THE HISTORY OF BETHUNE UNITED CHURCH
On July 1st, 1867 Canada became a country. The British colonies in North America were united under the British North America Act and became the Dominion of Canada with John A. MacDonald as the first Prime Minister.
The Township of McLean (now known as Township of Lake of Bays) was opened for settlement in 1868 the under the Free Grant and Homestead Act of the Dominion of Canada. Much of the community of Baysville is built on the first three original tracts of land granted to Mr. W.H. Brown, of Burford, near Brantford in 1871. Many of the early pioneers were Methodists and Presbyterians, and the first record we have of a church service was held in the home of Mr. Brown, conducted by a Methodist Minister, Mr. Webster. A Presbyterian Minister, Rev. Allen Findlay, came in from Bracebridge and ministered to the Presbyterian families, performing their marriages, baptisms and burials.
From 1876-1882 religious services were held in the little frame schoolhouse which is now the Anglican Church Parish Hall. As the years passed, the Methodists and Presbyterians in Baysville became quite united, a good many years before the official church union and in 1882 they decided to build a church. The land for the building was given by Mr. W.H. Brown, a very generous and broadminded man. Later on, Mr. Brown also gave land to the Anglican and Roman Catholic residents when they were ready to build their churches.
There was very little cash among the settlers, and business was carried on by the barter system, trading cord-wood for groceries, or to have their grain ground into flour at the local gristmill. Among the early pioneers were many trained workmen, who had served their apprenticeship at their own trade, before coming to Muskoka. They were trustworthy and honest men, who did their work well, with pride and thoroughly, and put their best efforts in the building of their church, as the condition of the building now testifies, 100 years later. Some of the highlights noted in our early minute books tell of the socials, garden parties and congregational picnics, arranged by the “Ladies Aid” to raise funds to buy paint and to make repairs at the Manse. There were logs to cut and make into lumber and shingles, fence posts and fencing, and work “bees” were organized.
From 1876-1882 our religious needs were cared for by young student ministers, but it was due to the untiring efforts of a very earnest and dedicated young Christian student minister, Mr. Malcolm Bethune (father of Dr. Norman Bethune) that resulted in the start, completion, opening and dedication of Bethune Presbyterian Church on July 29, 1883. How proud those early pioneers must have been, on that first Sunday, singing in their new little church, built by their own hands, a product of their love, labour and “sweat”. There are descendents of those fine pioneers in our congregation today.
Until 1899 we were served by a student minister in summer and a lay minister in winter. Mr. John Robertson Sr. was first Elder, living at Brown’s Brae, on what is now known as Glenmount Rd. It took some effort in those early days, to walk those several miles of bad roads, especially in winter, and be regular attendants every Sunday. These pioneers were hard-working, tough and dedicated to God.
In 1900 The Rev. John Davidson become our first ordained minister, with Augmentation Fund of the church helping to pay his salary, and he was followed by the Rev. A. Robertson. But again we had to return to our original plan of a student in summer and a lay minister in winter.
By 1915 Lake of Bays cottage property was being developed, and property owners and summer visitors to this area contributed much toward the support of our church. With the help of Dr. and Mrs. Peck, summer visitors from U.S.A., we were again able to call our own minister, Rev. W. C. Conning, and buy a house for the Manse. In the early 20’s our records show Baysville’s portion of the minister’s annual salary was $225.00. Our Manse rented for $5.00/month in 1923, when once again we had no resident minister. A C.G.I.T. group was formed in 1932, now disbanded, and in 1933 it was decided to put away the oil lamps in the Manse and install hydro. In later years, when a minister served two or more churches, a manse was no longer required. It was sold once again to become a private family home (the home was sold again to Bob and Shirley Prittie and in 1986 it became the Manse Gallery).
As the years passed and after church union in 1925, the outlying countryside became more populated, and we were taken in to the Muskoka United Charge Parish 1944 to 1949, when our minister Mr. Proctor was killed by a truck in Bracebridge. The parish ministers at that time were Rev. T. Tucker, Rev. S.R. Henderson, Rev. W. Wilson, Deaconess Steadman and Rev. Miss F. Hunter. The parish consisted of eighteen points or churches, served by three ministers. With 500 miles to cover, and so much to do, there was little opportunity for the ministers to get to know their people very well.
In 1949 Presbytery granted us permission to again become a separate entity (Baysville/ Brown’s Brae) with Rev. Fred Berner as minister 1949-1952, and Rev. J. McCartney 1952-1954. Presbytery again appointed Rev. Berner in 1954, until a suitable supply could be found. Our ministers accepted the challenge and carried on until in 1962 the 18 points were broken up into three charges of five points each. Since then several smaller churches have been closed. At one time we were one of three churches in the Lock’s Pastoral charge, namely Locks, Knox and Bethune. Later, with the closing of Locks, Bethune and its sister church, Knox United in Port Sydney, became the HEART OF MUSKOKA PASTORAL CHARGE.
In 1958, when the position and direction of Highway 118E (now 117) from Bracebridge through Baysville to Dorset was changed, our church building was moved over on the lot, after first excavating a basement for furnace and Sunday school room. The church itself was then renovated inside with paneling and painted outside.
In the winter of 1973, because of heavy smoke damage to their church through a faulty space heater, our Roman Catholic villagers had the use of our church for their Sunday Worship, following our morning service.
By 1977 we were able to cover the outside of the church with aluminum siding and in 1979 to 1980 the basement was finished, with Sunday school room, kitchen and washrooms. A Bethune report of the time states: "We have an active Sunday school, a strong United Church Women’s group and an active Youth Fellowship group. We have no individual caretaker as such, but our U.C.W. has set up a rotary system, to clean and dust the church. In June we have a “Spring Cleaning Bee” for two days, and thoroughly sweep down, wash, wax and polish the church from top to bottom."
1983 was the 100th Anniversary of Bethune United Church. There were Centennial celebrations throughout the year. In February there was a special service to honour Rev. S. Littlewood and he became our Minister Emeritus. On the weekend of July 9/10 there was a garden party and a special service on the Sunday.
In 1986 we welcomed Rev. Judith Springett who began her ministry.
1987 was the 25th Anniversary of the UCW. In 1962 the Women’s Association and the Women’s Missionary Society combined to form the United Church Women. The Purpose of the UCW is: “To unite the women of the congregation for the total mission of the church and to provide a medium through which we may express our loyalty and devotion to Jesus Christ in Christian Witness, Study, Fellowship and Service.”
Rev. Alan Boyd began his ministry at Bethune in 1999 as Ordained Supply.
In 2001, Bethune undertook to host the summer Toronto Conference. Hundreds of people had to be housed and fed at this event. With the help of other local churches, and with the leadership of Alan Parker, the Conference was a success in every way.
Rev. Alan Boyd completed his studies at Queens College and became a regular member of the Order of Ministry in the United Church of Canada in 2001. Also, the Mission Enthusiast position was established. The role of the person who holds this position is to keep the M&S Fund a priority in the minds, hearts and financial givings of members and adherents. This is done mainly by reading the “Minutes for Mission” during worship. A Benevolent Fund was initiated by the Stewards.
In 2003 we celebrated our 120th anniversary. Vintage clothing was worn and there was a special guest, John Wesley, in costume.
In 2004 Bethune and Knox were approved as a Training Site for Lay Pastoral Ministers, the first time that Muskoka Presbytery had been accepted as a Training Site. They welcomed Sue Wood, LPMiT (Lay Pastoral Minister in Training). Sue Wood was recognized at the May 2005 annual meeting of Toronto Conference as a Lay Pastoral Minister. Three members of the congregation were approved for Lay Worship Leader Training – Nadya Tarasoff, Robert Lawson and Richard Robinson. (Upon successful completion of her studies, Sue became a Designated Lay Minister.)
In 2006, Bethune was given the opportunity to purchase the adjacent property south of the church at a reasonable cost from Elaine Arbuckle and Glen Maynard. In August, the church was connected to the Baysville town water and sewer systems thanks to the generosity of Bruce and Doug Thomas.
2008 was our 125th anniversary. The celebrations were held on the July 19/20 weekend. Former ministers Rev. Alan Boyd and Rev. Judith Springett took part in the service with Pastor Sue Wood. There was a lawn party for the community and dedication of the Labyrinth, Perennial Flower Gardens and Ryckman Memorial Garden.
In 2009 the Church Photo Directory and Website were established. A Church Needs Assessment Committee was created. The results of this committee revealed the need for the formation of a Feasibility Committee to address the accessibility of the church for all members.
From 2000 to 2009 there were many improvements and repairs at Bethune. These included a new church organ, painting the inside of the building, new lighting fixtures for the sanctuary, new metal-clad double door entry system at the main entrance, fire exit and smoke detectors. Improvements were also made outside of the building – exterior church signs, Welcome to Bethune sign, flower/shrub bed across the front of the church and for each corner of the church property. A storage shed was erected for the UCW. Thank you cards were created from a painting by Richard Robinson called Bethune in Bloom.
Bethune continues to have an active Sunday School. Since 2011 the Sunday Schools from Bethune and Knox have combined to present plays to both congregations.
Since 2011 the three Baysville churches have combined to offer very successful FAMILY FEASTS to the people of Baysville.
2012 saw the 50th anniversary of the UCW. The Bethune UCW has been and continues to be a presence in the Baysville community and further afield. Some of the many projects that they have/are affiliated with are: visitation to sick and shut-ins, float in Santa Claus parade, catering, donations to Upper Room, UNICEF, SMMH, Interval House, Massey Centre, Bethune Local and Mission and Service Funds.
The years 2010 and on have been very busy ones at Bethune with regards to the church building. The Feasibility Committee investigated a number of solutions to accessibility, including chair lifts and elevators. None of these were appropriate so a Building Committee, with Chair Bruce Thomas, was set up to explore additions to the existing structure. The plans approved by the congregation included a social room, kitchen, two bathrooms and a totally accessible entrance. Since then there have been many fundraisers: bakery booth at Baysville Farmer’s Market, dinner dances, creation of a Baysville cookbook and cookbook sales, house and garden tours, Canada geese breadboards and lawn/garden ornament sales. As well, there have also been many generous donations of money by many people in the church and the community. On January 29, 2012 the fundraising goal of $292,000 was reached! Digging began for the new addition on July 23, 2012.
The building project continued over a period of six months during which we rejoiced with each noticeable change. The addition by which Bethune United Church becomes totally accessible to all, was completed to everyone's delight in February of 2013.
The new facility opens up a myriad of possibilities to allow us to reach out to the community in a greater way and to be far more creative in how we continue to do God's work within the community.
On the happy occasion of Bethune United Church's 130th Anniversary, the congregation looks to the future and the challenges it may present, with enthusiasm and confidence.
BETHUNE UNITED CHURCH
ORDAINED, LAY and STUDENT MINISTERS
From 1876 – 2013
THE HEART OF MUSKOKA CHARGE
130 years after the church was built, Bethune has moved from an eighteen point charge, in its very early days, to today's two point charge, sharing our Pastor with our close friends at Knox United Church in Port Sydney. The charge is appropriately named "HEART OF MUSKOKA".