Our History

A Celebration of 150 Years

by

Charles D. Dondale

Board of Deacons, Beckwith Baptist Church

Prepared for the 150th Anniversary Celebration - July 1997

 

INTRODUCTION

The story of Beckwith Baptist Church begins with the arrival of the Scottish and Irish immigrants to Beckwith and Drummond Townships in the early 1800s. Although Baptists formed only a tiny minority in the tide of Presbyterian, Church of Scotland, or Anglican families that poured into Lanark County between 1816 and 1824, the Baptists cherished their autonomy and they did not give it up lightly. As soon as they received their land grants and built their log houses, Baptists were meeting in homes for worship. The stimulus for these little gatherings came from a man of sterling character and boundless energy, the Scottish Highland weaver Duncan McNabb. 

 

Beckwith Baptist Church celebrates its 150th anniversary in 1997. It was on the 7th of July, 1847 that the church's trustees bought  land on Lot 27, Concession 6 of Drummond Township. The log church that they built served the community well for many years, but was eventually abandoned and the church meetings were again held in the people’s homes until 1907 when construction of the brick structure was begun. Part of the log building was moved to the property of Dalton Coleman's father; it may be seen today in Dalton's sugar bush. The close fit and smooth inner surfaces of the huge logs attest to the care lavished on their house of worship by our Baptist forebears so many years ago.

 

This account owes a great deal to the work of earlier historians who consulted numerous original documents to write about the pioneers of eastern Ontario. Dr. Glenn Lockwood's monumental "Beckwith: Irish and Scottish Identities in a Canadian Community", published in 1991, was consulted almost daily while I wrote the present account. Another useful book is Howard Brown's  "Lanark Legacy: Nineteenth Century Glimpses of an Ontario County", published in 1984. A third and highly relevant work is the mimeographed "A History of Beckwith Baptist Church 1847-1977", written by the Rev. D. Robert Blewitt, pastor of the church from 1976 to 1982. Blewitt dedicated his history to the "men and women of God who founded the church and have laboured faithfully through the years to maintain a witness in the community." I can do no less than dedicate my essay to the same faithful men and women.

 

THE PIONEERS

 

 The Baptist pioneers of eastern Ontario, as already indicated, came from the Scottish Highlands or from southeastern Ireland. What was it that led these people to abandon their way of life  and take such a leap of faith into the unknown wilderness of Upper Canada?

 

WHO THEY WERE AND WHY THEY CAME

 

One result of the American Revolution of the 1770's was the flight of several thousands of United Empire Loyalists northward into Ontario. In eastern Ontario, these people mainly settled the townships along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River and along the Rideau system of rivers and lakes. But far from feeling any strong loyalty to the British sovereign, these settlers, who had been brought up under a republican type of government, soon began to express a strong preference for that type of government in Upper Canada. And when, in 1812, the U.S. made an armed invasion of our country, the American fugitives from New England became a cause for concern to the British.

 

The War of 1812 taught the British colonial rulers that they could not depend on the loyalty of the Loyalists in case further hostilities should break out. Rather than abandon Upper Canada to these people, therefore, the British set up a plan to secure its colony under the Crown.

 

The British plan, as outlined by Lockwood, was first to construct an alternate waterway from Kingston to Ottawa and Montreal through bush country along the Rideau River system. This route would be safe from attack by the Americans, and could be easily defended. The waterway, which would become known as the Rideau Canal, was built by Lt.-Col. John By and his British Army engineers in the years 1826-32. The plan further was to settle the townships along the Rideau Canal with loyal British subjects, some military and some civilian. Unfortunately for the plan, these townships had already been taken up by Americans, who did not live there but used their land grants for purposes of speculation. The British then turned to new lands farther north, and the result was the surveying and naming of Bathurst, Drummond, and Beckwith Townships in 1816/17.

 

Rather than incur the expense of repatriating the military forces already in the country, the British Government decided to demobilize them in Canada and settle them on grants of      land. Presiding over the whole operation was the Quartermaster-General of British North America, Sir Thomas Beckwith, whose name is all around us to this day. In addition to the disbanded military men and their families, civilian families were recruited in Scotland and Ireland. By 1822 all of Beckwith Township had been settled.

 

The British policy of settling loyal immigrants in Upper Canada, despite the dense bush, numerous swamps, and stony soil faced by these people, appeared by 1824 to have succeeded in countering the threat of United States domination. Beckwith Township in six years had five times the human population of the Rideau townships, and more than a thousand Scottish or Irish settlers now occupied a broad zone stretching from Perth to Richmond and from Carleton Place to Smiths Falls.

 

The Scottish families that left the port of Greenock in 1818 in three ships bound for Upper Canada were noticeably young. The Colonial Office had stipulated that no one over the age of forty-five would be transported free, the reason being that young couples were needed to produce the offspring who could clear land, plant and harvest crops, and, if necessary, defend the country. In any case, the Office reasoned, once the young families became established on their land grants, they themselves could pay passage for the elders to join them. Lockwood calculates that 26.5% of the immigrants were male household heads, 28% were women, and the remaining 45.6% were children. They left Scotland largely through the sense of adventure.  Free transatlantic passage, a hundred acres of land, no landlords, and almost no taxes -- these combined to draw a collection of weavers, foundrymen, carpenters, farmers, shoemakers, and tailors from the region of Perthshire to the virgin lands of Drummond and Beckwith Townships. These Highlanders were hardy, independent and retentive of their traditional farming methods. Tenaciously they clung to their beloved Gaelic, so much so that it was still commonly used till the 1880s. They had an abiding love for the Bible and for learning; they began to build churches almost as soon as they arrived and schools followed close behind. They were predominantly Presbyterian or Church of Scotland, with a few Methodists and Baptists among them.

 

The Irish immigrants to the area shared with the Scottish a conservative and strongly religious lifestyle, as well as a love for large families. They were all prosperous English-speaking farmers from the vicinity of County Wexford in southeastern Ireland. Predominantly adherents of the United Church of England and Ireland, they were accompanied by a sprinkling of Methodists and a very few Baptists. The passenger lists include at least two families of Irish Baptists, namely, the Fitzpatricks and the McCaffreys.

 

The reasons these Irish families left their seemingly comfortable life were a complex mix of social and political factors. For one thing, high population pressure was a growing problem as family heads divided and subdivided their farms among their numerous offspring. These people were also subtly becoming more Irish than English, and they began to resent the control exerted over their everyday affairs by the English. A third factor was the rising clamour of the Roman Catholic majority in Ireland for elected representation. By 1816 the Protestant farmers of Wexford were quite receptive to the idea of emigration. In Canada, they were assigned mainly to the swampy thin soils of southeastern Beckwith Township. There they wisely forsook farming and instead took up professional and tradesmen's occupations such as innkeeping, blacksmithing, surveying, stonemasonry, school teaching, or barrel making.

 

PIONEER LIFE

 

By 1824 the immigrants to Beckwith Township lived in three more or less distinct communities. There was a concentration of Scottish Presbyterians in the six northern concessions, another of Irish Anglicans in the southeast, and a patchwork of Scottish Presbyterians, Irish Anglicans, Irish Catholics, and Scottish or Irish Methodists in the west. Here and there among these groups had settled a few Baptist families.

 

There was as yet no gristmill, no sawmill, no school, nor any place to buy stoves or furniture. There were oxen, useful for clearing land, but no horses. Most of the settlers built their cabins of sturdy cedar logs, which would be replaced with brick or frame houses as life became easier. With axes and plenty of muscle power they cleared enough acres of land to grow wheat, oats, corn, potatoes and peas. They used firewood in an open fireplace for cooking and heating. The family head might find winter employment in the timber industry, while the women and children cut wood, carried water, made potash or maple sugar to sell or barter for tea and other necessities, and managed the livestock. After four years of hard work, and with no serious injuries or loss of life, a family might expect to be debt free.

 

Loneliness and privation were problems for the pioneers. Isolated on their hundred-acre lots, and with only blazed trails through the bush, with fire an ever-present danger, and with the possibility of the children wandering off or being attacked by bears, the people cherished each other's company greatly. They met on Sunday to hear the Word of God, and during the work week they met at barn raisings or logging bees, where they shared news from the old country, exchanged remedies, lent a hand to the widows, and gently laid to rest those who died through accident or disease. Catherine Parr Traill, in her 1855 book, "The Canadian Settler's Guide", advised prospective immigrants to Canada, "...you may be far from a church, and your opportunities may be few and far between, of attending divine worship. Nevertheless, suffer not your God to be forgotten in the lonely wilderness; for you have need of his fatherly care over you and yours. His ear is ever open to hear, and his holy arm stretched over you to save. He is at hand in the desert, as well as in the busy city: forsake him not, and bring up your children in his love and in his ways; so shall his blessing be upon yourselves and your substance." Traill goes on to describe her first experience of worship in pioneer life. It took place in "a log church of the rudest description", which she said had been made holy by the invisible presence of that great God who had said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

 

The immigrants to Drummond and Beckwith Townships early began to meet for worship and to build houses of worship. Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics all had churches in Perth by 1819, only a year after the arrival of the first pioneers. Prospect had a log church in 1823. Methodist circuit riders were preaching in the homes by 1822, and the Rev. George Buchanan, who was a doctor and a school teacher at the same time, had started a bilingual (English and Gaelic) church and school in Franktown the same year. The Baptists were not to be left behind.

 

DUNCAN MCNAB

 

Into the busy pioneer scene stepped a man whose name will always be associated with Canadian Baptists. That man was Duncan McNab. According to T. Luckens, who in 1879 published "History of the churches in Our Association" in the minutes of the 50th annual meeting of the Canada Central Association of Regular Baptist Churches, McNab was born in Rollin, Breadalbane, Scotland in 1775. He was twenty-five when he accepted Christ as his Saviour. He joined the Congregational Church, and began to study for the ministry, but his reading of the Scriptures soon led him to adopt Baptist views.

 

Duncan McNab was a weaver by trade. For whatever reason, he and his wife and their two sons decided to emigrate, and their names are listed among the 205 settlers on the brig "Curlew" departing from Greenock, Scotland for Montreal in late July, 1818 (Lockwood, Appendix 5). The Atlantic crossing took more than seven weeks, ending in early October. Then began the arduous journey,  and then overland on foot or by ox cart to Perth. In November 1818 the military settlement office in Perth assigned the McNab family to Lot 3, Concession 4 in Beckwith Township. One can only imagine the flurry of activity as they hurried to put up a log cabin before winter overtook them. Firewood had to be cut and stacked, water found and land cleared for next year's crops.

 

The McNabs were still on their land grant on the 4th Concession in the census of 1820 and also in the census of 1822 (Lockwood, Appendices 8 and 9). There Duncan had set up his loom in the cabin, receiving carded and spun wool from his neighbours and weaving it into cloth for their clothing. The cloth would be taken back to the settlers' homes for fulling, the process of soaking and stretching of the fabric to make homespun. In those early years the women and girls (and a few tailors) made all their families' clothing from this material.

 

McNab apparently began preaching the Gospel as soon as he arrived in the township. On Sundays he traveled to various homes throughout Drummond and Beckwith. By 1825 the little group that met in his own home formed themselves into a church. Other churches came into existence the same way in the ensuing years. Finally, in 1833, McNab, now an ordained pastor, sold his homestead on the 4th Concession to Duncan McLaren and moved to North Elmsley, and finally to Smiths Falls, where he preached full time till 1858. Luckens (cited above) stated that "Change of location caused no change in  zeal and devotion in the service of his Lord, and his work resulted in the salvation of many souls, while the harmony of the Church continued profound and unbroken. After 25 years of successful labor in Elmsley and Smiths Falls, he fell asleep in Jesus, November 12th, 1862."         

 

The question arises as to why McNab left his work among the scattered congregations of Drummond and Beckwith in 1833. It may be that he felt he'd extended himself too far and wanted to focus his efforts on a single congregation. The North Elmsley group may even have called him as its full-time pastor with the prospect of ordination. It is also possible that McNab foresaw, by 1833, the end of the cottage-based woolen industry in eastern Ontario. Until about 1830 flax and wool from the farms were processed into cloth entirely in the people's homes. The key operation was the weaving of the cloth on hand looms by the Perthshire weavers. Then carding and fulling mills began to appear along the Mississippi River wherever a drop in water level could be harnessed to turn the wheels of the machinery. In another few years, by 1847, James Rosamond had built a mill in Carleton Place that could do all the operations from carding to finished cloth at dizzying speed and at a fraction of the former cost. The only prospect left for the home weavers was either to become wage earners in Rosamond's mill or to change their occupation. As a further note, it appears that the Lowland weavers of Ramsay Township also perceived the mills as a threat to their livelihood and met in 1854 to set prices  to compete, if possible, with Rosamond's prices. According to Lockwood, a little cottage-industry weaving continued locally till about 1865. Nowadays one sometimes sees marvelous hand-woven woolens for sale at craft fairs at equally marvelous prices. The buyers of these items obviously place high value on home craftsmanship.

 

THE REVIVAL OF  1840

 

Bob Blewitt lists a half dozen pastors, lay or otherwise, who ministered to the scattered Baptist groups in Drummond and Beckwith after the departure of Duncan McNab in 1833. Two of these men are of particular importance, for under their leadership the first great revival in the area took place. The Rev. Daniel McPhail of Osgoode and Robert Fyfe, a theological student  who would later become a famous Baptist pastor and administrator,  made a missionary tour in the summer of 1840.

 

The story of the revival originally appeared in a book entitled "The Life and Labors of Rev. R.A. Fyfe, D.D.", published in Toronto in 1885. The account has been quoted by several historians, but is worth telling once again.

 

It was early September. The two missioners arrived in Beckwith on a Wednesday evening and remained with the Baptist people about twelve days. They began with a prayer meeting in one of the homes, and held further meetings on the succeeding evenings of that week. Soon interest began to rise, and, by the first Sunday, word had gone out regarding the exciting things happening. Crowds began to fill the houses at every meeting. Some folks travelled as far as sixteen miles to hear the Gospel. They listened with "profound attention", and were deeply affected. Every evening of the following week there was a public meeting in one home or another, and during the day there was evangelistic visiting. The evening meetings began to last longer and longer into the night, as the people seemingly could not get enough of the Lord, some meetings continuing till two or three o'clock in the morning. The missioners would pronounce the benediction, but the people just sat down again, unwilling to depart.

 

The last Sunday of the mission must have been a glorious experience, perhaps a foretaste of Heaven itself. The Holy Spirit was extremely active as the congregation met early in the morning for prayer, testimony and praise. The crowd was deeply moved by the power of the Word. No one wanted to leave, so late in the afternoon they all proceeded to the shore of Mississippi Lake where the new converts were baptized. The number of baptisms is not on record, but we can assume it was large. Then everyone moved back for the evening service. But the evening turned into night, and as dawn crept over Beckwith Township on Monday morning, some were still there, praising God and testifying to his manifold mercies. The missioners, no doubt thoroughly weary but equally full of praise at what God had done, saddled their horses, packed their Bibles in the saddlebags, and started the 60-mile ride back to Osgoode.

 

At the time of the great revival the Baptists were scattered thinly within a sea of Presbyterians, Church of Scotland, Anglicans or Methodists. But their visitation from the Lord eventually resulted in the formation of a number of distinct congregations, each having a mind to build a house of worship. On the 21st of October 1842 they met at Drummond and "dismissed" twenty-one of their number to help form a congregation at Perth. The Perth Baptists built a church that same year. Likewise the four or five Baptist families around Carleton Place were inspired to build a chapel on Bridge Street, where, a block farther north, they would later buy the brick church of the Wesleyan Methodists when the latter built anew at the corner of Beckwith and Albert Streets.  The Carleton Place Baptists were at first led by a layman named John McEwen, but in April 1843 a Scottish immigrant named Lawrence Halcroft arrived in the village. Halcroft was soon ordained and became pastor of the churches at Tennyson and Drummond as well as Carleton Place. He served for eleven years in the area, and it was under his leadership that the church at Tennyson decided that it too needed a house of worship.

 

THE LOG CHURCH, 1847

 

Baptist families in Beckwith Township in 1847 numbered seventeen, according to Lockwood's data. A further eight families resulting from mixed marriages between Baptists and Presbyterians or Methodists who counted one spouse or the other as Baptist. Groups had split off to form churches at Perth, Carleton Place, and Drummond. This left approximately ten families, comprising at least sixty individuals of various ages, who lived in the southern concessions of Beckwith or the eastern part of Drummond. It would have been these who built the log church at Tennyson.

 

There were three trustees at Beckwith Baptist Church, namely, Hugh McEwen, Alexander McGregor, and Donald Buchanan. These three bought from Archibald McGregor, on behalf of the church, 893 square yards of land on Lot 27, Concession 6 of Drummond, just where the Tennyson-Perth road met the Beckwith/Drummond Township line. The price of the land was five shillings. The building is said to have been 40 feet by 40 feet in dimensions, with a cottage roof and with two large windows on each side.

 

Pastor Halcroft served well from 1843 to 1854, and the Beckwith church grew and prospered in its new building and in the community. But he eventually left for other fields, and the church was without  pastoral leadership for several years. As Pastor Blewitt relates , there were visiting pastors but no continuous ministry. In 1862 the Rev. John Stewart came and began to hold services every second week. He apparently served simultaneously the churches at Carleton Place, Drummond, and Middleville as well as Beckwith. He stayed only two years, possibly discouraged by the distances he had to travel over poor roads. He was succeeded by the Rev. D. McDiarmid, who served three years and under whose leadership a number of folk were led to Christ, baptized, and added to the church. John Stewart then served a second time, from 1868 to 1869, but when he departed, the work at Beckwith ground to a complete halt and remained thus for a full twenty years. With no pastor, the church held neither worship services nor Sunday School classes, and the log church sat silent and empty. The meeting of Canada Central Association in 1879 mourned the state of this and similar churches, and one of the delegates prayed fervently that a "real revival" would soon take place. It would be another eleven years before the answer came for Beckwith.

 

THE RENEWAL OF 1890

 

It was like a completely new beginning for Beckwith Baptist Church. Many of the families that had made up the church in 1869 when the building was closed had become discouraged with their poor soil and impossible swamps and moved farther west. In 1881 there were only ten Baptist families in the whole of Beckwith Township (Lockwood, Table 27). But in the spring of 1890 it pleased the Lord to breathe life into these people once again. Pastor Blewitt attributes the revival to the new vision and united efforts of the few remaining families and    also to the intervention of the Home Mission Board of the Baptist Convention. Pastor P.H. Anderson of the Drummond and Middleville churches became interested in the work as well. On the 26th of June 1890 ten enthusiastic individuals met at Beckwith and declared their intention to "walk together as a New Testament Church, usually called a Regular Baptist Church."

 

The ten were: John McPherson, Thomas Scott, Elizabeth Scott, Christina McGregor, Robert Robertson, Mary Robertson, Roger W. Robertson, Mrs. R.W. Robertson, Mrs. John McGibbon and  Sophia  Morris.

 

Witnesses to their document were the Rev. P.H. Anderson and a student, W.A. Gunton, who had been sent by the Home Mission Board to assist in the work.

 

By the 6th of July that summer ten new converts were baptized, and on the 23rd of September, two others. These were all added to the church. Gathering momentum, in 1891 the little church invited their Baptist brethren in Carleton Place to join them in a service of recognition. The service was duly held and Beckwith Baptist Church was received  into the fellowship of the Baptist Convention. Pastor Grigg of Perth preached the sermon and various speakers reviewed the history of the church.  The New Hampshire Confession of Faith was read aloud and adopted by the Beckwith Baptists.  There were now twenty-four excited members and a Sunday School of forty.

 

Evangelistic meetings were held in 1892. These bore fruit and twenty individuals accepted Christ and testified to the changes that had taken place in their lives. Six others were added to their number later in the summer and there were many baptisms in the lake. The church was growing and the people of the surrounding community were responding to this little group of believers who had discovered how to share their faith.

 

In those years the church's financial year began in September and the annual business meeting took place during the autumn. The pastor was paid whatever the individual members designated for him, a method that often produced an irregular income;  in 1893/94 Pastor J. Lehigh  received $38.00. Another year he received $18.00 in June and nothing more till the fall, when $23.50 came in.  Maple firewood for the stove in the log church cost $2.00 a standard bush cord and coal oil, wicks and chimneys for the lamps were a frequent expense. The treasurer paid $0.95 for communion wine. The caretaker was paid $5.00 a year and a  supply of Sunday School material cost $0.78.

 

The church in those days gave serious support to missions. Four to six Sundays of the year were designated as mission days and all the offering on those days went to various missions. For example, during the years 1897 to 1902, Western Missions (in British Columbia and Manitoba) were sent $2.50 to $7.02 and foreign missions $4.05 to $6.05. Home missions were supported with $7.65 to 14.30, and the Grande Ligne Mission in Quebec with $4.22 to $7.08. The average mission offerings for the combined mission Sundays in these years nearly equalled the total offerings on all the remaining Sundays. Offerings on non-mission Sundays could fall as low as $0.09. Of course, these amounts had much greater purshasing power than they appear to have, for an entire century of inflation has taken place since that time.

 

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

 

The century that is now nearly ended has seen tremendous advances in many ways. People, on the other hand, appear to have changed little. There are poor people and rich, weak and strong, young and old. We use modern devices for good purposes or evil. But the human soul is still, in its natural state, burdened with a fatal load of sin and it needs saving. Christ's purpose from the beginning has been that no single person should perish in sin but that all of us should come to repentance (II Peter 3:9).

 

How has Beckwith Baptist Church responded to Christ's expressed wish regarding the community in which the church is situated?

 

THE BRICK CHURCH, 1907/08 

 

The revival of 1890 gave sufficient momentum to the little church at Tennyson to carry it well into the 1900s. One result was the replacing of the old log church with a large permanent building made of brick. A business meeting on the 19th of August 1906, with student pastor W.C. Copsey in the chair, voted to undertake the construction. A committee was chosen to secure the necessary building materials and raise  funds.

 

The committee members were: H.G. Devlin,  A. Buchanan, C. Stearns, A. McKay, R.Robertson,  M. McGregor, J. McNaughton.

 

A building lot was obtained from John Cameron a short distance from the original church. A contract for $437.00 was let to John S. Davies and construction started in late 1907. A mortgage in the amount of $400.00 was taken up by the Church Edifice Board of the Convention.

 

Here a curious fact emerges. The treasurer's books show the actual costs, including the contractor's fee, construction materials, labour and legal fees as totalling $1201.50 or nearly triple the original cost estimate. Local legend has it that when the building was partly constructed, a violent wind storm struck the area and demolished the partly erected walls. As evidence, the legend goes, the north wall even today bulges perceptibly, suggesting that the bricklayers, rather than taking down the remaining bricks, rebuilt on the partly deformed base. The double-bricked walls may have been another unforeseen expense incurred in the interests of increased strength.

 

The bricks for the building cost $141.39, and the bricklayers charged $100.00. Stone for the foundation, plus the stonemason’s wages came to $58.00. Five hundred feet of scantling and 13,500 shingles cost $52.90. The deed for the land cost $5.88, and the lawyer's fee $1.00. As in the case of the church's operating expenses during the 1890s, it is necessary to take into account many decades of inflation in order to appreciate the true cost of the building. If the cost in 1907/08 is compared with the replacement cost of a similar building today, an inflation rate of approximately 158% is obtained. In this way we realize that the Baptists of Beckwith must have been dedicated givers indeed. This is also indicated by the speed with which they paid off the mortgage: by 1911 they had paid three-fourths of what they owed, and by January 1914 they had paid it all.

 

The new building was dedicated to the glory of God on the 14th of June 1908. The treasurer of the Home Mission Board, the Rev. C.J. Cameron, was special speaker, and the large assembly also heard addresses by Dr. E.J. Stobo of Smiths Falls, Prof. I.G. Matthews of McMaster University (a former pastor at Beckwith), and the Rev. J. Glyn Williams, pastor of  Beckwith Baptist Church. Blewitt quotes The Canadian Baptist for 1908 as affirming that the occasion was "a time of great rejoicing, for the hope of many years had at last been realized." A few days later the church held a tea meeting, and they brought in a singing quartet at considerable expense for the horse-drawn taxi from the railway station.

 

The years following the building of the brick church were productive ones. In 1910 special meetings were held, when seven individuals accepted Christ and were baptized. The church sheds, which sheltered the horses while their owners were at worship and also served for storing firewood for the stove, were rebuilt in 1913. In 1917 the people again held evangelistic meetings, when eight more individuals confessed Christ as their Saviour and were baptized. These eight were: Mr. and Mrs. William Coleman, Mr. and Mrs. Elisha Coleman,  Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Coleman,  Mr. Burton Coleman and Mrs. Alex Buchanan.

 

BETWEEN THE WORLD WARS

 

The first wedding in the brick church took place between Emma Stearns (daughter of Charlie Stearns) and Fred Hunter of Carleton Place. The date was the 28th of June 1917.

 

The church remained active and steady through the 1920s, mainly owing to good and continuing leadership by the pastor, the Rev. W.G. Sherman. The 1930s brought the great depression, with widespread unemployment and social unrest throughout the country. But the little congregation held to their purpose. The Rev. J.W. Edwards served well from 1931 to 1936, when he was replaced by the Rev. J.F. Dingman, who pastored from 1937 to 1943. During the decade of the 30's the church was active except for  five months of interim pastoring and a single winter of closed doors on account of bad roads. Sunday offerings averaged about $2.50, and the special offerings for missions were always substantial. The pastor was usually paid on time, though, owing to the scarcity of money, he was sometimes paid in vegetables, butter, chickens, maple syrup, or firewood from the farms. Other than the pastor's salary, the main expenses were coal oil, lamp chimneys, tea for the Sunday School picnics, and communion wine. Dues for the Convention and the Association were paid at the rate of $0.06 per member. Tea meetings were enjoyed on occasion, and the anniversary of the church was celebrated in June each year. In

 

1931 the anniversary services were combined with an evangelistic campaign, and members of the congregation undertook a visitation of the entire community. Interest grew in the Good News, attendance on Sundays increased, lives were deepened spiritually, and several young men and women took their stand for Christ. That autumn a wonderful group of ten young converts were baptized in the Mississippi. The Scottish evangelist Bob Munroe was anniversary speaker in 1935 and he remained in the community for two weeks, preaching the Word and building folks up in the Bible. The decade ended with the clash of arms as nation rose up against nation in a desperate attempt to assert territorial rights.

 

THE YEARS OF WORLD WAR II AND THE LATE FORTIES

 

 Beckwith Baptist Church carried on its work, seemingly untouched by the upheaval caused by the war raging in Europe and the South Pacific. In 1944 Pastor E.M. Loney rallied the church and the entire community in a clean-up of the Tennyson cemetery. There were nearly a dozen baptisms in the years 1944/45, among them those of Mrs. Cecil Coleman, Jim Lesway, Harold Coleman, Dalton Coleman, Mrs. Ermel Coleman, and Mr. and Mrs. Allan Devlin. The church and the community were made poorer by the loss through death of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Devlin, Mrs. Allan Devlin, and Mrs. Ermel Coleman. Bad roads caused the closing of the church in the winters of 1940/41 and 1942/43.

 

THE POST-WAR FIFTIES

 

 The 1950s brought the cold war between the Soviet Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. On the home front the post-war baby boom got going, and the first television sets made their appearance in the homes. Beckwith Baptist Church experienced one of its periods of leadership instability. During the ten years there were six different men, some of them serving on an interim basis. Mr.George Lockhart, an immigrant theological student from Scotland, served in 1952, then left to become the first pastor of a new Ottawa church called Bethany Baptist. In November 1955 the Rev. George  Cawfield, newly arrived from Northern Ireland, became pastor. Pastor Cawfield also took on the churches at Lanark, Drummond, and Middleville, preaching at Beckwith only on alternate Sundays. He and his devoted wife Ina managed to enter into the life of all four of these churches. He preached what he thought (incorrectly, as it turned out) was his final sermon at Beckwith on the 26th of June 1960.

 

The 1950s saw the bringing of electricity to the church building.   A new wood stove was installed. Rug runners were donated by interested members, and the building received a new coat of paint, inside and out. The church sheds, no longer needed as stables, were sold. A wood-cutting bee was organized in January 1958 to lay in fuel for the following winter, and a new woodshed was built to store the wood.

 

It was during the '50s that Beckwith began paying a share of Lanark Baptist Church's parsonage expenses and the pastor's trips to Beckwith. Contributions  to the Newfoundland Fund began in 1955, and to the Build Baptist Churches Campaign as well. Association and Convention dues were $0.15 per member, requiring an annual payment of $8.75 for the 18 members. Mrs. Cecil Coleman presided at the pump organ. The Home Mission Board of the Convention, which had appointed George Lockhart as pastor , was faithfully supported. Notable baptisms were those of Eric Robertson (1951), Lois Robertson (April 1957)  and Jean Coleman (April 1957).    

 

THE REBELLIOUS SIXTIES

 

The 1960's were years of terrible warfare in Vietnam, while the United States and the Soviet Union pointed nuclear warheads at each other across the oceans and continents. A famous movie with the title "On the Beach" depicted the horrors of radiation that were probably about to destroy human life on the earth forever. There were hippies and flower children and sometimes violent protests against law and authority. Rock music blossomed, played loudly by long-haired musicians.

 

It was during the sixties that a cold wave of liberalism swept through the Baptist churches of our country. In addition the anti-God movement influenced many who were not strongly rooted in the Word of God to fall away. The Convention attempted to persuade the Baptist churches to buy and use a modification of the United Church of Canada's Sunday School curriculum but was thwarted when the evangelicals rallied at a meeting in Toronto and voted their plans down.

 

Beckwith went on with its work. Under the leadership of three strong pastors, James Armstrong, E. Strongitharm, and Donald Corbett, there was good attendance at worship and the people gladly gave their tithes and offerings. Annual meetings were usually held in the homes, with average attendance of about thirteen. There were summer picnics at Coleman's shore and social evenings during the winter. The anniversary speaker in 1963 was the Rev. George Cawfield.  Beckwith settled into a joint relationship with Lanark Baptist Church, the other area churches having pastors of their own or having closed their doors. In 1969 Lois Robertson replaced Mrs. John Sheil as clerk and Margaret Lesway replaced Mrs. Ernest Robertson as treasurer. Deacons were William Coleman, Allan Devlin, Eric Robertson and William Powers. On the 19th of May 1968 Earl Coleman, having accepted Christ as his Saviour, was baptized and on the 26th was accepted into membership of the church. There were losses through death: in January 1969 Ernest Robertson died and in April of the same year Mrs. William (Mary) Powers and the Powers' son Albert went home to be with the Lord. 

 

RENEWAL IN THE SEVENTIES 

 

The decade of the 1970s was a time when people began once more to seek real meaning for their lives in North America. Gone were the anti-God protesters and in their place came counsellors, facilitators and small-group therapists. The stress brought on by the frantic movements of the '60s was met with personal renewal.

 

Beckwith Baptist Church was seemingly immune to all alarms. Sunday worship, picnics, Christmas concerts, baptisms, welcoming of new members, dedication of infants and twice-monthly Bible studies continued. The Rev. Robert Thompson was called as pastor in October 1971; he was ordained in Lanark in April 1975 and served both Lanark and Beckwith till January 1976. The Rev. Bob Blewitt was inducted on the 28th of September 1976. At that time the deacons'  board consisted of Jim Lesway,  Earl Coleman,  Bill Coleman and Allan Devlin. Baptisms during the mid 1970's included those of Bruce and Mary Stewart, Irene, Brenda and Elaine Coleman, and Peter and Rodger Robertson.  A young people's group began to meet on Saturday evenings under the leadership of Elaine Foster of Lanark and Earl Coleman of Beckwith. There was a steady increase in the rate of giving to the Lord's work: this rose from less than $3,000 in 1970 to nearly $7,000 in 1979. Expenses were kept below income, and the surplus was put to use for needed improvements to the property.

 

The church began to take interest in its history. Pastor Blewitt assembled old documents to write his 1977 historical account and Earl Coleman and his dad, Cecil placed a wooden plaque on the site of the original log church building. The brick building was upgraded in the '70s by the installation of a new door, concrete front steps and an oil furnace. The furnace must have been a relief to the church firelighters, who had earlier been instructed to bring their own firewood to heat the building during the winter months.

 

The Sunday School was re-organized in 1977. The teachers were Elizabeth McDiarmid, Bruce Stewart and Lois Robertson, and there were about twenty students.

 

The 131st anniversary, in 1978, was addressed once again by Beckwith's long-time friend and former pastor George Cawfield, who was then pastor of Kanata Baptist Church. Kanata had been supported by Beckwith during Kanata's formative years.

 

 THE BOISTEROUS EIGHTIES

 

The 1980s were years of economic expansion in North America. Canadian governments recruited widely and spent lavishly, borrowing from the so-called money markets to keep the economy moving. Beckwith Township used its tax resources to upgrade its roads and bridges. .

 

Beckwith Baptist Church continued to grow in the number of projects undertaken and in membership. A memorial fund and a building fund were set up. The little church began to support several para-church organizations such as Baptist World Relief, Underground Evangelism, the Baptist Leadership Training Centre and Don and Barbara Carroll's mission to Portugal. The Convention and related giving kept pace with total church income, which rose during the decade to a maximum of $20,000.

 

The 1980s were also the decade of the new church hall. The need for such a facility was felt as early as 1957, when the members had instructed a committee composed of Jim Lesway, Eric Robertson, and Cecil Coleman to "look after building a Sunday School hall." Discouragement soon set in, however, for less than a year later the clerk noted in her minutes that the idea of a Sunday School hall had to be abandoned. But by 1980 there was once more a will to begin construction. A building permit was obtained from the Township office, and excavation began in August that summer. The contractor was Cyrus Moulton. Good friends at Lanark Baptist offered Beckwith an interest-free loan to pay for the water system, but the church decided that "since the Lord has provided so generously in the past months we will continue to wait on him for the finances to complete the new addition" (Church minutes, 1981). The hall cost about $32,000. There was no mortgage.

 

Activities began in the hall as soon as it was useable. In March 1981 the church held a fun night and social hour, and on Easter Sunday they had a sunrise service followed by a scrumptious pancake breakfast. The hall was officially opened on the church's 134th anniversary, which was celebrated on the 5th of July 1981. Pastor Bob Blewitt, assisted by the Rev. Robert Taylor representing the Convention, cut the ribbon and the Hon. Doug Wiseman, M.P.P. for Lanark, presented the church with a plaque. Once more in the history of the church by the side of Tennyson Road the little congregation had succeeded in bringing to fulfilment a long-held hope.

 

A Beckwith youth group was formed in 1980 with twelve young people. The leaders were Bruce Stewart, Earl Coleman, and Bob Silverson.  Lois Robertson and Margaret Lesway continued as clerk and treasurer respectively; Margaret was later replaced by Jean Coleman, who served  from 1983 to 1994. Pastor Blewitt, after six years of good service, resigned as of January 1983 and the church, in cooperation with Lanark Baptist, called the Rev. Sam Draffin. Pastor Sam began work on the 2nd of July that year.

 

 In the autumn of 1981 the two churches engaged in a Merle Dolan Harvest Time Crusade. Counsellors were trained, and other preparations were made. As a result, several new commitments to Christ were registered, and also a number of rededications of people's lives. In 1985 eight new converts were baptized in the Mississippi; they included Beth Stewart, Robbie Robertson and Stephanie Silverson, all of whom were later received into membership. The membership then stood at 25.

 

 The church was saddened by the deaths of two prominent members in 1986, namely, Mrs. Bert (Myrtle) Coleman and Deacon Cecil Coleman.  Long-time member and supporter Elisha Coleman had passed away at the beginning of the decade.

 

THE ANXIOUS NINETIES

 

As Beckwith Baptist Church celebrates its 150th anniversary in mid-1997, there are signs that the society around us is changing yet again and this time at even greater speed than at any previous time. The President of the United States, Bill Clinton, in February reminded his people that they only had a thousand days left before the Third Millenium and they had a lot to accomplish before that date. In Canada we are urged by the financial planners in our midst to hurry up and make our investments for retirement; after all, interest rates are falling. Communication by e-mail, FAX and cellular telephone is widespread and it is common to read of scavenger hunts on the Internet, SchoolNet education and something called information warfare.. Data bases on almost any topic are available, either on the Internet or on disc. At the same time, the economic collapse that followed the boisterous eighties has left record numbers of bankruptcies in its wake. Unemployment hovers around 10% of the workforce and is much higher in some parts of the country, leaving many families discouraged and frustrated. Government cut-backs and downloading add to the problem and these same governments are turning to legalized gambling to make up their deficits.

 

How is Beckwith Baptist Church coping with all this? In a word or two, she seems to be weathering the storm as she has weathered storms in the past. The rising population in Beckwith Township is bringing new families to the church. Membership was 33 in 1993, and 37 in 1995, the highest anyone can remember. Church offerings rose steadily from about $32,000 in 1990 to nearly $41,000 in 1996 and the trend seems to be continuing. Mission giving through the treasurer has kept pace with total income, rising in some years as high as 35% of the total.

 

The junior Sunday School, under the leadership of Trudy Coleman and her staff, has re-organized and is experimenting with hour-long open sessions with team teachers rather than separate classes. The teens under Elizabeth McDiarmid meet in the new kitchen donated by June Young in memory of June’s mother. A vigorous group of adults also meet with Charles Dondale to search the Scriptures. Two youth groups meet monthly, the Soul Mates under Marianne Boot and the Crosswise Club under Mary Stewart; they hold exciting events like the 30-hour famine for World Vision. There is a choir that meets with Elizabeth McDiarmid and adds measurably to the music. Sunday mornings are a joyful time of worship and praise, on occasion aided by the bluegrass Gospel group “Shiloh”, which is composed of Ed Boot, Andy Bowes and Matt Munro.

 

The early '90s saw the passing of several stalwart members of the church. Lost to us were Allan Devlin, Mrs. John (Doris) Sheil, Mrs. Bill (Etta) Coleman, Bill Coleman, and Lois Robertson. John Draffin, son of Pastor Sam, also passed away and was greatly missed. We who remain mourn these men and women; memories of their dedication to God and their many good works live on after them. Baptisms in the summers of 1990 or 1992 included those of Rae Anne Brunton, Angela McLellan, Shana Burns, Lana Burns, Ed Boot, Marianne Boot, Lindsay Boot, Natalie Boot, Trudy Coleman, and Kirsty Fowler. All these were received into membership.

 

A short-term construction mission in Costa Rica was sponsored by the church in 1994. The spiritual life of the missionaries was enhanced, and the church in Alajuela now has larger and more useful space for its Sunday School and youth work. Much of the money for construction materials was raised by the youth groups at Beckwith.

 

In September 1993 a special business meeting was called to deal with the announcement that Pastor Draffin was withdrawing from Beckwith to serve at Lanark full-time. Pastor Sam and the area pastor, Jim McGee, were present to help us decide whether and how, Beckwith might be able to proceed on its own. Jim proposed the writing of a constitution, since we didn't have one, and also a statement of faith and a statement of purpose. Lanark required a decision  by Lanark on the 1st of August 1994. Accordingly a pulpit committee was elected to search for a part-time pastor at Beckwith. The Rev. Paul Lywood was accepted on the 23rd of June that year and he began his duties on the 1st of August. A farewell dinner was held for  Sam.

 

In mid-1996 Pastor Lywood was relieved of his duties at Beckwith, and the church  called as interim pastor  the Rev. George Cawfield. The church is settling down to its task.

 

A special anniversary committee was elected to plan the church's 150th anniversary in 1997. The celebrations include an old-fashioned hymn sing, a heritage Sunday when members came dressed in pioneer costumes and displayed pioneer objects, a banquet in the Township hall, anniversary church service and the dedication of a commemorative plaque on the site of the original log church building. An outdoor concert in August and a historical play in December recounting the early days of Beckwith Baptist Church, round out the events for the year.

 

HOW IS SHE HEADED?

 

"How is she headed?" is a question asked by the captain of a ship at sea almost every time he steps on to the ship’s bridge. He knows full well that the ship, the owners and the crew all depend on accurate navigation and steering to deliver the cargo safely to its destination, on time. Is the ship headed directly for the destination, or have tides, wind or faulty navigation caused her to drift off course? Once assured that his ship is headed correctly, the captain sees a successful voyage and his mind is put at rest.

 

Our Captain is no less a person than Jesus Christ. The writer of the letter to the Hebrew Christians wrote, "For it became (God), for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings" (Heb. 2:10). Christ has been with Beckwith Baptist Church for more than 150 years, beginning with Duncan McNab and his little house gatherings, through good times and bad, and He is with the church today. Our destination is the throne of Jesus Christ in the glories of eternity and the Bible sets the course.

 

How is the church headed? Have we drifted off course? Will the long-awaited second coming suddenly take place and the saved of earth be caught up to be with the Lord, leaving the rest to suffer through the terrible events to follow? But we are still here watching and waiting, praying and praising, searching the Scriptures wherein we find Jesus the source of eternal life. The one essential requirement is a "serious common commitment to Jesus Christ and his work", as the Rev. Don Fraser told the people of Bethany Baptist Church in Ottawa in 1974.             

 

Beckwith's strong times have been those when Christ's love was strongest  among the people.  They were times when the people were confronted with the fact of sin and shown the offer of salvation. Let us walk strongly into the twenty-first century with our Lord.