"Monmouth Township 1881-1981: Collected Views of the Past"

Essonville Anglican Church was built in 1888, the first church to be built in the Township of Monmouth. John James Noble, one of the earliest settlers, helped to build the church. He became the Peoples' Warden and remained so until after his wife, Elizabeth's, death in 1950 he died in his 101st year in 1965 and was buried in the Essonville cemetery.

In 1907, Rev. Battersby became minister and lived in the manse just west of the church. On March 24, 1912, 19 people attended the service and the collection was 25 cents on March 31, 1912, there were 14 people in attendance and 15 cents were collected.

Other pioneers seen in the church each Sunday included the Rowbothams, the Somervilles, Mrs. Saunders and family, the Johnsons, the Henrys, and the Bradleys.

As the congregation dwindled, the church was given to the Township of Monmouth and now stands as a memorial to those who were so proud of their achievement in building and filling the church in its early days.

Jim & Mary McCrea, Vernon & Beatrice McCrea, and Beatrice's parents (Mr. and Mrs. Daniel)

Early Church History

By Norma Noble (b. 1911)

Essonville Church was built in 1888, around the same time the Orange Hall was erected just east of the church. We always understood that the trees which had been cut from the property the church was built on were hauled to the sawmill belonging to my grandfather (Richard Dunford) to be sawn into lumber which was used to build the church. The windows were made in England and were brought over by boat. Grandpa (John James Noble), born in 1865, helped in the building of the church.

I believe Mr. James Mackness and Vida Somerville were the first couple married in the church. Fred Dunford and Catherine (Katie) McCrea were also married there (I don’t know the dates).

One of the earliest Anglican ministers stationed at the church began a night school in the Orange Hall during the 1890s. My father (Alexander McCrea) was born in 1867 and purchased property in Essonville in 1882. He was married in 1898, attended the school and learned to read and write there – I think that was the only schooling he ever had. I never knew that minister’s name.

The earliest Anglican minister’s name which I can remember was a Mr. Stone. He lived in Wilberforce. I suppose I was probably 10 or 12 years of age when Dad (Alex McCrea) took us to a concert in the Orange Hall put on by the young people of Wilberforce under the direction of Mr. Stone. I think that particular concert stands out in my memory because of a song they sang which we enjoyed trying to sing afterward:

Mr. Stone from Wilberforce

Drives a crooked legg’d horse

Chew tobacco, chew tobacco

Spit, spit, spit

Audrey Mulloy from Wilberforce

Thinks she’s pretty nice of course

Chew tobacco, chew tobacco

Spit, spit spit (and so it went…)

I don’t know if the parsonage was originally built for that purpose, but many of the ministers lived there. Mr. Battersby (later Canon Battersby) was stationed there when Francis Noble was born in 1910. In fact, Francis was named after him. Grandma (Elizabeth) Noble told us that when Francis was a few days old, the doctor said he would have to be circumcised. Thinking they should first have him baptized in case the surgery had complications, Francis was taken to Mr. Battersby to be baptized. Francis was taken back to the church when he was a bit older to be baptized again by Mr. Battersby.

A number of ministers served the church in its early years. A Mr. Waithom, who lived in Bear Lake, was one of the early ministers. An Anglican minister by the name of Mr. Groves, who lived with his wife in the parsonage to the west of the church, enlisted in World War I directly from his posting in Essonville. Mr. Alfred Dowdell married Katie Saunders during his time of service. A Mr. Urquhart was posted at the church when Grandma (Elizabeth) Noble died on June 24, 1950.

A number of servants were active in leading the services as well. In the late 20s/early 30s, a Miss Taylor worked as a deaconess. A lovely lady, she had her own car and lived in Wilberforce. In 1945, a Miss Millicent Houldcroft carried on the services. She was the school teacher in Gooderham and used to ride up to Essonville on her bicycle during the summer. I’m not sure how she came in the winter but she always came at Christmas time and delivered the clothes and toys (called “bales”) sent annually from the Anglican Church in Toronto. These “bales” clothed many a child in Essonville. Millicent was an amazing person – strongly built with an amazing personality and a heart of gold.

In later years, we had a number of church army captains who were trained under an evangelical movement within the Anglican Church. Some (perhaps not all) of the names were: Captain Eric Stringer, Captain Brede, Captain and Mrs. Barclay, Captain McFarland (who assisted Mr. Gillings of the Associated Gospel Church in the funeral and burial service for my father in March, 1943), Captain Tomlinson, and Captain John and Ivy Eyre.

The Anglican Diocese deconsecrated the building in the mid-1960s. At that point, the building was given over to Monmouth Township which, according to the rumour mill, intended to demolish the building. Arthur Saunders and Francis Noble approached the municipal council and promised to give any assistance they could toward the upkeep of the building if the municipality agreed to leave the building standing as a historic site. The council agreed and waived all taxes on the property.

The first task was to paint the exterior. The municipality paid for the paint and Murray Ackley painted the building. A few years later, Francis went to Minden and approached Ontario Hydro about reconnecting hydro to the building. However, having been advised that new wiring and a new fuse box would have to be installed, council rejected the plan.

It was also in this era that the idea of holding a Memorial Service each summer was planned. Mrs. James McCrea (Mary) and Mrs. John Sibley (Amelia) organized the first service. The service carries on to this day.

Unfortunately, after Francis and Arthur made the promise to keep the building in good shape, Art took his first stroke and was never able to carry on. Francis continued to maintain the building, including construction of the vault under the east end of the building in the 1970s and shelving. Mr. Len Traviss assisted by doing masonry work in building the cairn which stands by the church to commemorate its history.

NOTE: These events are as I remember them. My apologies if there are any errors -- Norma Noble

Francis, Norma, Donna, and Earl Noble, early 1940's

building the church

By J.H. Finlay - Letter to the Editor, Haliburton County Echo, April 21, 1970

While doing some repair work to this church with Lloyd W. Watson some 20 years ago, the late Mr. John James Noble dropped in to chat with us at different times. Mr. Noble told us some of the history of the old church.

The church was built from three pine trees that grew there on the church property – the remains of the three stumps can still be seen immediately east of the building. The logs were logs were drawn over land by horses to the Dunford mill on the Burnt River at South Wilberforce and the lumber returned by the same route. The Dunford mill was water-powered and equipped with an upright saws called whip-saws. Mr. Noble was a pioneer resident of Essonville and he and Mrs. Noble were the first couple to be married in the new church. Mr. Noble had reached his 100th birthday some eight months before passing away in 1965. The Graham brothers were the carpenters on the building and any dressed lumber in the church was planed by hand.

When one stops to consider that this was back in sailing Bessel days and there were only trails through this section of the country, a pre-fabricated building was out of the question. I would dare say the leaded stained-glass and possibly the bell may have been brought over from the old country (England).

The church in the foreground and the Orange Lodge in the background, looking up Essonville Line

ESSONVILLE - THe early Community

By Francis Noble - Speech given at the Service of Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Christ Church

It is a privilege for me to reminisce a little of the past history of this building and its beginning as a place of worship. As was the custom when a community was established, they wanted a place in which to worship. In 1888, Rev. Watham bought the property from Jacob Steibel. He in turn sold the property the church is built on for $1.00 to the diocese of Toronto. Three large pine trees on the ground were cut down. The logs were hauled to Mr. Richard Dunford’s saw mill in south Wilberforce by team and wagon and the lumber brought back to build the church. Thomas and William Graham from Wilberforce were hired to build the church. All the planing of the lumber had to be done by hand. Mr. Watham was the first minister of the parish, his home just west of the church. My dad and mother were the first couple married in the new church. Dad was the Warden here for approximately 60 years. As the years went by, attendance at the services declined to the point that services were discontinued. In 1968, the church was deconsecrated. For a period of time, it was undecided what the future of it would be. In 1971, the property was deeded from the Anglican Synod to the Township of Monmouth for $1.00. There is probably much more that could be said, but due to the faithfulness of our ancestors and their desire to have a place to worship God, we are able to gather her today and worship the same God.

Maude, Willard, Francis, and Norma Noble at Maude and Willard's, April 1935

The story lives on in builders’ descendants

By Susan Wilson

A hundred years ago, the community of Essonville was centred on the junction of the Essonville Line and the road that ran from Haliburton to Tory Hill. And, a hundred years ago, the people who lived on the farms scattered over a three-mile radius around the hamlet decided that, since they already had a post office and a school, it was time they had a church. The story lives on in the descendants of the people who were involved at the beginning: Sylvia Battersby Cameron, whose father was one of the ministers Francis Noble, whose father was involved in building the church and served as People’s warden for over 60 years and Norma McCrea Noble, whose grandfather Richard Dunford owned the mill in Wilberforce where the lumber was sawn.

As was the custom, Christ Church was built through community labour with community funds. One old-timer recalled for the Monmouth Centennial Book the day a neighbour came to his home collecting money for the new church. They only had fifty cents but they were happy to donate it all. He said that, in all the years to follow, he was never down to fifty cents again.
The land on which the church stands (Monmouth Lot 19, Concession XIV) was part of a 100-acre parcel originally deeded to a Jacob Steibel as a free grant from the Crown in April 1888. In November of that year, he sold the land to Arthur E. Whatham, the first minister of Christ Church, for $300. In October 1889, Whatham sold the part on which the church, rectory, and Sunday school stood to the Incorporated Synod of the Diocese of Toronto for $1.

Two brothers from Wilberforce, Thomas and William Graham, were engaged as carpenters to build the church some of their descendents named Clark, still live in the area. John James Noble, born in 1865 and one of the earliest settlers, was one of the men who helped with the construction. He and his bride, Elizabeth McCausland, were the first couple married in the new church which opened sometime in 1888. Noble became Church Warden and served in that capacity until after his wife’s death in 1950. At his own death in 1965, at the age of 100, he was buried in the Christ Church cemetery beside his wife and nine-year-old daughter Jane.

The frame rectory was built on the hill just west of the church. The log Sunday school erected to the east was also used as the Orange lodge. Whatham organized a night school there for adults who had not had a chance to get an education. One of the students was Norma McCrea Noble’s father who attended from about the age of 20. The building served as Orange Lodge #1114 until 1909, when the group moved to Wilberforce. The structure gradually deteriorated until it had to be taken down.

Whatham’s circuit included Bear Lake which he was only able to reach because of a trail he himself cut through from Essonville. It is still known as Whatham’s Trail (although the Monmouth Centennial Book and the Land Register for Monmouth in the County Registry Office in Minden both give his name as Whatham, many people pronounce it as Waltham – a possible source of confusion).

Sylvia Cameron’s father, H. Francis Battersby, became minister at Essonville in 1907. He was an Englishman, an engineer, who came to Canada to run the steamship for Bishop Reeve who served parishioners up and down the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories. Some said Battersby left England to get away from two bossy sisters. In any event, through his work with Reeve, Battersby decided to enter the Anglican priesthood. Essonville was his second charge his circuit also included Wilberforce and Bear Lake.

In 1911, Battersby moved his family to Wilberforce for the benefit of the children’s education. Eventually he served in several other churches around southern Ontario from Hastings in the east to Caledon in the west. In the mid-1930s, he returned to Haliburton Village to St. George’s Anglican Church. This was Battersby’s last charge from which he retired in the early 1940s.

Early church records, written during Battersby’s tenure at Essonville, illustrate graphically the straitened financial circumstances of the parishioners. On Sunday, March 24, 1912, for instance, 19 people attended the service and the collection amounted to 25 cents. A week later, 14 people attended and the collection was 15 cents. The situation persisted over the decades. As a young mother, Sylvia Cameron says “I can remember when I had to hunt for coppers to send the children to Sunday School”.

After World War II, as the economic base in the area shifted to Wilberforce, the young people moved away to find work, and the roads improved, the congregation attending Christ Church gradually dwindled. Sylvia Cameron played the organ for 40 years at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church in Wilberforce. “I can remember going to Essonville with the minister Sunday after Sunday for the service,” she says, “and nobody came. So we just had a prayer and went home.” The fact that the services were in the afternoon probably didn’t help matters either, when a morning service was handy at St. Margaret’s.

Eventually, the church was deconsecrated in 1968 and closed. On January 29, 1971, the property was deeded from the Anglican Synod to the Township of Monmouth for $1. A rumour that the building might be torn down galvanized into action those with long connections to the church. Francis Noble, who was a member of the municipal council at the time, spearheaded a movement to provide maintenance. Volunteers painted the building and did some work on the windows. In the early 1970s, also at Noble’s suggestion, a vault was excavated below the chancel. It provides storage for the coffins of those who die during the winter and must await spring interment in the cemetery outside. Occasionally, the church is used for funerals. The cairn was built in 1977. Noble also acted as caretaker for a number of years. That responsibility has now been taken over by the township, who mow the cemetery grass and take care of other maintenance chores.

But before the decision to close Christ Church was taken, Mary McCrea, Norma Noble’s sister-in-law, suggested that an annual memorial service be held. “After all, the pioneers sacrificed so much to build these churches, it’s not right to abandon them completely.” The service is traditionally held on the third Sunday in August. Responsibility for the event is regularly handed around amongst area congregations: Anglican, United, and Harcourt Chapel. Because it is the 100th anniversary, the Anglicans asked to take over this year. “We hope to have the combined Anglican and United church choirs. We usually have up to 100 people come. The collection goes to World Vision”. Before the day, volunteers will clean the church. Kenneth Noble, a nephew of Francis and grandson of John James, will take down the shutters covering the arched windows.

Inside, the church will be decorated with flowers, brightening up a comparatively Spartan interior. The pews are dark wood with open backs, book rails, and kneelers. Above the dark V-joint wainscotting, the walls have been painted a pale aqua. The wooden floor, which has been painted a russet earthtone, is enlivened by a bright green runner going up the aisle. The bare light bulbs in the ceiling are no longer connected to the hydro lines on the road outside. But the pump organ still works and holds its tune, even through the cold of winter. Some of the windows along the sides of the nave have stained glass, others are clear. The deep wide chancel has a slightly rounded ceiling and three arched windows at the back. On the floor, underneath the choir stalls, is the trap door into the vault below. Thus the first church built in Monmouth Township arrives at its centennial, not really needed any more but not entirely forgotten – a tangible link to those who came before.

Mission House located behind the Essonville Anglican Church. The minister of the day lived in the mission house.

Honouring the Ties that Bound

By Martha Perkins, Haliburton County Echo, August 1992

In the still silence that follows the last rousing chorus of Battle Hymn of the Republic, there’s a sadness, a plea from the church not to be left alone for yet another year. Remember the solace and strength it has provided the county’s early settlers. Remember the tribulations it has suffered through as it grew older, facing those long, cold winters, with nary a glowing ember or beating heart to keep it warm. Remember the countless passersby whose love for the highlands has grown every time they come across this little white church in the valley.

Of course, a church can’t talk. But its organ can. Here, on the Sunday of the Civic Holiday weekend, the only day of the year when the Essonville Church is open, there is no electricity or running water and the pale green metal ceiling and gyprock walls remind you of the days when the hardware store sold three colours of paint – pale green, pale blue, or pale yellow. And yet the pump organ which has sat silent for the past year springs miraculously to life under Elsie Lewis’s hands (and feet), never missing a proud and defiant note.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored,
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword,
His truth is marching on.

You couldn’t get away with lyrics like that in 1992. Images of a warring God are out a peaceful, loving, bountiful God is in, to match our own yearning for a much simpler world, “the way it used to be”. Sort of the life we imagine the Essonville pioneers living, without the hard edges. Indeed, for them, life truly was a battle. There were rocks in the fields, cold drafts through the cabin, and the constant worry of what the next season would bring. How many of them wanted to pack it all in and return home, or at least move into town?

Have we not trials and temptations,
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer!

What a Friend we Have in Jesus – that’s hymn number 779, sung from the little black song book which in other churches has long since been replaced by the big red song book. (When a church closes one consolation is it is forever innocent, protected from all the debates and politics of religion. The Essonville Church will be spared the inevitable demands for “her” books, or “person” books. Enough of these sexist hims.) When the congregation joins the choir in the chorus of How Great Thou Art, most of the people don’t need a hymn book, black or red, because they know the words by heart. I remember once asking my grandparents to sing it for me. “Da, daa, da daa…”

Sure enough, the warbling soprano voices of the elderly women ring out, with only a few of the high notes missing. The men add their deep, sonorous bass. How did they come to know the songs so well? Was there a time when people were taught how to sing hymns, and has the comfort they provide become like yet another lost custom? Newer, more modern hymns might not have the sentimental schlock or the moral indignation of these old faithfuls, but they also lack the stately grace.
And grace is one of my favourite words. “There but for the grace of God go I….” You’ve heard of words that are onomatopoeic – murmuring, buzz, splash – well, I think Amazing Grace is the song which most perfectly captures the emotion it is endeavouring to attain. There’s such beauty to the music that you know the reformed slave-trader who wrote it did find God’s forgiveness, otherwise how could such purity find such an outlet? The two others hymns which are guaranteed to make my voice choke are Abide with Me and Oh God Our Help in Ages Past. Every Remembrance Day of my youth, the crowd around the cenotaph sang these two laments, and so ingrained are they in my emotional memories of November 11, every year since moving to Haliburton I mourn for their absence from the local service. There’s nothing like a song to bind a crowd of strangers together.

You can certainly feel the musical spirit move you at this Sunday service. After all, I’ve probably never met any of the people now buried across the road from the church, in the cemetery I love to photograph. (Haliburton has some of the most picturesque cemeteries and unfortunately, although rightly so, they’re not part of our marketing strategy). But I feel compelled to honour their memory.

The first lesson is from Hebrews chapter 11:13-16. “These (people) all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seem them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth”. “Did you listen to the wind in the pines on your way in,” asks the new young minister. “Those trees have stood here for many years… for people have come together and feel they have a community, today you need a Becker’s, an arena, a community centre. In those days you found your community by building a church or school. Today, television and satellites are our means of keeping in touch. They kept in touch by coming to church and worshipping together.”

By this time, you’re aware that the pews were designed to keep you on the straight and narrow. With backs perpendicular to the seats, and seats only eight inches wide, there’s little chance you’ll nod off during the preacher’s sermon. Although quaint to the modern visitor, the pews also remind me of what I sometimes don’t like about religion – the rigidity, the paternalism, the “we know what’s good for you”, the thought that going to church is a duty, not a pleasure. Was everyone really so dour back in 1888 when the church was built? Were there no times that people smiled, and laughed, and loved life? Could everyone remain unmoved by the physical beauty of the land? Only for so long can you believe that life on earth is the price you must pay for an eternity in heaven.

Nonetheless, there’s a nice feeling in the church. The service ends with a feeling of camaraderie as another collective memory is added. Someone goes to her car to get the urn of coffee and plates of cookies. People gather by the door, catching up on the news. The collection money will be used to fix the stained glass windows with the pieces missing. Some of the doyenne’s pride will be restored so she need not feel shame when people drive by, perhaps slowing down for a reminder of “simpler” days.

Don’t forget, however, that Essonville Church is more than a romantic reminder of the past. Early congregations gathered here partly as an excuse to see their neighbours and socialize, and partly to gain strength to face what was not always an easy life. Without the church, it would have been easy for the community to disintegrate, for everyone to go their separate ways. The church held them together in faith, companionship, and shared purpose. Will younger generations honour and remember that?

Elsie Lewis playing the pump organ

Discoveries – The Essonville Line takes one back into the past and into settlers’ lives

By Martha Perkins, Haliburton County Echo County Life, August 1989

Cemeteries can tell us a lot about our past. Unfortunately, the stories are often sad. But carved into the gravestones are other tales about love which will never die, and a faith which saw the early settlers through their hard times.

The cemetery across the road from the Christ Church was one of my first stops along the Essonville Line, just off Highway 121 in Monmouth Township. Bordered on three sides by pine trees and the road on the other, its peaceful setting always caught my eye when I was on my way to Wilberforce.

I don’t think it’s strange that I find cemeteries attractive. A constant reminder of our past, and our shared destiny, they remind us to enjoy each day and not to get upset about the little things which can seem like big things without the perspective of time. And “there but for the grace of God go I.”
Fifty years from now, the Essonville cemetery will probably tell a different tale. Nowadays difficult births are not always life-threatening to mother and child. We haven’t had a war in 40 years and many diseases can be diagnosed and cured. But what was it like for the woman whose husband died when he was just 45, her 17-year-old son the year before that and a baby in its first year of life – there’s just one year engraved on the stone. The woman lived until she was 75. How did she bear the pain?

Then there’s the woman whose birth date is already carved on the stone, the space for the death still blank and polished. Both dates are recorded for her husband, whose lifespan is carved above hers. What does she think each time she visits the grave and wonders when she will fill that empty space beside the grave? Does this mean she’s accepted the inevitability of her own life’s end?

Peeking through the broken panes at the Anglican church across the road, you get a different sense of the past. The pew benches are made at 90-degree angles – straight-back seats for straight-laced people, though I think it had more to do with ensuring people didn’t fall asleep during the sermon (now services are held once a year to commemorate the early settlers).

Built in 1888, historian Nila Reynolds says the minister at the time was Rev. Waltham “who baptized, married, buried, and preached at Ursa, Gooderham, the Madill Settlement, Wilberforce, and Essonville”. Beside the church was the Orange Lodge, which was transferred to Wilberforce in 1910 because of a population decline. “Grand master at this time was Howard McGuire, of whom it was said ‘He would gladly walk ten miles and back to attend either the Orange Lodge or a Conservative rally.’” This is, don’t forget, Tory hill territory.

There were a few holdouts in the area, however, as Mrs. Reynolds points out in her book, In Quest of Yesterday. “Mr. Sid Bradley vividly recalls Sir Sam Hughes campaigning at Essonville with speeches ablaze with Imperial sentiment. ‘They were held together with soft solder, always concluding with a flag-waving finale which brought down the house, in this case the entire community with the exception of John Sibley who, like Cliff Short of Tory Hill, stubbornly clung to his Liberal views.’”

Just a mile or so away lives Mr. Sibley’s daughter, Ev Saxby, and she provided me with the first clue of how Vinegar Hill got its name. Now for those of you who are unfamiliar with the area, if you turn left onto Essonville Line from Highway 121, you’ll go past the church, up a steep incline called Vinegar Hill, and down past a lake before you reach Wilberforce. This is a path I don’t trust in the winter, but in summer and particularly in the fall, it’s a pretty good trip.

Mrs. Saxby was always told that someone living on the hill had a barrel of maple syrup which went sour and turned into vinegar. But she told me to phone John Noble, who was sure to know the name’s origin. No, Mr. Noble had never heard of the maple syrup story, but he did know that “if you tap yellow birch sap and boil it, you get lovely vinegar.” His parents used to do that and so too did someone on the ill, for that’s the same story Randal McCrea told me when he was asked for a third opinion. Sorry, Mrs. Saxby.

If you want, travel up the hill to enjoy the view and should you want to go swimming, continue on down its winding side until you reach the public beach. But I turned around at the church, crossed the highway, and began down what used to be the main route to Haliburton. Although you won’t really know it, you’re passing through Essonville (trying not to blink won’t help).

The Monmouth Township history book, 1881-1981, provides the explanation of how Essonville got its name. “In 1875, a man named Daniel Esson, who married Anna O’Brien, lived on what is now Randal McCrea’s property – Concession 15, Lot 16. Mr. Esson became the first postmaster. While looking for a name for their post office, it was suggested they name it after their first postmaster. Hoping that it might become a village, they added “ville”. Mr. Esson walked to Haliburton (22 kilometres) one day and returned the next with the mail, once a week.” As the book points out, Essonville never quite lived up to its town status.

Mrs. Saxby, who grew up beside the old schoolhouse, describes its boundaries as follows: “There was the school, the post office across the road in Jim McCrea’s house and the store was down the road at Hazel Walker’s. And this was Essonville.”

Nearly everyone in the area suffered the same fate – lean times. “Growing up here was not an easy thing but we were happy,” says Mrs. Saxby. “People didn’t know they were poor because we were always happy. Things weren’t a hardship because we didn’t know it was a hardship.”

The school is less than half a kilometer from the intersection and was built in 1900. There’s some confusion, as always, about the dates. The Monmouth book says it was built in 1881 but calls it the “first school”. It’s now owned by the Gilbert family, who obviously feel a kinship with the school because the well-kept yard is bursting with colorful flowers and a few trinkets from the past. There used to be a board fence which separated the boys’ yard from the girls’, says Mrs. Saxby when you drop by next door. But she always disliked living so close to her school. “Eva, you get down off of that fence,” her mother Amelia, “better known as Millie” would yell from her vantage point overlooking the school yard. Mothers never let you have any fun.

However, there were some good times to be had at the school, both inside and out. There’s a pond just behind the school and in the winter, everyone would bring their skates to play hockey or crack the whip. In the summer, baseball reigned supreme, and there were also such games as Red Rover and Fox and the Goose (it’s got something to do with drawing circles in the snow).

Mrs. Saxby wouldn’t remember the early days of the school but Mrs. Reynolds’ research fills us in: “The school attracted as one of its first teachers a Miss Matchet from Coboconk she received $16 remuneration per month and paid out $5.50 for board. Also teaching at Essonville were Miss Grace Rodgers of Minden and Miss Jennie Taylor (later Mrs. James Fairfield, still active in 1967), who stayed for three terms.”

The Monmouth book says that when Miss Taylor was in residence, the school was open nine months. It was “a well-kept school of frame structure, painted red with white trim. It had four large windows with shades, a bell tower, and two porches. It was well-furnished with good desks in two rows and maps on the v-joint varnished walls. At this time, 45 students attended.”

After the school was closed, sometime in the past decade or two, Mrs. Saxby says Essonville became an even quieter place to live. Quiet it was on Sunday, as I drove along the dirt road which narrows the farther along you go. It travels through pretty farm country but since most of the settlers’ homes were made of wood, most of them have long since burnt down, or have been torn down, and now you can only picture where a farmhouse should be standing. Just before the road (which is now called Payne’s Road though I don’t know where the Essonville Line ends and Payne’s Road begins) reaches Highway 121 again, there’s a cluster of houses which evoke a simpler time.

Simpler maybe, but for the people who first dared to make the Essonville Line their home, it certainly wasn’t an easier time. A lot of hard work went into making these woods hospitable, and we should be grateful to those who came before us.

The end of a service

A true gift of the season

By Martha Perkins, Haliburton County Echo, December 2000

It was Christmas Eve 2000. The snow was falling quietly on Christ Church, that quaint place of worship which has long provided a haven of forested serenity on the Essonville line. The single bell tolled out its welcome, as evocative a sound as the footsteps in the snow as worshippers made their way up the candle-lit path towards the historic church building.

Inside, the church was aglow in the soft light created by the burning coal oil lamps and candles. A more meaningful heat was provided by the woodstove in the corner, soon to be complemented by the warmth generated by all the people tightly packing themselves into the straight-back pews.

There were murmurs of greetings, both seasonal and neighbourly. The desire to exchange glad tidings of Christmas was balanced by the instinct to show respect to the quiet dignity of the church. Voices were muted, but the sentiments expressed no less heartfelt.
At the front of the church, Elsie Lewis, dressed festively in velvet, sat at the original church organ, one of the few people who knows how to master the footpumps which power the instrument. She made that organ sing and in the quieter moments you could hear her feet pumping away to breathe life into the timeless music.

The children could not so easily contain their excitement. Seated in the nave and transfixed by the candles held tightly in their hands, they were very much aware that in the darkness outside, Santa’s sleigh bells would soon be heard overhead. Still, there was time for a more solemn celebration, as solemn as children can be on Christmas Eve.

Snugly ensconced in a building that had remained virtually unchanged in almost a century, it was easy to imagine that time had indeed stopped, that it was Christmas just as it would have been when the church was first built. Everyone sitting there had probably had a hectic day, rushing to finalize all their holiday plans and gift-buying, making sure the fridge was well-stocked. But it’s almost as if the church itself imposed a sense of calm. The busy-ness would come back soon enough, but for this hour at least, the church said, it was time to reflect on the eternal messages of Christmas – hope, charity, and love.

Sharing such an evening was a gift – the gift of God and the gift of all the people who have worked so hard to lovingly restore the church (but please don’t install electricity – it’s magical to be in a church lit by lamps and candles). There may be but two regular services a year – one on Christmas Eve, one on the August civic holiday Sunday to honour those buried at its cemetery – but these faithful volunteers have made sure that at these times, the church’s beauty and graceful spirit help to convey the message of strength, love, and goodwill. Not only the parishioners at these two services should be thankful indeed, the entire county can be grateful that this beacon of faith shines so brightly from the little clearing in the woods.

Christmas Eve at Essonville Historic Church