In 1972 the Stratford Perth Archives created a travelling display of 70 photographs of St. Marys homes, showing a variety of building styles and materials, a sampling of older residences. These photographs are now part of the collection of the St. Marys Museum where they are valuable for property research projects. What they strikingly reveal is the permanence of our older neighbourhoods. Almost all the houses are still standing four decades later. Some have changed, often – if not always – for the better. Only a few, such as the triple brick cottage at 752 Queen Street East, have been demolished.
So has the old Presbyterian Church hall, the building in this week’s photograph. In fact, it was on the brink of demolition when the picture was taken, a surprising exception to the residences that make up most of this collection. Its simple, clean lines must have caught the photographer’s eye as he walked along Widder Street and so he recorded this symbol of the past.
The hall was constructed from a couple of 19th century drive sheds that had provided shelter for horses and rigs during lengthy sermons, a feature of Presbyterian Sundays. A church history, written in 1948, describes the sheds’ transformation into a hall in the early 1930s. Murray Mitchell, whose family has been associated with this church for generations, recalls that there were a few families who still used horses and so, at the west of the building, drive shed space remained to accommodate them. The Reverend John Riddell, minister at the time, was very involved in the project and arranged for a garage at the east near the manse.
Mitchell recollects that the hall was very well built, creating pleasant, much-needed space for a variety of functions, particularly for young people’s activities in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. It was heated by a big stone fireplace in the southwest corner. The interior was finished in tongue and groove and the exterior covered in “simulated brick.” The peaked roof and large door hinges on the south-facing vestibule echoed the main entrances to the church.
In 1966-67, the church itself was extensively remodelled following the amalgamation of First and Knox Presbyterian Churches. The space in the basement, previously constricted by cubicles for Sunday School classes along the sides, was reconfigured as a large, common area. This meant more space for special occasions and less need for the old hall. By this time, the hall was showing its age. With no basement, it often had a musty smell and the floor was beginning to sag. It was demolished in 1975. The new addition, constructed in 1993, now beautifully fills this portion of the church property.