“The Loyalist Church“ Christ Church
First Service Dec. 25, 1782 Anglican – Episcopalian
Before the Loyalists sailed from New York in 1783 to settle in what is now Shelburne, they decided to take a clergyman of the Church of England along with them. Some wanted to have the Reverend George Panton; while others favored the Reverend William Walter, D.D. , formerly the rector of Christ Church, in Boston. Both of these gentlemen arrived here in the summer of 1783, and both were accepted as missionaries by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in London. Two separate parishes were formed – St. Patrick’s for Mr. Panton, and St. George’s for Dr. Walter. There was much rivalry between the two groups at first, although there was plenty of work for both.
Dr. Walter’s congregation met for some time in the “preaching room” of the Methodists; but this proved too small, so they decided to erect a temporary building to be used until they could have “a more permanent and church-like structure.” In the meantime they applied to the members of the Church of Scotland ” for the use of their house of public worship, at such hours as would not incommode them. This favor the Presbyterians generously and unanimously granted.” Their own temporary building would be like that of the Presbyterians, about 40 feet long by 24 feet wide, quite rough, but very comfortable, and with stoves in the winter.
Mr. Panton retired in 1785, and the Reverend John Hamilton Rowland succeeded him in St. Patrick’s Parish. Then in 1788 the two rival parishes combined. They decided in May of that year to build a new church, and in June they accepted the tender of Hildreth and White for 620 pounds(sterling). Mr. Hildreth was the architect of the Government House in Halifax. On December 10, 1789, the building was ready for delivery, and the minutes for the meeting of December 22 quaintly read:
“The Church wardens further report, that they had, agreeable to the order of the Committee, at last meeting , taken, seizen and possession of the said Church from the said contract builders in the name and behalf and to the use of the two parishes in due form of law by receiving at the hands of said Hildreth and White the key of the great west door of the church, turning out the said builders, and locking the door upon them, and then immediately opening the door again.”
The first service was held on Christmas Day, 1789. The pews were soon hired, and on January 5th, 1790, the following resolution was passed:
“That the two remaining pews, one in each gallery to the eastward, be gratis pews appropriated for the use of decayed widows and other decent members of the Church whom it may not suit to hire pews”.
Bishop Charles Inglis arrived in Shelburne on July 26, 1790, for the purpose of consecrating the Church and the Church Yard, and to hold a confirmation. He was presented with an address and waited upon by Church and Town officials at the house of Major Skinner; and appointed Friday, July 30, at 11 forenoon, “for the ceremony of consecrating the Church and Yard for the use of the two parishes, by the name of Christ’s Church,” and “directed the Rev’d Mr. Rowland to preach the Consecration Sermon”. This was the first church to be consecrated by a Bishop in British North America.
After the retirement of the Reverend Dr. Walter in 1791, Mr. Rowland became sole rector of the two parishes, which on the tenth of May 1793, were joined under the name of “The United Parishes of St. George and St. Patrick.”
Few changes were made in the building for many years. In 1799 the eastern doors were doubled to prevent the rain and snow from entering. Originally, there were two rows of large windows on each side, and there was a pepper – box tower, which was afterwards made square. At first, the church had no chancel. Within, the box pews were dominated by a gallery around three walls, the east end being occupied by an exalted pulpit and a debased alter. The original three – decker pulpit was lowered by Dr. White in 1861. The other changes date from the restoration following the fire in March, 1873, which seriously damaged the structure. The original frame, sound and solid, was untouched,and as much of the interior material as could be worked in was utilized. The original windows on the main floor and on the balcony level were filled in and replaced with one large window. All three windows have since been replaced by the stained glass windows installed at various dates since 1873. The present wooden beam ceiling is a false ceiling covering the fire damage but the original all plaster ceiling had painted mural on it. The doors of the old pews made an admirable wainscoting. Four memorial windows were put in at this time- – the three behind the alter, and the front one on the south side of the church. In 1924 the front memorial window on the north side was installed, and since then the others have been added one or two at a time.
Dr. White, in his address at the Centenary in 1890, said that the fire “Stirred up the congregation to liberal and large – hearted efforts. . . (which) eventuated in what we now see before us – an enlarged edifice, beautiful in itself – an ornament to the Town, a credit to the Parish”. He pointed with pride to the fact that the whole cost of over $3 000 was met and paid by the congregation. Service was held in the ‘all but new’ Church on June 3, 1877.
in 1856, the pews were made free to all persons by unanimous vote, this being the first church in the Diocese to adopt this practice. The original bell was broken by a fall from the belfry in 1802. A new one was pruchased in Boston, and this was broken, so tradition says, by being hit too heavily with a crow – bar by the person tolling for the funeral for the late Mrs. George Irwin on a very cold February2, 1861. The present bell was also purchased in Boston; it weighs 412 pounds, and was rung first for the service of June 2, 1861.
The ‘stone font’ was presented to the Church by Dr. Willis, the Rector of St. Paul’s, Halifax; he had obtained it from Bishop Field. The Royal Coat of Arms was the gift in 1783 of Mr. William Lawler; it was painted in Halifax. The handsome set of books for the reading desk and the elegant service of plate for the Communion table were procured through the good efforts of Dr. Walter, and the beautiful silver paten and chalice were donated by Sir William Papperell. Mr. John McCarthy donated the alter to the Church.
The Rectory was completed in 1871, and was first occupied by the Reverend Mr. Nickerson, the Curate., Memorial Hall (now the Shelburne Public Library) was built as a tribute to the Reverend Dr. White; it was first used on January 12, 1896.
FIRE ON FEBRUARY 14, 1971
On St. valentine’s Day, February 14, 1971, just after midnight and during a heavy rain and windstorm the historic building and its furnishings (except the prayer desk) were gutted by a raging fire. All efforts to save the building were futile as the fire had too great a start before it was discovered.
After several meetings with the parishioners it was decided in May of 1971 to proceed to rebuild on the same site. An architect, Mr. Anthony Halse, Tantallon N.S. was engaged and the Building Committee headed by Mr. George Cox and Mr. Roblin Bower set to work on the design of the new building. It was decided that the building should commemorate the historical traditions of the Loyalists who first came to Shelburne in 1783. Consequently the building would follow eighteenth century designs and would have many features that were present in the original building consecrated by Bishop Inglis in 1790.
The new building was dedicated by the Archbishop of Nova Scotia, the Most Rev. W.W. Davis on Wednesday, December 20th, 1972 — this being the 183rd year of the Parish of Shelburne. The preacher on this occasion was the Rev. T.R.B. Anderson, the former Rector on the Parish. The Rector at the time of the fire and during the erection of the new building was the Rev. D.E. Ferguson.
Parish history revised, June 1975.