When construction crews were pushing westward in Canada building the Canadian Pacific Railway, the "Methodists were not far behind", according to a history of Trinity United Church in Chapleau.
The Methodists sent missionaries "to minister to the spiritual needs of the men engaged in the construction business". The Church of England (Anglican) and Roman Catholic Church were doing the same thing.
In June 1886, one of the great missionaries of the Methodist church, Rev. Silas Huntington, arrived in Chapleau and conducted services in a partially completed store on Birch Street. Apparently he stayed at the home of Thomas Nicholson, which may have been the first real "private residence" in the fledgling community.
The Huntington University in Sudbury web site says: Our namesake, Silas Huntington, was an itinerant Methodist minister who established more than 100 churches throughout Northeastern Ontario from 1880 to 1905. He explored this region by canoe and train in order to reach out to the loggers, Native peoples, rail road workers and settler families from many parts of the world. He was active in community development throughout the north
He returned about six weeks later with W.P. Boshart, a student minister, who conducted his first services in a large tent at Lorne and Birch Streets. The first Chapleau Methodist Mission church was built where Trinity United Church is today , a small frame building heated by a wood stove with a small vestry at the back where the minister lived.
By 1889. plans were made to build "a large brick parsonage" which was subsequently done, and the house still stands beside the church on Beech Street.
A Ladies Aid Society was established in 1898 and it undertook many projects to assist the church, including the furniture and furnace for the parsonage, later called the manse.
In 1904, Rev. J.J. Coulter noted that "Chapleau was then almost entirely a railroad town without sewer, running water or electricity."
However, Chapleau moved forward in the next 10 years significantly in all areas, under the leadership of its first reeve G.B. Nicholson -- although a sewage plant and system were not undertaken until 1950 when B.W. Zufelt was reeve.
A new church was planned by 1906 and in 1908 the cornerstone had been laid for the "cement block church" at Lorne and Beech streets. The original church was moved to Lorne and Pine Streets and became the Doig family residence for many years.
A highlight of the early years occurred in 1919 when a memorial pipe organ was installed. At the service of dedication and unveiling of memorial tablet, Miss Stancil Pellow, a member of one of the community's early families, was the organist and served for over 40 years. She married Tommy Rose.
Music was so important in those early years, and Trinity United, as it came to be called in 1925 after a merger of four churches, always had a wonderful choir --- as did Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church and St. John's Anglican Church.
The first Sunday School was started about 1889, and in due course, its "Hustlers Class" became very popular over many years. Its activities included social events, skiing parties, and even a cabin built at Fox Lake.
Renovations were undertaken in 1955, and in 1969, the Christian Education Wing was added when Rev. Murray Arnill was the minister.
Rev. Arnill later became the Chancellor of Huntington University, then Chaplain. He died in April 1914.
On a weekend, the coffee houses in the basement of the church were the place to be for young people of all denominations to be found, and after returning to Chapleau in 1969, to teach at Chapleau High School, I spent many great evenings there --- and later at Murray's kitchen table drinking coffee into the wee small hours.
In fact, the coffee houses, in part, launched the career of Canadian filmmaker Peter Elliott, who would show his productions to coffee house audiences.,
In the 1970s, it was decided that the cement block church had to be replaced. The Chapleau Sentinel reported that the the new church came into being when Rev. Doug Maclean was minister. "The structure was found unfit for renovation and the congregation had to embark on a new building program." Harry Pellow, the nephew of Stancil Pellow, prepared plans. Harry was also the architect for the Chapleau General Hospital, Chapleau Civic Centre, Chapleau Recreation Centre, Cedar Grove Lodgel and the golf club house. The "new" church was dedicated on April 18, 1978.
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