Christ Church, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, 1817 to 1959

“The Corner-Stone of a Church to be erected by subscription of the inhabitants of Dartmouth and Halifax, aided by a donation from His Excellency Sir John C. Sherbrook, was laid at two o’clock this day, by His Excellency the Earl of Dalhousie, who has also been a liberal subscriber to the undertaking, in the presence, and under the auspices of the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Nova Scotia, Rear Admiral Sir David Milne, K. C. B., The Hon. Commissioner Wodehouse, the Rev. Dr. Inglis and many other respectable parishioners”……NOVA SCOTIA GAZETTE, Halifax, 9th July, 1817.

Thus runs the brief official description of an event that marked the initial step in the establishment of an institution that for the past one hundred and forty-two years has been a centre of worship, inspiration and spiritual uplift for the Anglican people of Dartmouth, and also a landmark in the town. Extremely well situated with abundant room for church and complementary buildings, Christ Church, Dartmouth, stands today a memorial to the foresight of the founders of the parish. Time has proved the wisdom displayed by them in the selection of this building site, which was secured by a government grant.

The town of Dartmouth had at that time little more than fifty families and the parish in 1817 covered an area extending from Halifax Harbour east to Chezzetcook, from Eastern Passage to Bedford, and a visit by the rector to many parts of the parish meant long horse-back rides over paths and trails through virgin forest. When Christ Church was erected it was the only church in the town, but not in the area as, nearly thirty years earlier an Anglican church had been built at Preston, about seven miles from the town. On October 3rd, 1791 Bishop Charles Inglis writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury, reported that he had “consecrated churches at Granville, Annapolis, Digby and Preston.

Although no building had been available for church services in the district prior to the erection. of the church at Preston, nevertheless, through the efforts of the rector of St. Paul’s Church, Halifax, N. S. services had been conducted in this area. Dr. R. V. Harris in his book “The Church of St. Paul in Halifax, N. S.” wrote as follows:

“The first church services in Dartmouth were conducted by Mr. Tutty in the fall of 1750. In his letter to the Society, October 29th, he writes:” In a fortnight hence I must officiate there, in the open air.”

In the following July he again writes the Society and refers to a raid, made by Indians on the new settlement on May 13, 1751, adding “Till that time I used constantly to preach there in the afternoon.” After referring to the steps taken to palisade the town, he continues, “When this happens I shall renew my former practice and dedicate the afternoon to their service in spiritual things.”

In November he reports having “once more administered the Holy Communion to the newcomers who were engaged in palisading Dartmouth.”

St. Paul’s seems to have maintained these occasional services until the territory of Dartmouth, Preston and Cole Harbour was set apart in 1792 as a separate parish.”

The Mr. Tutty referred to in the above quotation was the Rev. William Tutty who had come out with Lord Cornwallis as a missionary when the city of Halifax was founded in 1749. He was the first clergyman to hold services in St. Paul’s when as rector he officiated at the opening of that church on September 2, 1750.

“The Society” to which Mr. Tutty reported was the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. This organization, operating in England, supplied and paid the missionaries and other clergy who ministered to the early settlers for many years after the Church of England became active in Nova Scotia.

The Preston church was erected on a high hill about three quarters of a mile to the north of the present St. John’s Church, and was supposed, at that time, to be situated in the center of the parish. The first clergyman appointed to the parish of Preston was the Rev. Joshua Wingate Weeks who commenced work there in September 1792. He remain. ed in charge until December 1795.

On November 3rd, 1792, Bishop Charles Inglis requested the Governor, Sir John Wentworth, to erect Preston, Dartmouth, and “Lawrence Town” into one parish by the name of St. John’s, Preston. This request was laid before the Council and granted. In writing to the Society for the Propagation the Gospel on May 1st, 1794, Mr. Weeks thus described his parish “The mission consists of four towns, Dartmouth is the principal which consists of fifty families; Preston has fifteen; Cole Harbour 12, and Lawrence 23.”

While in charge of the parish of St. John, Mr. Weeks lived in Halifax. Following his resignation in 1795, he was succeeced by the Rev. Benjamin Gerrish Gray, who was born in Boston and came with his father to Halifax in 1776. After his ordination to the priesthood he was appointed King’s Chaplain to the Maroons, who played an important role in the history of Nova Scotia from 1796 until 1799. The story of their coming, their stay in the Halifax-Dartmouth area and their departure for Sierra Leone in Africa, has been told in numerous records and historical accounts. Mr. Gray was recommended for the position of Missionary of the parish of St. John, to which he was inducted in 1795 and where he served until 1799, when he became garrison chaplain. His appointment to the parish of Sackville was made in 1806. He was afterward rector of St. George’s, Halifax, from 1819 to 1823 and was appointed rector of Trinity Church, St. John, N. B. in 1825, serving until 1849. It was in 1825 that the Rev. Mr. Gray, under Bishop’s mandate, inducted into the parish of St. Pauls’s, Halifax, the Rev. Robert Willis in a service that was held outside the locked doors of the church. The reason for this absurd situation was the extreme dissatisfaction and antagonism of the wardens and some of the parishioners over the appointment.

For some years after Mr. Gray’s departure from Preston, the church was served by clergy from St. Paul’s and during this time the people of Dart- had to go to Preston or cross the harbour to Halifax to attend church services. This inconvenience brought about the decision to build a church in the town and a definite move was made when land was procured and the erection of Christ Church began. The Rev. Charles Ingles was appointed rector in 1817, and according to S. P. G. reports the Church was opened for service in May 1818.

The original plans of the church show it to have been a simple oblong structure. (The present transepts and chancel were added later.) There were square pews against the wall on each side and a double set of oblong pews down the center of the building. An entry in the first minute book of the parish and vestry meetings records the first Easter meeting as follows-
Dartmouth, April 12th, 1819

“At a meeting of the Parishioners of Christ Church at Dartmouth on this day for the appointment of Parish Officers and other pur- poses according to the Law of the Province, the following persons were chosen, viz,
Samuel Albro, Esq., H. William Scott, Esq., Church Wardens.
James Creighton, Alex McMinn, Daniel Eaton, George Francis, John Reeves, John Stew- art, John Prescott, Alex Farquharson, Stephen Collins, Joseph Findlay, John Tapper, John Hawthorn-Vestrymen.”

It was further decided at that time “to appoint Edward Warren (whose vocation was publican) Clerk and Sexton, at a salary of ten pounds annually.” At an adjourned meeting in April the same year, it was decided to allow the Rector thirty pounds for house rent. This was in addition to his salary of 200 pounds a year from the S. P. G. and surplice fees. Later it was further resolved:

“That the fee simple of each pew be sold by public auction subject at every transfer to be offered to the Church Wardens at the last price given for said pew whether purchased from the Church or individuals; liable to a yearly rent paid quarterly to be hereafter fixed upon and Resolved “That the Church Wardens have the right of making use for the benefit of the public, any pew shut up by the proprietor without sufficient reason assigned and
Resolved “That all arrears of pew rent at the end of the year shall make the pew liable to forfeiture at the discretion of the Church Wardens”.

In June 1819, the Rector and Wardens successfully petitioned the Governor, the Earl of Dalhousie, to have the grant of the land on which they had built the Church, made out and completed. Meanwhile some history that has often repeated itself in this and other parishes was being written. At a meeting of the Vestry held on April 9th, 1821, it was resolved “That a subscription should be set afoot for the purpose of raising a sum to pay the debts of the church, and that it is advisable to receive such subscriptions in quarterly payments, the whole to be paid within the twelve month in order to accommodate those not possessing immediate means”.

Also a petition was made to His Excellency, Sir John Kempt, Governor of Nova Scotia – “For some assistance in relieving the church from the debt under which it is now embarrassed.” Meanwhile the ever present legally-minded parishioners had raised a neat question as to the legality of former proceedings on the ground that Christ Church, Dartmouth, was, in reality, only a chapel-of-ease to the Parish Church of St. John’s Preston. Accordingly it was decided that His Excellency, the Governor be petitioned to divide this parish from the Parish of St. John, which was eventually done.
The Rev. Mr. Ingles, during his stay in the Parish, lived at Brook House, near, what is now, the Woodlawn United Church. Stories of this house and it’s former tenants make up another interesting portion of the history of Dartmouth.

During the year of 1824, William Walker, school master in the town succeeded Edward Warren as Parish Clerk. In 1825, the Rev. Mr. Ingles was appointed to the important and historic parish of St. George’s, Sydney, N. S. the mother church of the Island of Cape Breton.

After the departure of Mr. Ingles in 1825, until the coming of the Rev. Edward Lewis Benwell as rector in 1826, the parish was without a resident clergyman. Amongst the clergy who officiated from time to time were the Rev. B. G. Gray then rector of St. George’s, Halifax, the Rev. R. F. Uniacke, the Rev. C. B. Rosenburg, Chaplain to His Majesty’s Ship “Jupiter”, the Rev. James J. Jackson, Ven. Archdeacon A. G. Spencer, later bishop of Newfoundland 1839-43 and Jamaica 1843-72, the Rev. Robert Willis, rector of St. Paul’s, Halifax, and the Rev. W. W. Walker.

While the parish was without a rector, the important ceremony of the consecration of Christ Church took place. This event marking as it did, the two facts, that the church had all the necessary appointments for the ministration of Divine Service according to the use of the Church of England, and that it was free from debt, must have been of the deepest interest to the parishioners.

The old Minute Book gives in full, the petition and deed of consecration as follows:

Consecration of the Church by the Lord Bishop of Nova Scotia

“To the Honorable and Right Reverend Father in God, the Lord Bishop of Nova Scotia – The Petition of the Archdeacon of the Diocese, Church Wardens and Vestry of Christ Church in the parish of Preston in the Archdeaconry of Nova Scotia,

Humbly Sheweth,

That a new Church hath been erected in the said parish for the worship of Almighty God according to the rites and ceremonies of the United Church of England and Ireland, but that no opportunity hath yet occurred for having the said Church set apart forever from all profane uses and solemnly consecrated and dedicated to the service and worship of Almighty God.

Your petitioners therefore humbly represent that the said church is now ready for consecration and pray that your Lordship will be pleas- ed to consecrate it accordingly.

EDWARD H. LOWE Church Wardens

A portion of the reply from the Right Reverend John Inglis, Bishop of Nova Scotia, reads as follows:

“Now we by Divine Permission, Bishop of Nova Scotia and its dependencies, do, by virture of the authority to us committed, separate the said Church or Chapel from all profane and common uses and do dedicate the same to Al- mighty God and divine worship by the name of Christ at Dartmouth and consecrate it for the celebration and performance of Divine service, and do, openly and publickly, pronounce decree and declare that the same ought to remain so separated, dedicated and consecrated forever by this our definitive sentence or final decree which we read and promulge by these presents.

August 20th, 1826.

Shortly after the consecration ceremony the Rev. E. L. Benwell was appointed rector. He was an Englishman, sent out by the S. P. G.

The manner of taking up the collection in church evidently caused some concern. At first it was taken up in a box placed on the end of a long stick and carried from pew to pew. As this was not looked upon with favour, it was decided to place a plate by the door with a vestryman in attendance. This change apparently did not prove satisfactory as they soon went back to the former method. The bell was presented to the church in 1826 by the Honorable Michael Wallace, a leading parishioner, who was engaged in various business enterprises in the area as well as being active in Government circles.

Meanwhile a parsonage had been erected near First Lake for the use of the Rector (this building, thought later to be too far from the Church, was sold to Colonel Robert B. Sinclair.) About the same time the first church in Preston was torn down and rebuilt on a site about one quarter mile to the east- ward of Maroon Hill which was, at that time, much nearer to the homes of the people. A legend tells that when the monks of Winchester, England, decided to remove the body of St. Swithun from the grave under the eaves of the church where he had expressly desired to be buried, to a specially prepared tomb, within the cathedral, it rained for forty days and the attempt, for a time, had to be abandoned. This legend has a counterpart in Preston where the story is told that whenever attempts were made to remove parts of the old church, rain fell, but those concerned with the removal disregarded all protests of the elements as well as some members of the congregation and proceeded with the job.

The second church at Preston has been described as follows-
“The church was very rough and without ornament or even comfort. The narrow chancel with its plain wooden table rarely, if ever, used for Holy Communion, would have suited the most primitive conception of taste. Highly realistic in one point alone was the order of the sittings. The men sat on one side and the women on the other; precedent and good manners alike forbidding any infringement of this rule during Divine Service.”

The new church with burial ground adjoining was consecrated at the Feast of Epiphany, 1826 by Bishop of Nova Scotia on petition from the wardens and vestry of Christ Church, Dartmouth, which was considered to be the Parish Church and the church at Preston was regarded as the Chapel of St. John.

Bayer, Charles Walter, “Christ Church, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, 1817 to 1959” [Dartmouth, N.S. : Christ Church] 1960.