History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Perth
“History Leading up to the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Perth”, Perth Courier, Thursday, November 18th, 1965; By Rev. Robert More, Jr., Pastor of the Almonte R.P.C.
“I see no warrant in Scripture for using these hymns.” so spoke elder John Holliday in the First Presbyterian Church on Dec. 22, 1827. With this the first outspoken tendency toward the Reformed Presbyterian or Covenanter Church was seen in and around Perth.
Since the Reformed Presbyterian Church (locally called “Cameronian” on occasion) in Perth was last seen in the 1870’s, and because records are getting scarce and memories growing dim, this brief sketch of the denomination is humbly submitted to the readers of the Courier by request.
The Rev. William Bell, as is well known, arrived in Perth on June 24, 1817. One of his earliest members, if not an initial elder also, was John Holliday. He came to Perth and settled on the Scotch Line (Burgess Township, tenth concession, lot A) as early as April 17, 1816. He was also the original school teacher in the “Perth Military Settlement” with his old school house standing at the corner of the Scotch Line road and Glen Tay road. Being of Presbyterian persuasion, when Mr. Bell came, Mr. Holliday joined that church.
Holliday Grave Stone
From the start there was friction between these two ably endowed men, with some of the expletives being plenty ripe. When Mr. Bell began advocating the use of hymns in a “fellowship hour” meeting, John Holliday uttered the protest quoted at the start and refused to join in with the “innovation”. This action triggered his eventual withdrawal from the church, probably along with his large family and friends, chief of whom was Adam Scott Elliott. They then aligned themselves with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in 1830, but found this church was even farther from their convictions after a time.
About harvest time in 1833, the eighth line of Ramsay (near Almonte) Reformed Presbyterian Church received a missionary pastor from Scotland, namely, the Rev. James McLachlan. When Mr. Holliday learned of this, he immediately petitioned the Ramsay Church (in the fall of 1835) to allow their pastor to come and preach for them every fifth week. This was approved with the result that gradually Mr. McLachlan ministered equally in time between Perth and Carleton Place section of the “Ramsay Congregation” of the Covenanter Church. Mr. Holliday obviously welcomed this preaching of the like precious faith. But not so with all, for the Rev. Bell wrote that Rev. Mr. McLachlan “should have gone to a sparsely populated place, not Perth, where religion is well conducted and with plenty of ministers.
The Perth R.P. church grew, with the result that elders were elected on August 29, 1837 and a congregation organised on October 9, 1838, under the Scottish R.P. Synod. The original elders were John Holliday and John Brown (who he was is not know) with John Walker (likewise) and Francis Holliday being chosen as deacons. Although it cannot be proven absolutely, it seems this congregation met in the Holliday school (and in his home on occasion probably), for at least once Mr. Bell mentions a worship service having been scheduled for the school.
After a time, disenchantment between members visited this congregation. To the Hollidays and others, there seemed to be a tendency to deny the faith – perhaps over the matter of refusing to vote in political elections and the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Thus, the congregation brought the matter before the Rochester Presbytery of the U.S.A. Reformed Presbyterian Church which they had joined but one month before (on October 7, 1851). A special commission was sent to the congregation, and they dissolved the pastoral relationship on November 7, 1851, and especially decried the resort to the local newspaper (still in print), as a median of airing ecclesiastical grievances.
But Presbytery’s righteous action only aggravated the situation, with an unknown number of members retaining the pastor and the Hollidays obeying it implicitly. Because this group built a new church building and lasted longer as a congregation, it would seem they were the stronger of the two.
Since the Scotch Line people kept the pastor, they took the name “First Perth (i.e., Reformed Presbyterian) Church while those who moved into town called were called the “Second Perth Church”. This group met often in the home of David Holliday who seemed to live about this time at the corner of Colbourne and Drummond Streets. The presbytery taking cognizance of the worsened situation, then organized the town folks into a congregation on June 12, 1852. For a time, they only received spasmodic preaching, mostly from the Rev. John Middleton, a Covenantor pastor of Lisbon, NY (near Ogdensburg, NY). When presbytery released him from that congregation, the Second Perth Church immediately called him, and he was installed on October 24, 1854. Here is the contemporary newspaper record:
“There will be sermons in the Son’s Hall on Sabbath first (i.e. Oct 22) at the usual hours, and the Rev. John Middleton will be installed pastor of the Reformed congregation, Perth, on Tuesday the 24th instant at 1 o’clock p.m. The Rev. Robert Johnston of Toronto, and the Rev. David Scott of Rochester, will officiate on the occasion.”
Where the hall was, or how often they have met in it, is unknown. However, within a year or so, the second church made definite plans to build an edifice with the construction possibly beginning about the summer of 1856. It seemed to have been finished fairly quickly, for a map in the Perth museum, dated in 1874, shows a building on the exact site. Later description makes the building about 60 feet x 40 feet with large windows on the sides and sitting broadside (although some disagreement exists on this point) to Colbourne Street. The lot is identified in the Registry Office as Cockburn Island, city lot No. 12. This is the ground next to the Little River where it crosses Drummond Street.
The congregation had only begun to build this house when Mr. Middleton resigned the charge and Mr. McLachlan also tendered his resignation to the First Perth Congregation at the same time. Thus, the Rochester Presbytery dissolved their pastoral relationship on the same day – October 8, 1856. Neither congregation, history shows, received another installed pastor. First Perth was disorganized on that day and no trace of an organization is seen again. It seems, a number of people moved from the area or joined local Presbyterian churches. Mr. McLachlan moved to Lisbon, N.Y. where today he is buried. Second Perth. however. carried on in a crippled way for a couple of decades, with the remnant coming to Almonte in the 1870s for communion.
With the removal of Rev. Mr. Middleton, the Second Perth congregation diminished in numbers and so, to remove the debt and mortgage, the church was sold on January 17, 1873 to a painter, William John Dennison who used it for years. It later passed into other hands (Robert Gamble of Perth is still living and was invaluable in describing the construction of the building although the writer wishes a photograph was in existence) and was torn down about a decade or so ago, with a cleared lot today marking the site.
Grandchildren of some of these members yet live in Perth and around the province, and the memory of several of these early Perth church people is still carried in the minds of certain people to this day. One cannot but be sad when such ancient churches pass from existence. And yet, in a real sense, the Almonte Reformed Presbyterian Church is the direct successor of the Perth congregations, for David Holliday, formerly of Perth, was elected as an elder to its session on July 8, 1875 and served until his death on October 9, 1900 with his burial being in Almonte. Thus, in reality, the Perth R.P. churches being dead, yet live.