigrants from Scotland. John A. and his two sisters attended the village school, from which he returned to school in Kingston, and soon became articled in a law office. I heard him speak from time to time in later years, concerning his happy school days when living with his parents on Hay Bay, frolicking with the boys of the neighborhood, of whom my father was one, and always being good on Sunday by going to the Methodist church with his mother, and listening to the wonderful sermons of those grand old preachers of the early days. I well knew the stone foundations of the Macdonald home, when a lad, and in later years, as a surveyor, I ran a line through the concession to Hay Bay, along the westerly boundary of the Macdonald plot. I bought that half-acre plot in 1910 and offered it to the Federal Government, on which to erect some suitable memorial to mark the Macdonald boyhood home. I persisted in this endeavor with each succeeding premier until last year, when the Mackenzie King Government, in rounding out their Confederation Jubilee plans, erected a beautiful cairn on the site, out of the foundation stones of the Macdonald home. That cairn, adjoining the Hay Bay Church plot on the east, and near the water's edge, has been enclosed with an iron fence, and will be preserved by the Government as a historic site for all time to come.
It now seems to me that many former Methodists in the Bay of Quinte district, in the city of Toronto; and in fact throughout all Canada, must feel as I do; that we should at once raise a sufficient sum to restore and fit up the Hay Bay Church in such a manner, as will preserve it for another century or two, and make it a useful and attractive place of worship for the United Church, in general, and an interesting historic spot, which tourists will visit in increasing numbers, when boating on the Bay of Quinte, or motoring from Lennox to Prince Edward County, and crossing the ferry over the bay, on the picturesque Napanee-Picton route. Reeve Johnson, of Adolphustown, declares that since his council erected a signboard on the Macdonald plot in 1925, many strangers have inquired the way to the place. The Government's cairn is certain to attract an increasing number every year, who will also be interested in the adjoining shrine, where Methodism had its genesis in Canada. The township council will make a grant of at least one hundred dollars towards fencing and fitting up the grounds of this historic part of their community. The County Council of Lennox and the Town Council of Napanee will be equally generous, and possibly other municipalities will desire to share in the good work.
How much will it cost? Five thousand dollars, in my judgment as an engineer, should be sufficient for the purpose. The original hand-sawed clapboards have weathered down to the thickness of wafers, and in order to preserve the rustic appearance, these will need to be carefully taken off, the studding solidly boarded with new material, and the clapboards replaced over the latter, and closely nailed. New windows and doors will be needed and, for the most part, a new roof. Repairs to foundation, floors, galleries, etc., with renewals here and there, will be necessary. While preserving the rustic, open-roof appearance, the whole interior will need renovating, with new platform, railing, pulpit, chairs and a full set of modern, comfortable seats. The grounds should be fenced, cultivated and planted with trees, shrubs and flowers, and the shore-line for about a thousand feet in length cleared up, the banks graded and seeded and a concrete, boat-landing platform built at the rear of the church. Other minor demands will naturally arise, as is always the case, when such a work is undertaken; but the above outline roughly measures the extent of the actual expenses necessary to preserve the Hay Bay Church for another century; make it a delightful place for worship; visitation by Conferences or Presbyteries, church and Sunday School excursions, and, as in all Roman Catholic churches, a quiet retreat for meditation and prayer by individuals passing that way.
Now, in order to bring this matter to a final issue, I would suggest that the good friend of every good cause in our Church, Rev. Dr. J.H. Arnup, who is intensely interested in this matter, name a committee of six or seven representative men, including himself, and the present writer, who in 1910 was elected chairman of the trustee board of the Hay Bay Church, appointed by the Methodist Church of Canada, who still feels the responsibility of seeing his task completed. That committee will begin to function immediately, and, with the cordial assistance of The New Outlook, will make an immediate appeal to the old-time Methodist families of Canada to give us five thousand dollars for the work in hand. I am glad to be able to say that one firm in the City of Toronto has granted five hundred dollars already to this fund; and also that the United Church hold in trust several hundred dollars from the Bay of Quinte Conference of 1924-25 for the endowment, or maintenance, as the case may be, of the Hay Bay Church.
Should our committee not require all the money given us to carry out the work outlined above, then, possibly, we may be able to build a decent bungalow on the acre and a half, Hay Bay Church property, for a home for a worn-out missionary and family, where, on a small salary, with free house and garden, he, or she, would become the custodian of the Church, holding neighborhood services there, if desirable; admitting visitors and welcoming everybody. Who knows but that this spot, where Methodist was planted 136 years ago, may not thus become a veritable Mecca to returning missionaries from all parts of the world, long before another century has passed away. The spirit of William Losee, the New York missionary who first preached there, would, if then free, certainly come back and revisit the scenes of this early ministry.
The Government would be glad to grant an allowance to the church caretaker for looking after the cairn on the Macdonald home-site. Pictures, writings and bric-a-brac, concerning both the Hay Bay Church and Canada's greatest statesman, could find ample room in the galleries of the church, which would become in time of interest to tourists and of educational value to the youth of our country. The local historical society could materially aid in developing this feature of the proposal.
A start in this direction might induce the other United Church denominations - Presbyterian and Congregational - to select representative churches on which as memorials, they would concentrate in a similar way and thus there would become a series of them in The United Church, each with its distinguishing features. That might stimulate other denominations in the same direction and awaken a keener interest, generally in our country in the old churches we are so prone to forget and forsake. Of what use will all our Canadian prosperity be if we neglect veneration for the spiritual instincts of our natures, in the mad onrush for material things, whereby we may gratify our desires for pleasure? The Metropolitan Church Board display a brave and reverent spirit when they declare that a new Metropolitan, phoenix-like, will soon rise from the ashes of the old, destined for a wider spiritual influence in Toronto, Canada, and the world than ever before in its vigorous crusade of half a century.