Sunday, 28 December 2014

Buckingham Church & Cemetery

My pen & ink study of the Buckingham Church

Long before the days of social media, strip malls and Sunday shopping, churches were the hub of social and spiritual activity for many communities.  Churches come in many shapes and sizes.  In towns and cities they could be grand and majestic, and in the country they were small and quaint, but by far no less regal in stature.  

Many residents of Grey Highlands will no doubt recognize this beautiful little brick church which sits proudly on County Road #31 not far from the hamlet of Rob Roy.  It is known to the locals as the "Buckingham Church" in honour of the family who donated the land for it, and whose ancestors now lay quietly at rest in the cemetery grounds.  The parcel of land on which the church and cemetery sits was donated by pioneer farmer John Buckingham in the 1850's.  The first church on the property was actually constructed of logs and sat just west of the present brick church.  It was one of the first churches to be built in northern Osprey Township.  

Life in pioneer times in the country meant that there were few luxuries and churches were no exception.  The congregation sat on backless wooden benches, and as there was no organ available they began their hymnal singing with the assistance of a tuning fork.  In the summer of 1891 the construction of a new church was begun with great sacrifice of time and money.  Bricks were brought up the mountain from Collingwood by horse and wagon, and by the spring of 1892 the red brick church was finally completed.  One of the residents who had dedicated so much to the construction of the new church was Thomas Hawton. Unfortunately he passed away in 1892 and his was to be the last service to be held in the original log church on the property.  Three weeks later, the new red brick church opened for services.

The first minister was the Reverend Hugh Brown, and there was a rotation of ministers as the Buckingham Church was part of a group of five churches on the "Maxwell circuit."  There was a profusion of organists too, and Mrs. Robert Buckingham and Susan Hawton were among these.  As life in the early 20th century didn't have the luxury of central heating, young Norman Buckingham would stop by the church on his way home from school to light a fire so that it would be warm for prayer meetings.  For this he was paid the sum of five cents which was actually quite generous for the time period. 

Over time in the early 1900's, many of those who worshipped at the church began moving west in search of new land and new beginnings.  At the same time new churches were springing up in adjacent townships, and both of these factors served to draw membership away from Buckingham church.  By the early 1950's only a handful of parishioners remained, and the last regular service was held at the church in 1952.  Many of the intrepid pioneer families who were instrumental in the creation of this beautiful church and who once worshipped here now lie peacefully at rest in the cemetery in both marked and unmarked graves.  

This wonderful little church sits a concession over from our cottage and I have visited it many times over the years.  Twenty years ago the original pump organ still proudly graced the altar area, but it has since disappeared. It is a serene place to visit, to walk through the cemetery and ponder the lives lived and now resting in solitude amongst the cedars. We visited the church on Christmas Day, and I was pleased to see that not only had the ceiling been repaired, but that the overall condition of the church seems to have improved since my last visit a couple of summers ago.  As a tribute, Howard and I did an impromptu selfie sing-a-long of "Silent Night" as a tribute to the little church.  It has been the target of needless vandalism over the years, but hopefully folks will learn to respect this humble but magnificent structure.

Buckingham Church, front entrance.

An interior panorama.

Early 20th century central heating.

Windows to God showcasing Mother Nature and her glory.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Milton and the legacy of the Martin family

Martin's Mill, built in 1856

Milton may have been so named in honour of the poet John Milton, but also as a "mill town" that owes it's very existence to one courageous and industrious family, the Martins.

Jasper Martin and his wife Sarah left Newcastle, England on May 17th, 1818. They were both just 21 years of age, and with them were their 3 year old son John and his 4 month old brother Joseph. They arrived at York (now Toronto) in August of 1818 where they lived for three years.  In 1820 a third child - a girl - was born but died in infancy.  While they lived in York, Jasper received from the Crown 100 acres of land described as Lot 14, Concession 2,Township of Trafalgar, Halton County in the district of Gore.

On October 15th, 1821, Jasper, Sarah and their sons settled on the property allotted to them, and in addition purchased another 100 acres of land from one Joseph Whitefield who subsequently returned back to the Old Country.  Young Jasper was clever, industrious and far-sighted, and he realized almost immediately the need for a grist mill to serve the pioneer settlers in the district.  He was soon hard at work erecting a simple frame building, and by 1822 had a grist mill in operation.  In 1825, he followed this with both a sawmill and an ashery.

Early settlers to this area endured many hardships, and the Martins saw more than their fare share.  Only the bare details exist, but the sad facts were that Jasper and Sarah had tragically short lives. Sarah passed away at 33, and Jasper at 36. During the short span of their lives, to them 5 children were born.  The aforementioned John and Joseph,  the infant Hanah who passed away, and two more boys - Edward and William, both born here in Milton.

During his lifetime, Jasper was responsible for damming the creek and creating an artificial mill pond.  The work for this was done entirely by hand, but as the need for depth increased ox drawn barges were employed to remove the mud and silt.  According to one local story, during a flood one season the bank of the pond gave away.  Living close by was an old woman who kept pigs, and as the waters swirled and rose, the old woman,pigs and buildings apparently went floating on the pond together.

When Jasper Martin died, the grist and sawmills were carried on by his sons.  The mill building pictured in my sketch was built in 1856, the year before Milton was incorporated as a town.  This mill operated under power derived from the mill pond and Sixteen Mile Creek which fed it.  For all the prosperity that the pond and the creek brought the Martin family, it also brought them tragedy.  In 1846, youngest son William was drowned in the pond, and eldest son John drowned in the Martin Street creek in 1871.  At some point in time, Joseph Martin went to Australia and the mill was operated by local man John White and John Martin.  The mill was in operation from 1856 until 1963 when it was destroyed by fire.  Occasionally during this time others may have operated or rented the mill, but it was always owned by the Martin family.  

The Martin family are rightly regarded as the founders of this town, for if it were not for Jasper's ingenuity, the mill pond and mill town - "Milton" - would never have saw existence.  Although the mill itself is now gone, you need not look too far to see reminders of the Martin Family.  The mill pond and it's grounds sit in the centre of the old town, a beautiful area now called Centennial Park and frequented by many.  Adjacent to the park is Martin Street, named for the family. And sitting proudly on Martin Street facing both the pond and the park is the stately Martin family home, built in 1860 by son Joseph.  If you walk a short distance down to Main Street and head east, you can also see our magnificent original town hall, also built by Joseph in 1865 for the princely sum of $5,000.

While the mill that created it is now but a distant memory, the rich legacy of an intrepid pioneer family, the Martins, will live on forever in this wonderful town which we now call home, Milton.

The Martin family home, 57 Martin Street - built in 1860

Milton Town Hall & Market Building, built in 1865 by Joseph Martin

Dr. McKay's home, 242 Third Street .......

As a young boy growing up in Collingwood , I was blessed to have Dr. Donald McKay both as a doctor and a dear family friend.  It was he who was responsible for bringing me into this world (yes folks, blame him), and he would always refer to me as "his boy."  He was the last of a breed of family physicians who cared enough about their patients to make house calls, doing this this often with his "black bag" at his side. It was he along with my grandparents who fostered in me my lasting love and passion for the heritage and history of our wonderful town.

In addition to loving history, I was also obsessed with the McKay's beautiful home.  To the younger me, it represented a "Gone With the Wind" fantasy brought to Collingwood.  I was ever so fortunate enough to have a personal tour of this wonderful house so long ago, and the McKay's kindness left a lasting impression on me.  Although the family have called this beautiful structure home since 1952, theirs was not the first "physician family" to reside there.

242 Third Street came into being as the ornate excesses of the Victorian era were fading away.  The early 20th century saw a renewed interest in the solid respectability of architecture in the Classical tradition.  Thus, this beautiful 2 and a half storey home in brick is a remarkable example of the style  known as "Colonial Revival." Built in 1907-08, the 6 bedroom home was designed by Collingwood architect John Wilson for retired lumber mill manager Charles Pitt.  Mr. Pitt was an avid hunter, and his primary specification was that there be a space sufficient enough on the second floor landing to display a moosehead with a sixty-six inch antler span.  Not only did this request produce a magnificent central staircase that splits into two at the central landing, Mr. Wilson also included a ram's head motif in the design which is repeated throughout the house - in the capitals of the ionic columns on the portico, the interior front door surround, and the oak octagonal columns surrounding the staircase.  

On the exterior, the monumental portico is supported by two impressive ionic columns and shades a semi-circular second storey balcony with vase shaped pickets.  There are also a liberal scattering of Palladian windows decorating the side and rear facades which was also a detail quite popular at the time.  One particular detail of note is the side "porte cochere" where  buggies and coaches could be safely parked for easy entrance. Capping off the structure is an original slate roof which is also indicative of the style of the era. 

Construction of the home commenced in October of 1907, and according to "The Enterprise-Messenger",  the handsome home would be completed at a cost of $20,000 and include 5 fireplaces, leaded glass, French doors, and a bell system for summoning the servants.  The home is surrounded by an original cast iron fence, and there is even a very rare and unique cast iron "horsehead" hitching post still standing watch at the bottom of the walkway.

After serving on town council for several years, Charles Pitt passed away from typhoid fever in 1927. The following year his widow Ella sold the home to Dr. Alexander McFaul for $6,250.  Not only was Dr.McFaul a gifted surgeon, he also served as Mayor of Collingwood and Chairman of the Board of Education. He passed away in 1951 at the age of 89.

The McKay's - Donald and Frances and their four children moved in a year later, and the home has remained in the family ever since.  One lasting memory I have is of the annual Christmas tree that Dr. McKay would put out festively lit on the upper portico.   Sadly, the elder McKay's are no longer with us, and their son Ian who inherited it passed away in October of 2015.  The house has now passed on down the family tree to Ian's children Jenn and Andrew who are committed to breathing new life into this very special family home.


A 1960's image of the McKay family at the bottom of the central staircase. From left to right, Dr. Donald McKay, daughter Nora, son Don, wife Frances, and sons Ian & Stuart.