1819 Account of Chatham, Ontario

The Church is mentioned by a British traveller who came to Chatham in the winter of 1819-20.   This traveller was Dr. John Howison, who spent the years 1818, 1819 and up to June 1820 in Upper Canada. After a visit to the Talbot Settlement where he seems to have remained for a considerable time, he made a journey to Delaware on the Thames, and via the Longwoods Road to Chatham, also going to Lake St. Clair, Detroit, Sandwich, Amherstburg Etc. He speaks of crossing the Thames at Delaware, saying, "It was now the end of December and a drifting snowstorm threatened to make my journey a very unpleasant one." His reference to Chatham and the Church is contained in the following extract which I give at length be cause it throws an interesting light on the beginning of this city.

"About twelve miles above the mouth of the Thames I passed a spot called the town of Chatham.   It contains only one house and a sort of Church; but a portion of land there has been surveyed into building lots, and these being now offered for sale, have given the place a claim to the appellation of a town.   There are many towns like Chatham in Upper Canada and almost all of them have originated from the speculations of scheming individuals. When a man wishes to dispose of a piece of land, or to render one part of his property more valuable by bringing settlers upon the other, he surveys a few acres into building lots. These he advertises for sale at a high price, and people immediately feel anxious to purchase them, conceiving that their situation must be very eligible indeed, otherwise they would not have been selected for the site of a town. The extravagant hopes and expectations that often fill the minds of speculators such as I allude to, would make the most enthusiastic castle builder smile. Often while surveying these embyro towns, have I been shown particular spots of ground that were to be reserved for universities, hospitals, churches, etc., although not even a hovel had yet been erected within the precincts of the anticipated city. All these chimeras and erroneous conceptions have been introduced by people from the United States. There villages and towns start into existence almost instantaneously; and when any place is peculiarly calculated by nature to be a theatre for the energies, enterprise and associated labours of man, It is immediately occupied by an active and industrious population and soon attains that degree of importance to which its advantages entitle it. But in Upper Canada things are different; for the Province at present affords so few excitements to industrial exertion, and such unpromising prospects, that all plans to promote its aggrandisement and prosperity, whether rational or chimerical are alike doomed to languish for lack of supporters."

I have quoted at length from Dr. Howison's book which is now very rare, because it gives us the impressions of a traveller in Western Ontario nearly a hundred years ago. and because it shows that the Church for which subscriptions were made in January 1819 was actually in existence at the end of that same year.

The reference to the result of the labours of the early church builders of Chatham is not particularly complimentary. Dr. Howison says he saw "a sort of Church" at Chatham. We are to remember that all ideas are relative and that he was accustomed to the massive and stately parish churches of England.

In 1819, therefore, St. Paul's Church was built on lots 1, 2, 3 and 4, on the river bank in what was known even at that early date, as the town of Chatham. It continued to be the only Church in Chatham until the Methodists built in 1843. The Roman Catholics built in 1844. The United Presbyterians and the Church of Scotland began to build in 1842 but the United Presbyterian building has not completed until 1844 and the Church of Scotland building was not finished until 1846.

Next Page - Chatham, Ontario's First Resident Anglican Clergyman