At Christmas time in 2010, Tom left Timmins on an historic trip down Highway 101 to preside at services at St. John's In Foleyet, and at St. John's in Chapleau.
Writing in his blog in January 2011, he shared the story. I stumbled across his blog while doing some research recently, contacted Tom, the son of the Frances (Jardine) and the late Henry Corston, who were our next door neighbours, and asked if I could quote from it. He gave me permission.
His little different Christmas started out a bit badly when shortly after leaving Timmins, he realized he had forgotten his wallet so had to return to the Synod office for it.
Having left early, he had time but on the drive to Foleyet, "I encountered some light freezing rain but made the trip in good time.
"The rain created some beautiful Christmas card scenes on the surrounding trees."
The church was filled for the four p.m service. St. John's in Foleyet had been his first parish 35 years ago, in 1975. so "it was great to see some old friends in the congregation, now with grandchildren. We even had an organist so we enjoyed singing the carols and ended the celebration with everyone holding a candle and singing 'Silent Night'"
Leaving Foleyet he wrote, "I was worried for the drive to Chapleau as it was now dark. The highway was good though and I encountered no more freezing rain. Just outside town I encountered fog and as I entered town with the shops now closed and literally no one present on the main street, it was a surreal experience driving in the heavy fog. Certainly not what one would expect on Christmas Eve in a northern community."
He noted that Chapleau was his home community and the large St. John's Church had struggled in recent years to keep its doors open. As an aside, St. John's was sold in 2016 to Jason Rioux, and plans for its future are now underway. Also for those who may not know, Tom attended Chapleau Public and Chapleau High Schools and was active in St. John's.
"What a wonderful experience it was that the old church was filled by the time the celebration began," he wrote.
"The full church unnerved the Layreader somewhat as she confessed her nervousness. I assured her that I was far more nervous than she because I recognized so many friends of my youth who came out to meet me, with grandchildren in tow.
"Christmas at home was a wonderful celebration, even with the canned music!!"
"I had not been in my home church for Christmas since 1974 and it was good to see family and friends come out to renew old acquaintances."
Tom was ordained Deacon in 1974 at St. John's, and to the priesthood in 1975.
His son Andrew met him in Chapleau and they spent Christmas Eve at his sister Margaret's home on Borden Lake.
On the drive to Sudbury the next morning Tom related that he enjoyed "travelling through some beautiful bush, coloured with God's frosty paint brush."
As I read Tom's blog, my mind wandered back to 1885, and the first Church of England (Anglican) service held at Christmas time in Chapleau. It was conducted by Rev Gowan Gillmor, best known as 'The Tramp' who travelled the CPR line in Northern Ontario, as the "railway missionary." The service was likely conducted in a boxcar which was the first station.
|Ian Macdonald collection|
Rev. Gillmor was known to walk the CPR line, and at times pushed a handcar from place to place.
Rev. Gillmor was also in Chapleau to assist with the planning of the building of a church, which was officially opened on the site of the old tennis court on July 1, 1886.
The first service in the present St. John's was held on March 29, 1908 when it was dedicated by Bishop George Holmes.
|Rev John Sanders|
I also recalled reading about the travels by canoe and dog team of Rev. John Sanders (Saunders), who conducted a service at Chapleau on the banks of the river in 1882. I don't know if Rev. Sanders ever visited Chapleau in the Winter, but like Bishop Tom, am sure he enjoyed travelling through the "beautiful bush..." of Northern Ontario. Rev. Sanders may have been the first Indigenous (Ojibway) priest in the Church of England (Anglican) in Canada.
Tom made it home safely to Sudbury where he was greeted by wife Ruth, son Stephen, mother Frances, and other family members.
He retired as Bishop of Moosonee on December 31, 2013, and is now Assisting Bishop, as well as interim part time Rector of the Church of the Epiphany in Sudbury, where he previously served as Rector.
Thank you Bishop Tom for letting me share parts of your "little different Christmas." It also let me do what I really enjoy -- mixing metaphors with my references to Rev. Gillmor and Rev. Sanders!.. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org