History of St. John's Church
Since the days before Victoria became Queen the story of a growing St. John’s Church (in the parish of Mono) has reflected the pattern of social change in Canada. Like so many Anglican parishes in the Toronto hinterland, St. John’s owes its genesis to the efforts of Archdeacon John Strachan, later the first Bishop of Toronto.
The oral history of the parish includes an inaugural horseback visit by Archdeacon Strachan in 1828 when he met local rural settlers. In time, this resulted in regular pastoral visits by the Reverend Adam Elliot. Elliot was a traveling “saddle-bag missionary” from the American Episcopal Church who conducted worship in many pioneer-farming communities to support the missionary efforts of Archdeacon John Strachan.
Under Strachan’s direction and with the help of a prominent local layman, Seneca Ketchum, Elliot began to visit the local Mono area in 1832. That year, a church-building effort began in a corner of the cemetery. Sadly, right after the initial wooden frame building was roofed, a heavy snow collapsed the entire structure. The first St. John’s Church was never used for worship.
Despite this setback, on March 29, 1833, Elliot led the first regularly-scheduled Anglican worship in the area at the Cobean home. Elliot had made contact with 60 local families within a five-mile radius, and now encouraged them on their plans to erect a sturdy square-log church. Meanwhile, the Terry family, who ran a store, hotel and gristmill in nearby Market Hill (Mono Mills), allowed their barroom to be used by the congregation for prayer meetings on Wednesday evenings.
At the outset the log church-building project moved slowly because of limited financial support. Then in the fall of 1834, Elliot is said to have delivered a fiery sermon to about 100 people in a crowded local barn. As a result, in the spring of 1835, local residents had completed the next St. John’s Church located in the same corner of the Anglican cemetery on the 7th line. With a seating capacity of about 70 persons on plank pews, it was the first Christian church in the area. One telling of the parish story holds that this second building was eventually deemed “unsafe” and was replaced by a third, less attractive “roughcast structure” in the 1850’s.
The parish kept growing, and it soon became possible for St. John’s to replace its dependence on itinerant missioner-priests and to engage a resident priest. Thus, in 1861, a Rectory was constructed next door to it. This development attests to very positive future prospects. The Rev’d Alexander Hamilton was the first priest to live in the parish because of that Rectory.
Since then, the parish community has changed or moved and grown or contracted in order to better meet the spiritual, charitable and social needs of the communities it serves. In response to a mounting agricultural population and overcrowding at the existing St. John’s Church, Hamilton’s successor, the Rev’d Richard Cleary, initiated a building program that would see the parish served by two church congregations.
In 1867 the two new church congregations opened – another, bigger fourth St. John’s Church in the growing nearby village of Market Hill (Mono Mills) and St. Paul’s Church in Lavertyville to the north. The clear intention was to replace the existing St. John’s Church on the cemetery grounds, and it did close – briefly. But Richard Cleary under-estimated the entrenched conservatism of his Irish congregants and the income that was generated by the property. Despite worship at the “New St. John’s” in Market Hill, within a year services resumed at “Old St. John’s”, and St. Paul`s Church in Laffertyville was transferred briefly to the parish of Mulmer.
When the third “roughcast” Old St. John’s building burned to the ground in the 1870’s, another red brick “Old St. John’s” was opened on that site in 1878 at a cost of $1,160. Ironically, “New St. John’s” was now older than “Old St. John’s” – and the anomalous situation of having two churches named “St. John’s” in one parish continued. A congregation continued weekly worship at “Old St. John’s” until the 1950’s. Now used as a seasonal cemetery chapel of ease, it is still the focal point in a pastoral cemetery ministry to bereaved families that has continued to serve local people since pioneer days.
In the days when family travel distances were restricted by horse-and-buggy (or sleigh), the parish ministered to local families using satellite churches. Over those years other daughter congregations have included additional communities: The Church of the Herald Angel (Cardwell), identical twin to “Old St. John’s”, and St. Luke (Mono Centre) also opened in 1878. St. Paul`s Church (Laffertyville) returned to the parish family of churches in 1881. By 1882, Mono West had acquired a Rectory (by marriage of the Rector to a parishioner) and another congregation that met in the Methodist Meeting House (on the 5th Sideroad) became St. George’s Church in Salem. It continued for a quarter century and boasted a Sunday School of 60 children at the turn of the 20th century. The ministry of the Mono West parish kept expanding. A year later and further west, in 1883, St. Alban’s Church in Camilla opened on the northwest corner of the 1st Concession west of Centre Road. It became the third area church to use the design for Old St. John’s. Sometime in this period, St. Thomas’s opened on the Mono-Amaranth Line. In 1887, the Church of St. Matthew in Elder was born in the north end of the Mono West parish. While it was the last “new” congregation for the Mono West parish, a new congregation was also forming in the Village of Hockley. St. James (Hockley) was the last of the satellite churches, and joined the parish in 1891.
By February 1911 when Bishop James Fielding Sweeney inducted the Rev’d R.J.W. Perry as Rector, the parish of St. John’s (Mono) was geographically the largest self-supporting parish in the Diocese of Toronto. Since then, parish ministry has embraced local people in Christ’s name through trying times: two World Wars, a tornado, the Great Depression, the industrialization of agriculture, the loss of the rural family farm lifestyle, the gentrification of farming communities, and rapidly encroaching urbanization.
The current St. John’s building is the sixth structure to bear the name. While the parish retains traces of its agricultural and rural past, the congregation’s current culture also reflects its contemporary facilities and dynamic suburban setting within the GTA. The sixth St. John’s is now the only locale for worship and for parish educational and community social activities. Located in Caledon (Peel Region) on the south side of Highway 9 just east of Orangeville, the 1991 modern building is fully accessible with worship space, hall, washrooms, offices, kitchen and program rooms located on one floor at parking lot level. The facility has ample off-street parking and is air-conditioned.
Over more than 175 years St. John’s has enjoyed a rich, creative and diverse ministry in Christ’s name. From earliest days to now St. John’s ministry strives to support and to embrace the lives of local people throughout their human journeys, through Christian education and fellowship from baptisms through weddings to funerals and burial.
If you have more information, reminiscences, anecdotes or revisions to share, please send them to St. John’s by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or to our postal address.