The St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church – Perth Ontario

Posted by on February 3, 2018 in Community & Family History, Featured Flag | 6 comments

Don and Diane Duncan Wedding, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church July 1967

Fifty years ago, my husband and I were married in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Perth Ontario. On 29 July 2017, this congregation marked the 200th anniversary of the first Presbyterian church service in the community. I believe it was about 1992 that my father, J.R. Ernest Miller, assembled a memorial history of the Perth Presbyterian churches “175 Years of Presbyterian Worship”. I dip into his work to share the following. I have augmented his published work with resources found in his research files.

History of St. Andrew’s Church, Perth

Perth Ontario Canada

Rev. William Bell, First Presbyterian Minister in Perth Ontario

Immediately after arriving in Perth, Rev. William Bell, upon finding temporary accommodation for his family, set out to visit the Scotch Line settlers and arrange for the first church service on the following Sabbath, July 29th, 1817. He observed the residents living in small log huts. The country at that time he described as ‘a moral as well as a natural wilderness. Sabbath profanation, drunkenness and other vices prevailed’.

The first service was held in a large room, over the Red Inn on Craig Street, owned by John Adamson. The room was unfinished and unfurnished and was reached by a ladder.

Perth Ontario Canada

John Adamson’s Red Inn, Perth Ontario

About thirty persons were present including government people, militia officers and a few Scottish settlers. The Rev. William Bell preached to them at eleven and again at two o’clock.

In June of 1817, of the nineteen hundred persons in the settlement, some twelve hundred were soldiers and their families and only seven hundred were Scottish settlers, over half of whom were children.

On September 14th 1817, the Lord’s Supper was administered for the first time in Perth, with forty communicants admitted, two of them for the first time. It was agreed that this Ordinance should be administered every three months. It was accordingly administered on the second Sabbath in December with two new members admitted. It was now considered advisable to proceed with the election of Elders.

First Presbyterian Church

Rev. William Bell, ordained in the Secession Church, later led the movement to join the established church, the Church of Scotland, 20 October 1835. He served as minister to the First Presbyterian congregation for more than 40 years, until his death 16 August 1857 at age 77.

On January 4th 1818 at a general meeting of the members of the church, with Rev. William Bell as Moderator and two neutral persons, namely John Adamson and John Jackson as witnesses of proceedings, the following persons were unanimously elected as Elders of the First Presbyterian Church in Perth: John Campbell, James Bryce, Thomas Cuddie, John Ferguson, Angus Cameron, William Rutherford, Peter McPherson, Duncan Robertson and Robert Smith.

Upon being examined and found that they professed a competent knowledge of the Doctrines taught in the Word of God, John Campbell, John Ferguson, Angus Cameron, Peter McPherson and William Rutherford were Ordained Elders on February 1st 1818; the others having failed to appear at the appointed time.

During the summer of 1818, Rev. William Bell travelled to Brockville, Prescott, Lachine and Montreal in his efforts to raise funds for the creation of a suitable church. The local settlers had agreed to furnish the necessary labour but were unable to contribute any financial support. More than 150 pounds sterling were subscribed and the church building was raised the following spring. Alexander Fraser, John Watson and Peter McPherson were named trustees.

At a meeting of Elders and Trustees on June 23rd 1819, it was revealed that 185 pounds sterling had been raised and 169 pounds sterling used in the construction of the church.

The congregation continued to meet at Mr. Adamson’s Inn until the middle of April. The schoolhouse then became tenantable, they moved there until the church was plastered.

Perth Ontario Canada

First Presbyterian Church, was built on the corner of Drummond and Halton Streets, Perth Ontario.  Rev William Bell, Pastor

In the fall of 1818, a log house was built on the manse lot. It was let to John Robson, upon the condition of his finishing it, with the Congregation furnishing the materials, enclosing the garden and taking care of the church.

In 1862 fire destroyed this building. Judge John G. Malloch, on hearing of the fire sent servants to rescue the bell. It was kept by the family until July 1930 when Mary A. Bell Campbell donated it to the present St. Andrew’s church where it remains to this day.

Old Burying Ground, Perth Ontario Canada

On July 4th 1819 the first service of worship was held in the new building with a full congregation in attendance. An Order in Council, granting free deeds for Church lands, was not passed until January 3rd 1831. Colonel Cockburn was present on this occasion and Rev. William Bell obtained permission for a grant of four acres of land to establish a Burying Ground on Craig Street.

August 11th 1821, Major Powell informed Rev. William Bell that the area for the Burying Ground had been established and that it could now be divided and enclosed.


A complete list of original members has not been located.

On June 11th 1826, Mr and Mrs. John Brown of Burgess, Dr. McLean and his brother William (McLean) of Elmsley, Mrs. Golightly of Burgess, Mrs. Graham of Perth, Mary Gray of Bathurst and J.M. Bell of Perth became members.

On September 9th 1826 John McCulloch and John Rowatt of Burgess, Robert and Janet Miller of Bathurst and Mrs. Armstrong of Elmsley became members. 140 communicant members shared the Lord’s table on this occasion.

On December 10th 1826 Betsy Armstrong, Christian McNee, Agnes Hill and Betsey Little became members. Church membership was now 388 in total.

Differences of Opinion

On Sunday 23rd of December 1827 Rev. William Bell advised the congregation that he would start a Bible class and that Sunday School hymn books would be given to those persons attending. At this point, John Holliday, one of the Elders and the first school teacher in Burgess, stood up and said that he could find no place in Scripture to warrant the use of hymns. He advised that he would bring the matter up at the next congregational meeting as he felt these hymns were lofty flights of fancy not warranted by the Word of God.

On later occasions Rev. William Bell was accused of violating his ordinance vows by introducing hymns into the church and John Holliday prepared a petition to the Presbytery on the subject. His petition was rejected by Presbytery when they, on examination of certain hymns pointed out by Holliday, were found not to be objectionable by the Ministers present.

While Rev. Bell was labouring in Perth and area, “certain parties in Perth, desirous of having an ‘auld kirk Minister’ had sent application to the Rev. Alexander Stuart of Douglas in Scotland, to select a Minister of the National Church, which resulted in the ordination of the Rev. Thomas Clarke Wilson who arrived in 1830 … ” and remained until 1844. His congregation was known as ‘St. Andrew’s’.

Union with Church of Scotland

On October 20th 1837, at a meeting of First Presbyterian Church members, approval in principal was given for union with the Church of Scotland. John Bell, William Spalding and Patrick Campbell were named in the motions.

At the annual meeting of the congregation on January 1st 1836, it was indicated that membership was now 182 persons.

On June 11th 1837, Session met to examine the roll with the following names mentioned as leaving the congregation; Mary Carr and Rhoda Mowrey moved from the area; Thomas and Jean Dobie and Margaret Ferguson left the congregation.

On December 31st 1838, elders were Peter McPherson, Robert Davidson, Peter Campbell, John Ferguson, Daniel McDonell and Ralph Smith. (George Cuthbertson, Elder, died in 1838.)

Peter McPherson died after March 9th 1844 (26 years an Elder).

During 1845 the Free Church movement in Scotland reached Perth and some of Rev. Bell’s congregation left to form Knox Church, Perth.

December 11th 1846, John Glass Malloch was appointed to the list of persons eligible as a trustee for Queen’s College.

Clergy Reserve

In 1837 William Morris, M.P. was able to have one third of the designated Clergy Reserves made available for Presbyterian Churches.

March 8th, 1851 Session petitioned the Queen and both Houses of Parliament that the present settlement of the Clergy Reserve Fund might not be disturbed.

After the death of Rev. William Bell, the two congregations united under the guidance of Rev. William Bain who was the successor to Rev Wilson after his departure.

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church

Rev. Thomas Clarke Wilson, arrived in Perth in 1830 and held his first meeting to establish St. Andrew’s Church in October of that year. He married Ann McDonald and had five children born in Perth. In 1844 he returned to Scotland.

Rev. William Bain, a native of Nairn Scotland, came to Canada in 1834, was educated at Queen’s College and ordained in Perth as the successor of Rev. Wilson, 29 October 1845.

Perth Ontario Canada

St. Andrew’s, Perth Ontario

As early as 1828 many Scottish settlers in Perth and vicinity crossed swords with Rev. Bell due to his unbending manner and the fact that he had not been sent out by the Established Church of Scotland.

In spite of warnings about the difficulty of funding a second Presbyterian minister, Roderick Matheson, Alexander McMillan and Dr. James Wilson posted a bond guaranteeing the salary.

On May 15th, 1831 the names of William Rutherford, Malcolm McPherson and John Rowat were presented to the congregation for approval as the first elders of St. Andrew’s, Perth. At the first communion on 24 July 1831 there were 130 communicants, many of these coming from Rev. Bell’s congregation.

In February 1833 Roderick Matheson wrote the Lt. Governor of Upper Canada for financial support to finish building St. Andrew’s Church in Perth.

“We have erected a Church, sixty two feet by forty five feet, thirty four feet high, with a projecting tower, thirteen and a half feet square, fifty feet high, the whole built with stone in Gothic style. It is covered and shingled, the doors an windows in and calculated tocontain about eight hundred sitters. The building in its present state cost eight hundred pounds and will require five hundred more to finish it. The trustees are now two hundred pounds in debt and from the inability of the congregation to complete the building, they are under the necessity of defaulting the operation.

They therefore humbly petition that your Excellency may be pleased to grant them such aid as will enable the trustees to put the building into a fit state for performance of Divine worship and your petitioner will ever pray.

signed: Roderick Matheson, James Wilson;, Alexander Wilson

Two hundred pounds were borrowed from William Miller of Lanark, for a period of three years. One half was used to pay current debts and the remainder towards completing the building. One hundred pounds were received from the government to complete the building.

St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Perth, ON was described as a large and well finished stone edifice with seating for 600. It had a good stone manse and a valuable glebe of 200 acres rented for $170 which was allocated for the Minister in addition to a stipend.

Perth Ontario Canada

Interior of old St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church

In 1835, John Holliday and others left the congregation and started a new church down beside the river near the current Perth library. A purging of the rolls after this exodus reduced the rolls from 305  to 201 persons. About 1850 this movement disbanded and some of the members formed the Cameronian or Reformed Presbyterian Church. The Scotch Line members started meeting in their homes.

After the death of Rev. William Bell in 1857, the First Presbyterian and St. Andrew’s congregations united. The St. Andrew’s building served the needs of the Congregation, with the addition of a gallery about 1857 to accommodate the united congregation, until on 28 January 1890 the managers met to discuss the building of a new church. There was an effort to find a new location. On 8 Mar 1898 it was recorded that the last communion was observed in the old building.

Perth Ontario Canada

St Andrew’s 2nd Church, next to County Registry Office and Court House

On 29 January 1899 the new church was dedicated in the original location. It was constructed in a different shape. The steeple was removed and the building extended along Drummond Street. This church was destroyed by fire on 11 March 1923, a short time after extensive improvements were made.It was arranged to hold services in the Town Hall until the new St. Andrew’s Church hall, in the former Merchant’s/ Commercial bank, purchased in 1921, could be renovated for church services.  Joint summer services were held with the Baptist Church.

Perth Ontario Canada

Interior of 2nd St Andrew’s Church

Church Union

In 1912 and again in 1915, a proposal for organic church union was defeated by a large margin.

In 1925 another vote was held regarding Organic Church Union and was again defeated. In May 59 people transferred to St. Andrew’s rolls from Knox Church. In June 25 members transferred from St. Andrew’s to the rolls of Knox Church. Our family, like many others was divided on the issue. The rifts created often took  years to heal.

New St. Andrew’s Church

Perth Ontario Canada

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Perth (St. Andrew’s Hall on the right)

A drive for funds to cover the cost of a new church building raised pledges of $45,932.00. The cornerstone was laid on 19 July 1927 and the Church was completed and dedicated on 11 March 1928. It was built by Stewart Christie and son, Contractors according to plans designed by Cecil Burgess, Architect. With the subsequent market crash and ensuing depression, not all pledges could be fulfilled on time. A mortgage was put in place with the unpaid pledges as security. Many of the interior fixtures and stained glass windows were donated. The mortgage was paid by 1936.

Ministers of My Recollection

Rev. Robert B. Milroy

Rev. Milroy served the Church from 1847-1958 and was the first Minister within my memory.

Rev. Douglas Anderson

Rev. Anderson served from 1958-1963. Rev. Anderson led an active Young Peoples’ Group of which I was a member. I have many great memories of this period.

Rev. Richard J. Gillanders

Rev. Gillanders served from 1964-1974 and was the minister who conducted our marriage ceremony.

Family Involvement

Throughout the years many of my extended family served as Members of Session and of the Board of Managers; the women as leaders in the Women’s Missionary Society and other church groups. I was a Sunday School teacher and member of the Young Peoples Group, my sister attended Mission Band. St. Andrew’s Church was a focal point in the lives of my parents who devoted many  hours of their time to the work of this church.

As Clerk of Session, Dad (J.R. Ernest Miller) assumed a major roll in the computerization of historical church records, responding to requests for information from far and wide. In time for the 175th anniversary of this congregation, he compiled the book ‘175 Years of Presbyterian History, First Presbyterian Church and St. Andrew’s Church, Perth’, from which I have drawn this information.


  1. Nice history,
    Just noticed your latest blog came out June 17th.
    Biographi,ca (Dictionary of Canadian Biography) bio of the day, was a Grandson of Rev. Bell, whose step-brother made local history in Almonte, and whose Mother (died too young) came from my congregation.
    Need to compare some notes!

    • Can I be of assistance?

  2. This is a wonderful account of the church’s history! My daughter’s 3rd great grandfather, Williams Newlands, designed the 1898 version of the church while my 3rd great grandfather was John Robson who finished the 1818 structure.

    • Thanks for adding this info. Dad, J.R. Ernest Miller, wrote the history of the church “175 years of Presbyterian History: First Presbyterian Church and St Andrews Church, Perth” and it was published in 1992. I inherited his working notes!

      • Hi,what an interesting story. Would it be possible for you to contact me, if i leave my email address. My ancestors were neighbours of Reb Bell, I believe he mentions them in his diary. Is it possible to get copies of Ernest Miller’s books? I now live on Vancouver Island, have been in contact with a librarian in Surrey BC, who’s library received a donation of reels of early bmd of Perth. She sent me a few snips of original documents. Rev Bell states he is performing the marriages in the pioneers home. I find it”amusing” that some of the congregation did not care for the music. My son in law is a worship minister, his father is the organist at a Presbyterian church in the west end of Ottawa.

  3. A great summary of the History of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. Well done.

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