By Mike Smith
For several weeks this fall I helped edit an illustrated history of Pembroke authored by my collector buddy, Jack de la Vergne of North Bay. Jack is a retired, internationally recognized mining engineer who’s not only written some classic texts on hardrock mining (even one in Spanish!), he’s also put together lavishly illustrated histories of North Bay, Mattawa, and now Pembroke. For collectors, Jack’s histories are tailor-made for collectors. They’re illustrated with oodles of philatelic covers (stamped envelopes), and loads of classic postcards from the golden age (1900–1914). In the Pembroke book, the section on pioneer churches reminded me of the importance of Christianity in Canada’s early development. In this article then, I’d like to show Wayback Times readers some very collectible postcards of this Christian heritage.
One of the highlights of my visit to Quebec for the 2006 Montreal Postcard Show was seeing the rebirth of one of the most beautiful Protestant Churches in the country. St. James United Church, formerly St. James Methodist Church (see Figure 1), was constructed on St. Catherine’s Street in 1889. Once nicknamed the “Cathedral Church of Methodism,” this massive French-Gothic structure almost disappeared from view over the years as downtown businesses were built right beside it. In fact, until a decade or so ago only the facade was visible from the street. (When I lived in Montreal in the 1980s, I actually thought the façade was all that was left!) Thankfully, beginning in 2005 several adjacent buildings were pulled down and much of St. James United Church, now a National Historic Site, basks in the sun again.
Although the Anglican Church of Canada boasts some of the most impressive church buildings in the county, in rural communities more humble edifices are the usually the norm. St. John’s Anglican Church in Bath, Ontario is a good example (see Figure 2). This pretty little country church, originally constructed out of logs by United Empire Loyalists in the 18th century, still serves Bath’s Anglican community. According to the church’s website, it was rebuilt three times – once to replace the log structure in 1795 and twice more after devastating fires in 1919 and 1925. The date on the postcard (1793) appears to be an error but no matter, this is still a dandy little collectible. The pastor standing at the front door and the old cemetery certainly give this card great character.
The W.G. MacFarlane postcard shown as Figure 3 is collectible on at least two levels. The image of Halifax’s St. Mary’s Cathedral would certainly attract church postcard collectors. And patriotic and heraldic postcard collectors (like me!) would want it for the Halifax crest upper right. St. Mary’s Cathedral, by the way, was constructed in 1784 as the first Roman Catholic parish in Halifax. Prior to 1784 there was a statute in the city stating that no Roman Catholic could hold a public post, nor could the Roman Catholic Church own land or erect houses of worship. Yikes! The wars between Protestant England and Catholic France for the ownership of Acadia obviously took a generation or so to forget.
Sunday school is the subject of the “twin” postcards shown as Figure 4. The card on the left was published by William Briggs, Toronto, and is an invitation to attend the Charlton Avenue Sunday School on September 27th, 1908. Blank spaces have been designed into the card for the date, location, and name of the Sunday School Superintendent. The postcard on the right is an American version published by the Goodenough & Woglom Co., 122 Nassau St., New York. This card is less flexible in terms of usage in that the only space available to write information is under the salutation. Both postcards have a very patriotic bugler-boy and flag, so I couldn’t resist adding them to my collection.
I chuckled when I first came across the Figure 5 postcard showing Ralph Connor’s Church in Winnipeg. It just seemed like an odd name for a church. Was he the pastor or maybe a prominent citizen who donated the land and/or built the church for the community? Anyway, all was revealed after a little Internet sleuthing. Ralph Connor was actually a pseudonym for Reverend Dr. Charles William Gordon (1860–1937). Dr. Gordon was not only a renowned church leader, he was once a master at Toronto’s Upper Canada College, served as Chaplain of Canada’s Cameron Highlanders in the First World War (1914–1918), and was a best-selling author (hence the pseudonym). He also helped create the United Church of Canada in 1925. With so many accomplishments under his belt, the church name doesn’t sound so odd anymore.