Flash of the past: an octagonal church adorns the village of Speedside
On Victoria Day in 1880, under the approving gaze of his pastor, the Reverend Charles Duff, James Goldie brandishes the ceremonial silver trowel as he lays the cornerstone of the Congregational Church in the village of Speedside, a little up the Speed River from Guelph.
Following this essay in Masonry, Goldie “delivered a very neat little speech of congratulations and an expression of his personal admiration for tasty, debt-free country churches”.
It’s unclear what prompted Goldie to describe the building as “tasty,” but it certainly stood out for its octagonal shape. Perhaps some parishioners had fond memories of an octagonal church in the old country. Perhaps they followed the lead of Methodist John Wesley, who favored the style to differentiate it from the conventional, rectangular buildings of more established denominations.
Regardless, the structure received praise from the Reverend Thomas Hall when he visited in 1883, who described it as a model building:
“You just have to speak in a low voice to be heard everywhere. It is constructed so that the congregation is grouped around the pulpit, close enough to hold a conversation with the speaker in the lectern. After speaking, I thought why don’t people build their places of worship in this style, when people can see, hear, sing and speak with ease, and not these long, narrow, gothic, medieval constructions , echoing and wild. , to please the artists, kill the preachers and put the congregations to sleep.
It was far from certain that the village of Speedside would have a church of such distinction. First organized in 1845, the congregation initially relied on lay preachers or visiting pastors from Guelph or other nearby communities.
In 1850 he secured the services of the Reverend Richard Williams of Owen Sound. Unfortunately, that relationship turned sour. The reverend’s salary dropped considerably with arrears. He found the deacons’ opinions rather distasteful, as they described his plans for the parish as “despotic” and “rogue”. He resigned in 1854.
In 1856 the Reverend Enoch Barker took office in the stone chapel the congregation had just built. His salary also fell into arrears, and he resigned in 1861, citing health problems.
In 1862 Reverend John Brown arrived. He resigned in 1864 due to the consequences of being thrown from his horse.
In 1866 Duff accepted the call. After a windfall eliminated the church’s debt, everything seemed to be going smoothly. However, at the end of the year, Duff resigned and accepted an appointment in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Money, he said, was not the problem, although the new parish offered more money. Speedside parishioners wrote an angry letter about the headhunters to the church’s national newsletter, which later published a response from a representative from Liverpool, accusing them of not paying enough to allow their pastor to support a family.
While the congregation searched for a replacement, the Reverend William Clarke of Guelph, soon to become the first (and only) rector of the Ontario Agricultural College, replaced him.
In 1871 the Methodist Reverend M.D. Archer took up the position. However, the congregation did not approve of his plans to hold revival meetings, leading to his resignation the following year. Clarke resumed supply duties.
Surprisingly, Duff agreed to return from Liverpool to Speedside in 1875. The construction of a spacious parsonage may have helped influence this, as well as plans to build a distinctive new church within a few years. This is how Duff was on hand to preside over the foundation of the new building in 1880.
Struggles like this to sustain congregations were not uncommon in rural parishes. The fact that the parish remained intact testifies to its determination and also to the success of its building program.
Speedside Church joined the United Church of Canada in 1925 and its savory form continues to grace Guelph-Eramosa to this day.