The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the September 28, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Union Mission Church spire remnant from higher calling

By Louise Schwartz

An odd sight awaits sharpeyed travellers passing through Kirk's Ferry on Hwy 105 in Chelsea. Almost hidden by the trees and brush, a lone church spire sits comfortably in a clearing on Brown Road, a short road running parallel to the highway on the mountainside. Closer inspection reveals the presence of an interpretive plaque and two inviting park benches.

This spire is a reminder of a fine white church that once opened its doors here, offering summer services to cottagers, visitors, and year-round residents. Known as the Union Mission Church, it served the Protestant community and was uni-sectarian, meaning it could be used by any Protestant denomination, including United, Presbyterian or Anglican.

The original Union Mission church building, where services were first held in 1898, had been located about a mile to the northeast, near the Gatineau River. During the week, that building did double duty as a school.

The Way We Were
The August 1952 Union Mission Church christening of Louise Ann, shown in the arms of her mother, Ann Schwartz, as arranged by her grandfather, Harley Selwyn, of Kirk's Ferry. The growth of trees on what was then a farmer's field has since obscured the pleasant view of the Gatineau River once seen from the church grounds. Photo courtesy Louise Schwartz.

A large shed nearby stored stovewood, provided a place for churchgoers to tie up their horses, and even came with a convenient outhouse. Around 1926, the Gatineau Power Company expropriated the land and tore down the buildings, as it prepared to flood the area for its major hydroelectric project on the Gatineau.

A new site was found on higher ground thanks to Ferguson Brown, a farmer and church board trustee, and Gatineau Power agreed to build a smaller single-spire church as a replacement. Clad with white clapboard and green shingles, the 24-by-35-foot church had room for 14 pews.

Brown Road resident Harold Reid attended many of the church services here, first as a child with his family, and later with his wife, Margaret. A memory of his from the early 1950s stands out. He recalls the occasional appearance of Mrs. Plunkett-Taylor, a wealthy cottager from Summit Road to the north.

The mother of millionaire business tycoon and breeder of thoroughbred racehorses, E.P. Taylor, Mrs. Plunkett-Taylor would arrive for the church service in her chauffeur-driven limousine. The chauffeur would jump out and place a small wooden box on the ground near the passenger door, for Mrs. Plunkett-Taylor to step onto.

Aside from summer services in July and August, few other events occurred at the church. According to records still held by Reid, there was a child's christening in 1952. Years later, in 1967, the church, decorated with wildflowers collected from nearby fields, was the venue for the wedding of Sally Spennato and David Chin.

However, as cottagers began to be replaced by permanent residents, churchgoers migrated to year-round churches, such as the St. Mary Magdalene Church in Chelsea. With dwindling attendance, the last Union Mission church service was held in August 1980. Reid notes the final offering on the collection plate that Sunday totalled $41.75. The church was reopened briefly for a memorial service for Dorothy Reid Craig in June 1990.

In spite of a community desire to preserve this heritage building, after standing empty for over 20 years and in poor shape, its roof collapsed after a heavy wet snowfall in spring 2002. That fall the building was demolished by a host of volunteers. All the church pews, except three now in storage, were sold.

The church organ, well played over the years by organists such as Maud Brown and Bob Martin, is destined for the planned Fairbairn House in Wakefield. The land on which the spire has been installed will soon be owned by the Municipality of Chelsea. Do take some time this fall to walk, bike or drive to the newly dedicated Union Mission Church Park and bide a wee.

Postscript: A dedication ceremony and reception will be held at 16 Brown Rd. in Kirk's Ferry on Sunday, Oct. 2, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., to celebrate the installation of the Union Mission Church Park. The ceremony, organized by the Gatineau Valley Historical Society, is intended to thank Chelsea municipal staff and elected officials, as well as Heritage Committee members for their support and vision in creating this memorial to Chelsea's past. Information for this article was obtained thanks to Harold Reid, Carol artin, and her story in Volume 25 of Up the Gatineau!

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