Benchmarks in Worship Stokes Bay
by Helene Scott

     In the early days there were no churches at Stokes Bay. For many years, services were held in the homes where the faithful gathered to hear the Word. When a minister was not available, some of the elders, such as Lex Martin a very devout old bachelor, would take charge of the meeting. John McIver was also a good speaker and took over many times.

Stokes Bay Presbyterian Church built in 1902. The first services were in Gaelic.
     In 1902 Knox Presbyterian Church was built and still stands in the same place, and is in use to this day. The church was built mainly through the exhortation of the Reverend Mr. Severeight, the Presbyterian minister in the area at this time. He was a very colourful figure, always in a hurry, always bustling about exhorting his flock to greater efforts. The pockets of his old frock coat would bulge with the weight of hammers, nails and other building tools. He was an Englishman with a decided English accent, and as he went about he would keep repeating the everyone he met: “Must get the ‘chutch’ built, we must get the ‘chutch’ built.” He was instrumental in helping to get more than one Presbyterian Church built on the Bruce Peninsula. One Sunday he arrived with a big bundle of rhubarb under his arm, that he had gathered somewhere for someone. The elders were quite indignant at what they considered a flagrant disregard of the Sabbath, and one was heard to say bitterly, “Indeed peddlin’ the rewbarg, (as he called it), on the Sabbath.”

     In the Presbyterian Church, services were held first in Gaelic, and then in English. The Gaelic Service was conducted by Alex Martin, and his brother John Martin, was the Precentor. The precentor read the first line of the psalm in Gaelic, and the congregation chanted the tune. This procedure was repeated until the psalm was finished. To those not familiar with the chanting, it was quite an experience to hear. Before the service was ended other members would be arriving for the service in English. It is said that some of the younger people would have great difficulty repressing their mirth on hearing the chanting. Fred Myles was once heard to say, in a loud whisper, “The old boys have all the wrong stops out!”

     The first student minister to preach at Knox Presbyterian was John Cowan. He was a dynamic young Christian who was influential in getting a number of young people to join the church. Other ministers remembered are Nelson, Duncan, Manthorne, Penman and Anderson.

     Violet Golden, daughter of George Golden, was an organist in the church at the time, as was also Margaret McIver, daughter of John McIver. Members of the choir included: Nellie, Tena and Mary McLeod, Ethel Martindale, Georgina Golden, Mina Mowatt, T.Y. Dealy and John Cameron. There were some great singers in the church in those days. Lindsay Myles was said to be one of the best, and could put his voice over ten hills, so the story goes, In later years, after 1912, Nathan Doran held the honour, especially when they sand his favourite hymn “Will Your Anchor Hold,” a fitting choice for a fisherman.

     Around this time, the Anglican held services in the Orange Hall. Two Anglican ministers recalled are: Reverend Mr. Gandier and the beloved Canon James. After the Anglican congregation dwindled, most members attended the Presbyterian Church.

     Soon the Presbyterian congregation was reduced by people moving away, or departing the mortal scene. The closing of the mills and the decline of the lumber business forced many to move form the area. Other denominations began to use the church, such as the Mennonites. One Mennonite minister in particular, is remembered. He was the Reverend Mr. Robert Etherington, known to everyone as “Happy Bob.” He had a great voice, and a cheery personality, and was welcomed by all. He went around visiting the sick and shut-ins and upon entering the home of a sick person, would take off his coat and take a chair by the bedside, then taking out his old Bible would read a chapter or two in his sonorous voice, and then sing the favourite hymns of the sick person. No organ was needed with that voice! The children in the home (and I was one) would steal in and sit on the floor listening in wide-eyed admiration.

     Other names that come to mind are: Sinden, Groves and Schwalm. There were two Groves one had been a well-known hockey player, before his conversion, and was known as “Speedy” Bill Groves. One thing is certain they all laboured hard in this rather barren part of the Lord’s Vineyard. In most cases they would have two or three charges to care for. They were all fine, well-respected people. Most people who enjoyed church went no matter what denomination was preaching; I know my mother played the organ for all, no matter the denomination. Later on, Mrs. Nathan Doran filled in as organist when required. The above ministers were all stationed at Ferndale.

     Other sects held meetings from time to time in the village, and some of these well-meaning persons were not too well received by the more dyed-in-the-wool Presbyterians and Anglicans Christians all!

     One sect in particular, at a cottage prayer meeting, was bent on chasing the devil out of one of the children in the home. They prayed and exhorted, and excitement ran so high that they pounded the child on the back. The child, no doubt sick with fear, vomited, and the leader yelled triumphantly, “There, there’s the devil, he’s gone under the stove!”

     That night, members of the meeting, returning home in their buggies and wagons, met with a barrage of rotten eggs when they reached Pool’s Hallow. The nasty missiles were hurled by mysterious assailants who melted into the night without a sound. On another occasion a much nastier barrage was used, and one Christian wife was horrified to find a bunch of brown paper bags in the cow stable ... one unchristian husband had a red face and burning ears for days afterwards.

     At still another meeting where the people were getting worked up to a fine frenzy, and the prayers and cries went on an on, one young man getting bored with the whole thing, and his knees sore from the hard floor, spied the family cat by the chair where he was kneeling. To see if he could create a diversion, and maybe cut the prayers short, he caught the cat by the tail, lifted the chair leg and let it down on poor puss’s tail! The cat let out such screeching that it completely drowned out the prayers and wails, and brought the meeting to a complete standstill. The young man rolled on the floor, not in a frenzy, but in a desperate attempt to keep from laughing.

     On still another occasion when the minister had called at a home, he read the Bible and had a word of prayer too long a prayer for some. The lady of the house was a very curious person, and she just had to know who went by every time a vehicle passed. This time, as she and her children and the neighbours’ children, who happened to be there, were all down on their knees, the minister kept praying and praying. Then there was the sound of buggy wheels coming down the hill. One boy opened his eyes for a peek and there was the lady of the house on her hands and knees creeping silently to the window to have a look. She looked out, and then crept silently back to her chair, and with hands clasped in an attitude of prayer, said “Amen” just in time with the minister.

     Another thing we personally recall at some prayer meetings, was “speaking in tongues” by some of the members. This was quite awesome to hear by the uninitiated. I do not know if it is still heard today or not. We were glad that we had the privilege of hearing it, though many do not believe that it is a divine gift, but rather a form of hysteria. We would prefer to believe the former as the persons we heard speak it were Christians above reproach.

Pages 261-263 of Benchmarks
A History of Eastnor Township and Lion’s Head
Compiled by The Eastnor & Lion’s Head Historical Society
Copyright 1987