The Presbyterian Church in Grand Falls.
I usually try to stay away from religion as a topic, but I also like things that are unusual. If you take a look around Newfoundland you will not see too many Presbyterian Church’s. The one in Grand Falls is a direct link to the early days when families from the UK and Canada were brought in by the fledgling AND Company.
There are not a lot of Presbyterians in Newfoundland. You have Anglicans, United Church, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals and what I have heard is the largest per capita number of Salvation Army adherents but there are not a whole pile of Presbyterians. This is largely because of ethnicity. The island was predominantly settled by English and Irish settlers who were originally either Church of England in the case of the English or Roman Catholic in the case of the Irish. The third British Component that is much more sparse is Scottish and many of the Scots are Presbyterian.
I figured as much when I looked it up and the results proved my thesis. There are only Presbyterian churches in Grand Falls and St. John’s. The two in St. John’s are due to a large number of affluent Scottish merchant families that have lived in the area for a couple of centuries, but Grand Falls?
Little St. Matthews Presbyterian is nestled between the latest Anglican and United Churches on Church Road. It looks like something from a Courier and Ives Print-or at least the cover of a Readers Digest from the 50’s. It’s the only original church building still standing in Grand Falls-Windsor.
But why is it there? When the workers poured out of the bays to come to Grand Falls they were not Presbyterians. They were Anglicans, Methodists, Catholics and Salvationists.[i] But there was another influx that included managers and other higher level employees with experience in the lumber and pulp and paper industry. Many of these men and their families came from Scotland, Northern England and Canada. Places that had large Presbyterian populations. Some of the management of the Royal Stores also belonged to this denomination. These included Mr Alex Wood[ii] a Candian who had worked at Millertown for the Newfoundland Timber Estates Company and the Lewis Miller Company. The Miller Company originalted in Scotland and had brought some Scottish workers-those that stayed at Millertown from 1903-1905 found work at with the AND Co. So naturally these workers and their families wanted a place to worship. Repotedly:
The first service of any denomination in the town of Grand Falls was held by the Presbyterians in 1905. The service was conducted by A.U. Wood who had come from Millertown, where he had run a Sunday School.[iii]
So in 1910 spurred on by some of the Presbyterian big wigs at the AND Co the Horwood Lumber Company of St, John’s was contracted to build St. Matthews. In the early years I believe the church sported a respectable sized congregation. If you take a look though the 1921 Census you will notice that there were many Presbyterian families in Grand Falls at the time, most of them having come from Canada or Great Britain. But as many of the early mangers moved back to Canada or the UK the congregation dwindled. Another blow came around 1925 when the United Church of Canada was formed. This Church was formed by a coming together of Methodists, Wesleyan’s, Congregationalists and Presbyterians. So the new Church might have taken some members of the congregations. Even though Newfoundland was not part of Canada the United Church of Canada took root with Newfoundland Methodists.
A boost to little St. Matthews came at the end of the Second World War. Many men from the Grand Falls area had been stationed in Scotland during their service in the Navy, Artillery or Forestry. And many of them had married Scottish girls. This crop of war brides that came to Grand Falls gave a little shot in the arm to the little Church across from the ball park.[iv]
Now most of the war brides are gone, but St. Matthews still maintains a small but active congregation who still have services in one of our most important heritage buildings.
[i][i] The United Church was formed from the Methodists and a number of other denominations in the 1920’s and the Pentecostal Church had yet to be formed when Grand Falls was being built.
[ii] Wood was also a driving force in the formation of Grand Falls Academy.
[iii] Grand Falls the Place and It’s People, 2005.