History of the Parish of March

The Anglican Parish of March serves the adjacent west Ottawa suburban communities of central Kanata, (including Beaverbrook and Kanata Lakes), Kanata North, South March and rural March, (including the Dunrobin area) with three local churches. While we are one large parish family, each of our churches has its own story, and its own distinct congregation.

Our churches are:

  • St John’s, South March, 325 Sandhill Road, Kanata;
  • St Mary’s, North March, 2574 6th Line Road, Dunrobin;
  • St Paul’s, Dunrobin, 1118 Thomas Dolan Parkway – at ‘the crossroads’ in Dunrobin.

The history of our parish is tightly interwoven with that of surrounding March Township and its early settlement and social geography – especially with the life stories of the adventurous settlers who first began to populate what were then, almost two centuries ago, nothing more than dozens of square miles of untouched forests, rocky meadows, fields and wetlands.

The early 1800s and the War of 1812
Migrations from Ireland and England

The original virgin wilderness of present-day Eastern Ontario and the Ottawa Valley – more specifically for our purposes the lands on the banks of the Ottawa River, extending several miles inland just west of Ottawa – first began to be settled roughly between the end of the War of 1812 and about 1819. This territory came to be known, after being laid out and surveyed in 1820, as the Township of March.

Many of the very earliest settlers were relatively well-to-do former military men – both officers and ordinary Irish and English soldiers, who had recently been discharged or disbanded from units of the British Army. Following them in subsequent decades were more Irish, Scottish and English migrants.  These folk faced the discomforts and dangers of weeks at sea in their common desire to re-establish themselves in a new land, many driven by the crushing realities of the poverty, famine, and overcrowded and overworked cities and farmlands they were leaving behind.

The major percentage of newcomers to this part of Ontario in the early to mid 1800s certainly tended to be Irish. Settlers eager to begin cutting and selling timber from the extensive forests, or clear acreages for farming, were promised free land by the Crown as a reward for military service, or later on simply received it without strings attached under continuing British Government programs to provide land to emigrants at little or no cost.

Soon, small communities began to take shape.  And a growing community had to have a church:  it was a matter not only of local pride, but of maintaining a sense of connection and continuity with faith and other traditions left behind … “in the old country.”

1828
'Old' St Mary’s, North March

Indeed, most of the English-speaking settlers of early March Township seemed to have seen the building of a local church as a virtual necessity. And thus, after much local debate as to the best spot to build, the original St Mary’s Church was erected in 1828-1829 on the Ottawa Riverfront acreage of prosperous local businessman, mill operator and community leader Hamnett Pinhey.  Pinhey, several of whose descendents are today still very active members of the Parish, funded the building of the church almost entirely by himself. Beyond his gift of land and use of labour and horses, it’s estimated the project cost him between 300 and 400 pounds sterling, with a further 127 pounds being pledged amongst other local gentry of the time.

There had been considerable difference of opinion about whether the church should have gone up where it did – on or very near the riverfront, favouring the generally more prosperous and well-to-do ex-military officers and other better off settlers who lived there, or much further inland where it would be more accessible to the usually poorer folk with homesteads there.  The riverfront faction won out with Pinhey’s decisive move to simply end the argument by going ahead and funding construction himself.

The first sermon preached at St Mary’s was given by the Reverend Amos Ansley, who was ferried across the Ottawa River from Aylmer, Quebec, to Pinhey’s choice waterfront property location for the occasion.

The Second St Mary’s, North March

Some 75 years later, the stone work and other parts of this waterfront church had deteriorated to the point that it became necessary in the early 1890s to begin community discussions and planning towards the building of an entirely new St Mary’s – the one you will see still standing today, at 2574 6th Line Road.

The original church having been seen as unsafe, services were being held in the local Orange Hall until the new building went up on land offered by Mr. G.W. Monk. The site was much more convenient and accessible from the then rapidly developing new roadway system well inland from the Pinhey estate.

The new church opened its doors October 19, 1909, under the leadership of the Reverend George Edwin Wegeant.

The ruins of the first St Mary’s, along with the Pinhey home and other features of the scenic riverfront site, have been preserved in the present day Pinhey’s Point Historic Site – a park and museum now maintained by the City of Ottawa and a small army of volunteer local history buffs.  This is also the site of St Mary’s Cemetery, where a memorial service is held each August, and a sunrise service is held Easter Sunday.

For both the St Mary’s rebuild and the earlier building of St Paul’s (1896) at the major community crossroads in Dunrobin, the business of erecting a house of worship was very much a community affair.  It saw entire families donating labour, time and money – in the case of St Mary’s a reported $100 per family, which represented a huge sacrifice given the buying power of such a huge sum more than a century ago!

The congregation of St Mary's marked the 100th Anniversary of the opening of their second church building, on 6th Line Road, with a special service held June 14, 2009 with the Bishop of the Diocese of Ottawa, the Rt. Rev. John H. Chapman, participating in the celebration.

1839
St John’s, South March (325 Sandhill Road, Briarbrook, Kanata)

As noted above, before the first St Mary’s was built there had been considerable controversy between, on one hand, the “inland” settlers – those who lived well away from the Ottawa River – and, on the other, the more prosperous riverfront population.  Each group wanted the new church built closer to where they lived:  it was a matter of both community pride and practical ease of access to have the church building nearby.

While the wealthy Hamnett Pinhey had resolved the dispute by paying the tab for the first St Mary’s to go up on his riverfront estate, the matter of better serving the considerably larger inland population came up again when St Mary’s applied around 1834 to the then Bishop of Quebec for formal consecration of their building as a House of God.The higher church authorities agreed to consecrate St Mary’s – but only on condition that a second church soon be built inland – closer to the geographic centre of March Township.

That second Church was to be known as St John’s – which stands today as not only the largest Anglican church in the original March Township area, but also one of the oldest churches of any denomination in the entire Ottawa Valley.

The Cornerstone of St John’s was laid July 22, 1839, along with that of the Parish’s next-door parsonage – which was to become known in its early days as the ‘Eisdale Rectory.’  This rectory sits right beside the church and has been somewhat celebrated in the history of both the Parish and the Township for the fact it boasted no less than five fireplaces.

Far from being inappropriately ostentatious or overly luxurious, however, these multiple fireplaces met a real need – especially in pre-electricity days.  They kept warm and cozy many a visiting clergyman, church dignitary or other parish guest of the type the priest and his family were typically expected to house for overnight stays during the long cold rural winters before the advent of electric heating or oil and gas furnaces.

The early years – 1840 to 1900

The first service in St John’s is recorded as having occurred on April 15, 1840, with the marriage of two local people – William Hedley and Bridget Younghusband being conducted by the Rev. W.F. Stuart Harper.  (William went on to serve from 1866 to 1868 as St John’s warden.  Both he and Bridget are buried in the church cemetery.)

While regular use of the church had so begun in 1840, the title to the St John’s site did not become secure in the hands of the Church until 1849 – following a reportedly ‘complicated’ series of land transactions and ownership changes involving its original donor and a series of other parties.

It is reliably reported that one particularly notable figure from mid-19th Century Canadian church and political history – namely the prominent educator, bishop and leading player in the Upper Canadian “family compact,”  The Honourable and Right Reverend John Strachan, visited St John's and St Mary's churches during an early tour of this entire Diocese in 1840.  (Strachan, considered to be the father of public education in Ontario, had just become the first bishop of the newly created Diocese of Toronto in 1839 and served in that capacity until his death in 1867.)

However, as Anglican churches can’t be formally consecrated until it is completely debt-free, it wasn’t until July 3, 1896, that St John's, South March, finally saw its long-awaited service of consecration conducted by the bishop of the new Diocese of Ottawa, The Right Reverend Charles Hamilton.

It is interesting to note that a key mechanism for funding St John’s and its sister churches in the Parish of March, and many others built about the same time, was the “sale” of particular pews to subscribing members:  if you sat closer to the front, you’d pay more for your pew.  Of course, the now ubiquitous collection plate some time ago displaced this fund-raising method.  (More recently, there are today’s increasingly popular preauthorized monthly automatic remittances from supporting parishioners’ bank accounts.)

Immediately adjacent to the church and rectory buildings, our cemetery reflects the long history of both the parish and its neighbouring township, being the final resting place of many builders of both secular and church communities through the decades since the 1840s, including many of the Parish’s clergy.  Beautifully maintained, with both a labyrinth and a quiet garden on its fringes, it is framed by majestic overarching trees, whose branches provide both shade and, annually in the fall, a glorious blaze of rich colors to warm the heart and lift spirits Heavenward.

1896
St Paul’s, Dunrobin

In the late 1800s, there was a growing population in the Dunrobin Corners area and this expanding community needed a closer-to-home alternative to worshipping at either St Mary’s or St John’s.

A December 5, 1894 meeting in the Orange Hall in Dunrobin under the leadership of the Reverend Walter Henry Stiles saw a building committee appointed to get to the task of creating our third local church – St Paul’s, which was actually completed two years later. Accounts of that day reveal that the kickoff meeting in the Orange Hall saw ten very committed men pledge the then quite significant sum of $635 towards the project.

Stone was drawn mostly from the local quarry of one Henry Vahey, with ornamental stone pieces being hauled in from Carleton Place.  St Paul’s and all the Anglican churches built in early March and surrounding townships were built of stone – in contrast to the small log structures that tended to be favored by other faith groups. While the church went up, services were conducted in the Orange Hall. When the new church building opened, it’s reported the first couple soon thereafter married were a Mr. and Mrs. MacGregor.

St Paul’s added a parish hall in the 1970s and it has since then become an important community and church meeting place.

The 20th Century:  high tech innovations!

A telephone was installed in the rectory in 1913.  Another innovation was realized in 1926 when electric lights were added.  A garage was built for the rectory in 1939.

Making good use of their spacious and beautiful church grounds, the people of St John’s are recorded as having held one of their first lawn social events as early as May, 1923. That tradition has evolved over the intervening 85+ years into today’s annual Lawn Supper, a church fundraising and community fellowship event held every year – usually in the second half of June, on the lawn of the rectory.

St John’s expands

St John’s celebrated its Centennial in 1940 and underwent extensive repairs and renovations in the late 1950s.

In 1958, a basement was excavated under the church so a new oil furnace could be installed – a major improvement over an ancient wood furnace that was quite insufficient on winter’s coldest days! The excavation was not a feat of sophisticated construction techniques by any modern standards!  Parishioners and their helpers did it all by hand!  Apparently everyone helped out, including the local sheriff and his sons.  Shovels were used to dig out the basement and earth was placed in buckets to be pulled up by rope through a hole in the floor.

St John’s Sunday School and Church Hall

Up to and including most of the 1960s, Sunday School at St John's was held in the old March Township municipal hall a few hundred yards away on March Road. Then, in the late 1960s (in a period of rapid new subdivision growth in the neighbourhood), after much congregational debate, it was finally decided the time had come to add a hall to the church proper for Sunday School, social and other church meeting uses. This new kitchen-equipped structure just behind the church building was dedicated on Sept. 22, 1969.

Expansion in 1991

In 1992 a newly expanded church hall was dedicated by Archbishop Edwin Lackey.  The expansion included a new entrance and narthex to make St John’s accessible to the disabled.  It also included office space and a modestly expanded kitchen.

Time passed and, as the surrounding area had continued to experience both a late 1990s employment boom in the Kanata high tech sector and accelerating growth in the building of residential subdivisions, more and more new parishioners were joining St John’s.  So 36 years after the original hall structure had been finished, congregational approval was given at a special vestry meeting February 27, 2005 to significantly expand, modernize and improve the St John’ s church hall complex.

Expansion again in 2005

The 1969 hall was virtually doubled in size on both upper and lower levels. The church & hall complex now includes expanded storage space, a choir room, two new washrooms, a small additional clergy office, a much improved kitchen, wheelchair ramp access and more downstairs space for the school. The better than half-million dollars worth of renovation and expansion work carried out in the second half of 2005 also included installation of air conditioning for the upper hall level, and improvements to heating, fresh water and sewage-handling systems.

Changes to the Interior of St John’s

A new window dedicated, at the memorial service in June 1993, to the Richardson and Armstrong families, and pioneers was installed.  In 2008, a new window, depicting God’s Creation, was installed.  It was dedicated in October 2009 in memory of Mabel and Norman Younghusband, Ida and Stuart Younghusband, and Gladys and Roger Drake.

In [c.2003], St John’s Renewal program significantly altered the sanctuary.  The rood screen was removed to reduce the separation of the chancel from the nave.  The altar was moved out from the wall in order to allow the priest to face the congregation during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  The steps into the chancel were removed and the altar rail was moved toward the nave and became accessible to the disabled due to the elimination of three steps.  The interior of the church was redecorated with a new colour scheme and carpeting.  A memorial book and wall were created to properly preserve the details of memorial donations received throughout the years.

Still though, 170 years after opening, our original church building itself looks virtually the same from the exterior – a simple and unpretentious rectangular building with its original exterior walls of locally quarried stone still standing proudly as an eye-pleasing monument to the faithful newcomers who built it.

Clergy Serving the Parish of March

There is a long list of members of the clergy who have ministered to the Parish of March.  However, perhaps a unique circumstance occurred over the course of forty-two years when the Parish was served by only two rectors:  the Rev. Edward C. Attwell (1965-1988) and the Rev. David J. Clunie (1988-2008).

With the growth of the congregation, a second Sunday service was added at St John’s in March 1989, and so additional part-time clergy and a number of theological students were engaged to rotate through the Parish to share the responsibilities of the four Sunday morning services.

Since 1996 part-time Assistant Priests have been in the Parish, and have been largely Priest-in-charge of St Mary’s and St Paul’s.  In 2008, our first full-time Assistant Curate was hired, a reflection of the vitality of the Parish.

Please see the messages from our current clergy, the Rev. Karen A. Coxon – Incumbent, and the Rev. Jessica Worden-Bolling – Associate Priest.

The Parish of March Serving the Community

The Parish of March has had a long-standing relationship and commitment to assisting its local and global communities.  From its sponsorship in the [1980s] of a refugee family from Vietnam, to its part in establishing the Kanata Food Cupboard in 1985, to the Sunday Schools’ support through the 1990s of Ryan’s Well, Sleeping Children Around the World, and Plan Canada, to our recently renewed commitment to the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, and thriving commitment to Cornerstone Women’s Shelter, and Centre 454 Men’s Shelter, the people of the Parish have embraced the world around it.

Want to read more history of the Parish of March?

Much more information is available from:

  • a 150th anniversary book entitled - "A History of St. John's Anglican Church, South March 1839-1989" by Shirley Hendry.
  • March Past
  • OGS St John’s Cemetery publication
  • Diocese of Ottawa Archives

Credits:

Much of the information about events prior to the 1990s presented here has been taken from "A History of St. John's Anglican Church, South March 1839-1989" by Shirley Hendry, with acknowledgment hereby gratefully extended to its author.

We also acknowledge the assistance of further notes supplied to us for this short history by longtime parishioner Juanita Snelgrove, a descendant of Hamnett Pinhey.

We also acknowledge the incredible resources that are the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa Archives and its Archivists, present and past, Dr. Glenn J Lockwood, and Mr. Jack P. Francis, respectively.