Last night (Sept. 27th) and today, (Sept. 28th) a part of history has been lost – it was a link between the history of the Ojibwa people of Saugeen and the United Church. Wesley United Church at Saugeen First nations is no more after it was destroyed by a senseless fire.
In looking back, we went to our 2016 archives, the year that people celebrated the 125th anniversary of Wesley United Church, a year filled with festivities and events and, now, memories. All the artifacts in the photos no longer exist … with the exception of the special bell.
Elder and former Chief, Vernon Roote perhaps said it best when, in May 2016, he somberly recounted his days as a young boy working in the church along with his grandparents. “I remember how they scraped paint from the window ledges with broken glass and then repainted them,” he said. “This church holds a lot of memories for me.”
Historic Wesley United Church at Saugeen First Nation near Southampton, Ontario, is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, 2016.
Saugeen Wesley United Church began a year of celebration to mark its 125th Anniversary – it is to be a year filled with events and, on Sunday, January 14th (2016), members and visitors took part in a special ‘fellowship’ service.
The church dates back to 1834 although there have been restorations throughout the years. One of its most historic events was the last surrender in Southern Ontario by First Nations of a large tract of land.
In 1834, according to records, the Wesleyan ‘Methodist’ Church sent Reverend Thomas Hurlburt to establish a permanent mission and, that year, a church building was erected.
Since then, there have been some 35 missionaries, both native and non-native with many making significant contributions and, in 1891, it was established as Wesley Centenary Church, later to become Wesley United Church.
It was the Reverend Stotesbury however, who made the greatest physical contribution.
Born at Holland Centre, Grey County in 1916, Reverend Stotesbury was very familiar with rural Ontario and rural Saskatchewan where he worked in Esterhazy. When he came to the Saugeen ‘reservation’ as it was known then, he was the first ordained minister in almost 50 years to officiate at Wesley United Church and he realized that the people needed a friend as well as a preacher.
Rev. Stotesbury was responsible for the construction of the Saugeen Amphitheatre and was revered by the people of Saugeen.
Churches on reserves differ from others in that title to the property is not held by the church but by the Band.
The church is once again going to undergo renovations and this year of celebration is also a year of fundraising.
Sisters Peggy and Lorraine Kewaquom have pledged to raise $5,000 during this anniversary year. “The money will go to wherever it is needed,” said Lorraine Kewaquom. “The church needs a new kitchen, roof and other things.”
Lorraine Kewaquom rang the bell
The official celebration began today, August 16th, with the ringing of the bell by several dignitaries including Reverend Eleanor Russ, a former minister at Wesley United.
The church overlooks the Saugeen River that empties into Lake Huron, and the ‘flats’ lining the shore is where the last major battle between the Ojibwe and their long-time foe, the Iroquois took place.
Wesley United is also the oldest, continuously operating church in this part of the province. Inside, the main focal point is a cross made of unpeeled birch logs and is a tie between the church’s mission and nature. On the cross is the inscription in both Ojibwa and English, “Holiness unto the Lord.”
The church is on the site of the last surrender in Southern Ontario by ‘Indians’. On October 13th, 1854, most of what is now the Bruce Peninsula was ceded in a surrender that granted the First Nations and their descendants the money from the sale of the land to the settlers. Fourteen chiefs and councilors and Lawrence Oliphant, Secretary General of Indian Affairs, signed the historic document.
Today the lands surrounding the church, including the renowned amphitheatre, are undergoing a complete reformation with dry stone-walling. The technique, long known in the United Kingdom and Europe, is now being undertaken by the Saugeen First Nation as a training program to learn the art of dry-walling.