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St. Matthew-Wesley United

This is a special collection of photos taken of the former building of Peppett Street, North Sydney. As well, a brief history has been recorded and listed below.

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St Matthew-Wesley: Imprint
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The History

of St. Matthew-Wesley United

Wesley Methodist Church

Methodism came to Cape Breton in 1789 but was only served by Lay Leaders until 1829, when Rev. Matthew Cranswick became the first ordained minister to labor in the Cape Breton area, with headquarters in Sydney. A church was erected at Sydney Mines in 1840. The Methodists of North Sydney worshiped with the other Protestants in The Bethel until the Church on Caledonia Street was dedicated early in 1877. Rev. David Hickey, who arrive in 1879 was the first ordained minister of the congregation. A basement was excavated in 1881, for Sunday School and through the week activities and was formally opened January 12, 1882, with a seating capacity of approximately 200. The work, together with the furniture cost in the vicinity of $600.00, all the furniture being made at the North Sydney Furniture Factory.

In 1881 North Sydney and Sydney Mines were made one charge with a service at Sydney Mines in the morning and at North Sydney in the evening. This continued until 1902 when both charges became independent congregations. A parsonage was built in 1887 on the lot next to the church and an addition to the church building was made in 1893. However, a growing congregation made further additions necessary and in 1901 the parsonage was moved to another site. A very much larger building was completed and opened for worship May 21, 1902. The cost of these alterations and additions being $6,000.

The vote on church union was taken in the Methodist Churches throughout Canada in 1910 and resulted in a large majority for the plan.  The decision in the Methodist Church was made on the result of the total vote throughout Canada, independent congregations being only part of the whole, whereas in the Presbyterian Church the future of the local congregations was settled by the vote in their own church. During the fifty years previous to union Wesley Methodist had nineteen ministers due to the three-year pastoral term, then the custom in all Methodist Churches, as against the four who conducted the affairs of St. Matthews’ in the same period.

St Matthew’s Presbyterian Church

The original St Matthew’s Church was erected on the present site at a cost of approximately $5,000.00 and was dedicated on December 3rd, 1876. It had a gallery in the rear and the central heating consisted of a large stove in the center of the sanctuary. Rev. Matthew Wilson conducted services regularly from the date of opening until November 12th, 1879, when Rev. Donald MacMillan was called as his assistant, with special charge of the work at North Sydney and Little Bras d’Or. On the resignation of rev. Mr. Wilson in 1883, Rev. Mr. MacMillan became the pastor of the Sydney Mines and Little Bras d’Or congregations, and North Sydney was constituted an independent congregation.

Rev. Donald MacMillan was born at Lake Ainslie on December 25th, 1835. He studied at the Presbyterian College in Halifax and was ordained to the Christian Ministry on December 4th, 1861. He served in Lunenburg County until called to assist Rev. Mr. Wilson. His induction took place in St. Matthew’s Church on November 12th, 1879.

Rev. Matthew Wilson, M.A., was born at Chryston, near Glasgow, Scotland, on January 1st, 1806. He studied both Arts and Theology at the University of Glasgow and graduated in the spring of 1837. On September 5th, 1838, he was licensed to preach the Gospel by the Presbytery of Glasgow. When the needs of the Cape Breton area were placed before him, he immediately consented to cross the sea and minister to these people who were without a shepherd. He was ordained by the Presbytery of Glasgow on May 17th, 1842, and sailed on the Brigantine Margaret. This ship was owned by Gammell and Moore of Little Bras d’Or and Captain Peter Moore of Upper North Sydney was in command. Mr. William Gammell was also a passenger. The Margaret arrived at North Sydney in July, 1842, and Mr. Wilson was shorty thereafter inducted as minister of St. Andrew’s Church, Sydney Mines, which at that time was located at the top of Archibald’s Hill. He continued to do faithful and efficient work for his Master until his retirement in 1883. Even then, he continued to visit and comfort the aged and sick and to preach occasionally. One night in November of 1884, a man called to take him to see a dying woman. He was far from well and the night was cold, but he went. On the way the driver lost control of the horse and Mr. Wilson was thrown from the wagon. In falling, his head came in violent contact with the frozen ground, resulting in his death on December 13th. Mr. Wilson made a tremendous impact on the life of North Cape Breton and his memory is perpetuated by the congregation so St. Matthew-Wesley Church, North Sydney, where a beautiful memorial window records his life and work. His Bible, which he brought from Scotland in 1842, bears the following inscription in the fly-leaf:

“Presented to the Reverend Matthew-Wilson, Pastor of Sydney Church, Cape Breton, by the Sabbath School Teachers and others connected with St. Enoch’s Parish, Glasgow, June 1842.”

The inscription on the memorial window is as follows:

Our first Pastor. Ready to every good work

A man greatly beloved. Faithful unto death

Born January 1806 Died December 1884

Rev. Matthew Wilson

Ordained Minister Church of Scotland

and designated to this parish


“He shall gather the lambs in his arms”

The following is from the North Sydney Herald of Wednesday, March 29th, 1899:

“A disgraceful act of vandalism was perpetrated last night, when a brandy bottle was wilfully thrown through one of the beautful memorial windows of St. Matthew’s Presbyterian Church. It was found next morning inside the Church and was the instrument used in breaking the glass. It is to be hoped the perpetrators will soon be discovered and that the law will be allowed to take it’s course. The portion the window broken has been sent back to Ottawa to be replcated.”

At that time, these windows were just above floor level; the entrance porch was not then part of the building. Following the fire of 1899, the porch was added and the windows raised to their present location.

The first recorded meeting of the Congregations of St. Matthew’s Church was on January 4th, 1877, with Lauchlin Robertson as Chairman and W. H. Archibald as Secretary. Th report of the Building Committee showed a debt of $2,865. The following resolutions were unanimously passed:

  1. That the pew in this Church be sold at auction at an upset price of $20.00

  2. That the purchasers of such pews subscribe annuall for the support of a Minister

  3. That the purchasers be allowed three and six months to pay for pews purchased

  4. That the Church be called St. Matthew’s

  5. That the following person constitute a Committee of Management for the ensuing year: J. W. Rose, Daniel Lawlor, Robert Gentle, Daniel MacKay, and John Nisbet

At a meeting of St. Matthew’s Congregation, August 2nd, 1883, the commissioners reported that the Presbytery of Sydney had acceded to the request and that now North Sydney was a separate charge but without Rev. R. H. Abraham of Burlington, Ontario, as Rev. Mr. Abraham could not accept. On April 30th, 1884. The manse on the present site was purchased in September of that year, the original owner being John Morgan.

The ladies  of the congregation came to the forefront in 1884 when, at a meeting on October 22nd, they were empowered by the congregation to devise means to assist in liquidating the manse debt. In the next two or three years, they gave considerable assistance but their greatest contribution occurred in 1888 when, at a bazaar sponsored by the sewing circle, the sum of $1,061.68 was raised, a very large amount of money for that day. The system of contributing by envelopes was adopted in 1884. The seating arrangements came up for discussion at frequent intervals and at a meeting on April 9th, 1888, it was proposed the seats should be surrendered annually, with the largest contributor of the previous year to have the first choice and the others in order of their contributions. This suggestion, however, did not receive much support, but in February, 1889, the following resolution was adopted unanimously.

“The Committee of Management shall be empowered to adjust the price of sittings in this church and to let them to parties desirous of paying for seats, at such scale and at such price, as in their judgement will be equitable, and to the best interests of the congregation, giving due consideration to the interests of present pew holders”.

On June 9th, 1896, a call was extended to Rev. Thomas Chalmers Jack of Maitland, NS. He accepted and arrived with his sister, Mrs. Rosborough, and her family, and was inducted September 2nd, 1896. The new church suggested in 1894 became a reality in 1898. The original church was moved back to form a hall and the new one was erected on the same site. During the building period, the congregation worshipped in Royal Albert Hall, for the use of which the Hall Company charged $10.00 per month. The contract price of the new church was $6,800 and it was dedicated on March 26th, 1899.

This fine building was not long to serve as a place of worship for the congregation as it was seriously damaged by a fire in the early hours of Saturday, September 30th, 1899. The following report is from the North Sydney Heral of Wednesday, October 4th, 1899.

“Nothing has occurred in recent years in North Sydney which has drawn forth a greater measure of sympathy on all sides, than the loss of fire, early Saturday morning, of the new St. Matthew’s Presbyterian Church. The alarm was sounded about two o’clock from the fire alarm whistle, lately erected on the electric light building, and soon the firemen, and indeed a large number of the people of the town, were on the scene. The fire seemed to have started in the western section of the Church, how, it is not known, but almost immediately it enveloped in its relentless grasp the rear structure and spread to the roof on the new structure as well. Three streams of water were kept playing on the building but the inflammable nature of the edifice gave great force to the flames.  In the meantime, the furnishings of the church were being rescued, while every effort was being put forth by the firemen to save the finest and newest section of the church. The most sturdy fight only resulted in finally keeping intact the part fronting on Queen Street, with the attached towers and the eastern and western sides of this portion of the building. However, the edifice, as it now appears to the eye, is but a sad spectacle. Thie handsome, beautifully situated new St. Matthew’s had called forth the labor and love of its untiring Pastor and of the large and enthusiastic congregation in its erection. The North Sydney Herald hopes that the people of the town may yet see erected on the same site a still larger and finer edifice, the pride of the congregation and the townspeople generally. The building was only partially insured and the loss, estimated between $12,000 and $14,000, is a very heavy one. Two organs were totally destroyed, and the furniture removed from the building was badly damaged. The beautiful memorial windows were saved from the ravages of the flames. The congregation has already decided to start work on the building of a new church.”

Arrangements were again made to hold the Sunday Services in Royal Albert Hall and the mid-week activities in the YMCA. Plans were immediately drawn up for a new building, this time to seat seven hundred, the architects being Hopson and Elliott. On May 3rd, 1900, the contract was awarded to Mr. M. MacMillan, his tender being $10,900. It was completed in June, 1901, and was dedicated for worship on Sunday, June 9th. A very considerable number of Hants County friends of the Minister sent generous donations for the rebuilding fund.

“The St. Matthew’s Y.P.S.C.E of North Sydney has, through Rev. Anderson Rogers, New Glasgow, been the recipient of a very find Bell Organ. It was the gift of Presbyterian Church Endeavorers of the Maritime Provinces, as an expression of sympathy with the St. Matthew’s Society in their loss, by fire, of the lately completed church building. The large church organ and the lecture room organ were both destroyed in the fire. The thoughtful kindness of their fellow Endeavorers is greatly appreciated by the St. Matthew’s Society. Rev. F.C. Simpson of Sydney, who has an excellent reputation as a musician, represented Mr. Rogers in the purchase and presentation of the instrument. The organ is beautiful in tone and beautiful in appearance. It has four and a half sets of reeds and is in a very finely finished chapel case.”

The young people of the church did not cease to labor towards still greater achievements and ten year later, mainly through the efforts of the Organ Club, a Casavant Freres Organ was purchased, costing $3,500. It was installed in August, 1909, and the opening recital was held August 25th. It was dedicated on Sunday, August 29th. A generous donation of $1,250 was received from Mr. Andrew Carnegie, the United States magnate, whose interest had been stirred through a letter written to him by Miss Pearl Forbes. Later that year, it was decided to move this organ, at a cost of $650, back to the position it now occupies.

St. Matthew-Wesley United Church (1925)

The negotiations, which for over twenty years had been carried on between the Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches of Canada culminated on June 10th, 1925 in Toronto. At a memorable gathering, representatives from the three denominations met and, after celebrating the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, formal inaugurated the United Church of Canada.

It had been in the minds of many, both in the Wesley Methodist and St. Matthew’s Presbyterian, even before the larger communion was consummated, that a union of the two local churches should be considered. However, when the union of the three denominations was finally effected, the feeling for a local amalgamation became stronger, once there were now two churches of the same denomination in North Sydney. It was finally decided that committees from both congregations should meet and consider the question of a local union. Two meetings were held, the first in Wesley Methodist on June 29th, and the second in St. Matthew’s Presbyterian on July 6th. The following were member of the committee:

Representing St. Matthew’s Presbyterian

  • Rev. K. M. Munro

  • D. J. Campbell

  • William Cooke

  • D. D. Ferguson

  • V. Forbes

  • Captain JD MacKenzie

  • D. K. MacKenzie

  • W. S. Thompson

Representing Wesley Methodist

  • Rev. W. R. Seeley

  • H. Clark

  • J. G. Hackett

  • B. Jackson

  • W. P. Moffatt

  • H. M. Moffatt

  • G. F. MacDonald

  • Elias Mosher

  • Joseph Salter

  • George Spencer

  • Andrew Scott

The following conditions of union were agreed upon:

  1. That the organization of the new congregation be that of the United Church of Canada

  2. That the United Congregation worship in St. Matthew’s Church

  3. That the present Pastors remain as Pastors of the new congregation

  4. That both Parsonage and Manse be retained for the present, that both church buildings be used to accommodate the combined Sunday Schools and that a strong committee be appointed to make plans toward accommodating both Sunday Schools in one building

  5. That “The Book of Praise” be used by the united congregation

  6. That the combined boards of both churches hold office until the new boards are appointed by the united congregation

  7. That all seats be absolutely free to all worshipers

  8. That the name of the united church be St. Matthew-Wesley

An interesting item which appears in the Session Minutes of October 27th, 1925, is as follows:

“It being brought to the notice of the Session of St. Matthew-Wesley United Church that many children are spending their Sunday School collection money for ice-cream and candy each Sunday, which not only is demoralizing to the children in making them dishonest, but also tends to prevent their attendance at the various Sunday Schools of the town. We therefore resolve that a letter be sent to the Mayor and Council requesting that notices be sent to the various drug stores and ice-cream parlours notifying them that the sale of ice-cream, candy, and chewing gum is prohibited to young children on the Sabbath Day.”

In July 1926 the Board of Trustees, on behalf of the congregation, sold the former Wesley Church to St. Giles Presbyterian Congregation, comprised of those who did not concur in the vote for union of the churches throughout Canada, all former member of St. Matthew’s. The amount of the transaction was $3,500 and the sale was consummated when the necessary documents were prepared. The parsonage on Beacon Street was sold in November 1930 to Joseph MacKinnon for $1,200.

Dr. Sutherland arrived in North Sydney on June 14th, 1927, and was inducted by Sydney Presbytery on June 16th; Rev. A. S. Rogers, D. D., presiding, assisted by Rev. A. H. Campbell, Rev. W. K. MacKay, and Rev. W. R. Seeley. Dr. Sutherland opened his ministry Sunday, June 19th. Following Dr. Sutherland’s departure, the services of Rev. N. D. Patterson, B.A., B.D., were secured. Mr. Patterson was a native of Boularderie and had served as minister in Ontario and Saskatchewan. He took up the work in St. Matthew-Wesley on Sunday, January 3rd, 1932, on a temporary basis. At a meeting of the congregation on January 27th, with Rev. John MacIntosh, D.D., Interim Chairman, presiding, a call was extended to Mr. Patterson to become associate minister of the congregation and on June 30th, to succeed Dr. Sutherland.

During the two months following the departure of Dr. Patterson, the pulpit was supplied by a number of ministers among them being Rev. George Neil Gillis, minister of the Hopewell, N.S., United Church. On September 9th, a meeting of the congregation invited Mr. Gillis to become minister of St. Matthew-Wesley. Mr. Gillis accepted, and Rev. J. W. A. Nicholson again agreed to fill in. He was here from September 12th until the induction of Mr. Gillis on November 5th.

Mr. Gillis suffered a severe hear attack on December 22nd, 1950, and was laid aside for some months. The pulpit was occupied by available ministers until January 28th, 1951, when Rev. J. W. A. Nicholson again came to the assistance of St. Matthew-Wesley and remained until April, when Mr. Gillis received a call from St. David’s United Church in Saint John, New Brunswick, which he accepted. He preached his farewell sermons on November 11th, 1951.

Since 1925, six young men and one young lady of St. Matthew-Wesley have dedicated their lives to the Christian Ministry. Their names and dates of ordination follow:

  • Rev. Carman W. Riggs (1943)

  • Rev. William C. Amey (1943)

  • Rev. Gordon Legge (1944)

  • Rev. Angus J. MacDonald (1945)

  • Rev. H. G. MacKenzie (1950)

  • Rev. Carl R. Riggs (1952)

  • Rev. Chalmers Hatcher (1960)

  • Rev. Roland Murray (1970)

  • Rev. Christine MacLeod (1992)

  • Rev. Robert McCarthy (2002)

The first united service was held Sunday, August 2nd, 1925, with Rev. A. S. Rogers D. D., Chairman of the Sydney Presbytery and Rev. John MacIntosh D.D., Secretary, conducting the services morning and evening. Rev. K. M. Munro and Rev. K. M. Munroe and Rev. W. R. Seeley continued to serve the congregation until October of that year, when Mr. Seeley accepted a call to Dominion, Cape Breton. Mr. Munro carried on alone until May 1927 when he was called to the First United Church in Truro, Nova Scotia. Subsequently, he accepted the pastorate of a large church in Montreal, opening his ministry there in January 1931. In September of that year it was discovered he was suffering from a malignant disease and he passed to higher service December 11th, 1931. The first four ministers of the congregation , Mr. Munro, Dr. Seeley, Dr. Sutherland, and Dr. Patterson have all passed to their eternal reward, as well as the sixteen original Elders and thirteen of the nineteen members of the committee of Stewards.

The repairs to the manse, begun prior to union, were completed in September and a very much improved home was occupied by Mr. Munro. Wesley United Church was used for a time as the Church School but in July 1926 this building was sold to those Presbyterians who had refused to enter into union and is now St. Giles Church on Campbell Street in North Sydney.

In 1928 an addition was made to the original hall at a cost of $20,000 and the opening service was held on November 18th of that year. There is no need to mention that this year the organ has been rebuilt at a cost of $18,500.00, as we have just had the rededication and a splendid recital.

Since the union, in addition to Mr. Munro and Dr. Seeley, the following have served this congregation as Ministers:

Rev. J. S. Sutherland D. D.                                                              1927 to 1932

Rev. N. D. Patterson D. D.                                                               1932 to 1943

Rev. G. N. Gillis B.A.                                                                         1943 to 1951

Rev. E. V. Moriarty B. A.                                                                  1952 to 1960

Rev. C. E. Freake B. A., M. Div                                                       1967 to 1974

Rev. Ralph E. Johnson B. A., M. Div                                            1967 to 1974

Rev. Clayton C. Lewis B. A., M. Div                                             1975 to 1982

Rev. Glenn MacLean B. A., M. Div                                               1982 to 1989

Rev. Carolyn & Victor MacLead B. A., M. Div                          1989 to 1995

Rev. David Hann B. A., M. Div                                                       1995 to 1999

Rev. A. David Luker C. D., B. A., M. Div, Dip. Min.                 1999 to present

You have had just a glimpse of the several decades that have brought about the changes and historical account belonging to North Sydney and in particular St. Matthew-Wesley United Church. These are brief historical facts and barely touch the depth of history that can be read in the archives found at St. Matthew-Wesley

The Power of Prayers

Nobody knows the power of Prayer,

but somebody must be listening there.

With a friendly ear for the heart that calls,

someone who knows when a sparrow falls.

Miracles lie in the power of prayer;

faith that can banish the soul’s despair!

Hope that shines like a holy light!

That brightens the spirit darkest night!

When earthly help is of no avail

There is one friend who will never fail;

Just lift your eyes – the answer is there

For nobody knows the power of prayer!

St Matthew-Wesley: Text
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