The mystery of the old steps

These old steps in the heart of “downtown” Queensborough – just a bit west of what was for many years Bobbie (Sager) Ramsey’s general store – always intrigued me when I was a kid growing up in Queensborough. In those days – the 1960s and early 1970s – they were used primarily as a perch for the “big kids” in town, who would sit and smoke cigarettes and survey (and comment on) the passing scene, which was somewhat busier – what with two general stores just “down’t street” – than it is today. I think we kids had a vague idea that there had once been a church on the little hill that the stairs led up to, but it was a very vague idea indeed. If someone had asked me, I think I would have said that it was a Baptist church.

This picture of the Methodist Church was provided by Jean Tokley, a longtime member of St. Andrew’s United Church who is still going strong, and is in the book Times to Remember in Elzevir Township. If you look closely you can see the steps leading up to the church.

In fact, as I have recently learned, it was the village’s Methodist Church, built in 1872 and opened and dedicated at the beginning of January 1873. An old photo from the history book Times to Remember in Elzevir Township by Jean Holmes shows a handsome white (frame, I think) building of some size – which seems strange when you see that empty lot today, overgrown with bushes and trees; you’d never think it was big enough for a church to be built on.

What I didn’t know in all the years I was growing up at the Queensborough Manse was that the Manse itself had a very close connection to that dilapidated set of stairs and the church that had once sat atop them. The Manse, you see, was originally the Methodist manse, built (in 1888) to house the minister of that church.

That seems funny, since for all my lifetime and many decades before I was born the red-brick Manse was the home of the minister serving the red-brick church on the other side of town, then (and now) St. Andrew’s United Church – my father being one of those ministers. But before church union (which happened in Queensborough earlier than it did in the United Church in general; I’ll get to that in a minute) St. Andrew’s was a Presbyterian church. (And I have yet to read far enough into Times to Remember in Elzevir Township to find out where its Manse was located.)

So yes, the union of Canada’s Methodist, Congregationalist and Presbyterian churches (except there were holdouts among the latter group) into the United Church of Canada took place in 1925, but Queensborough’s own little church union, whereby the village’s Methodists and Presbyterians joined forces and chose to worship at St. Andrew’s, happened a bit earlier, in 1921. I presume it was because of dwindling numbers in the two congregations – though if that was the case things had gone south since the Methodist Church’s earlier days, when the church was apparently booming. Here’s a piece the two ministers who served it (on alternate Sundays) wrote in the North Hastings Review (the local paper, later to become the Madoc Review and now sadly gone) in 1885:

“This church has grown so rapidly that scarcely seat room sufficient can be had for either Sabbath School or public preaching … The fine new shed just completed is a great convenience … Though about 100 feet in length it is already found to be too small to hold the vehicles during the church services.” (That would be horse-drawn vehicles, of course.)

Initials carved into history: I believe they read T.H.S.

Well, it’s hard to conjure up that picture today as one stands and contemplates the dilapidated old steps. (After that 1921 church union the building was, according to Jean Holmes’s book, converted into a dwelling, and then in 1935 it was torn down “and trucked to Bowmanville, where it was used for the construction of a service station.”) It’s nice to imagine it being such a bustling spot, though. And I found a couple of reminders of people who had lived and been connected to the place long, long ago when I was poking about there recently. Carved into the ends of some of the steps are initials, presumably traced there when the cement had just been poured. One of them reads (as far as I can make out) “T.H.S.” Another is “W.A.G.” I would love to know who those people were: workers who helped build the church, or at least install the steps? Some of the founders and prominent members of the church?

Or maybe just some mischievous kids who couldn’t resist immortalizing themselves in wet cement – the precursors of the ones who, four generations later, would sit and pass the time of day, watching life go by in Queensborough, on those very same steps.

10 thoughts on “The mystery of the old steps

  1. “…the history book Times to Remember in Elzevir Township by Jean Holmes…”

    We are waiting for you to retire to Queensborough and write version 2 of ‘Times to Remember’…and you could also be the “writer is residence” at Mary Kay’s forthcoming coffee shop so locals can regale you with their anecdotes.

    • Glad you caught the Nancy Drew reference, Nancy! I am quite sure it came to mind because I have been reading a lovely memoir called When We Were the Kennedys – about a family in Mexico, Maine, home of a huge paper mill (a town that I have driven through more than once) and what their lives were like when, in 1963, their father died suddenly, rather like JFK – and the author, Monica Wood, writes about how she was so smitten with Nancy Drew that she even tried writing some of Nancy’s adventures herself.

      • I was just so pleased to find an adventurous young woman named Nancy featured in a story…even if I never did figure out what colour “titian hair” was.

      • Oh man, yes, Nancy’s “titian hair” – that brings back memories! It strikes me as reddish, but doesn’t Nancy in general seem – as leading lady and all – blonde? And let’s not forget her pals Bess (pleasingly plump) and George (ahead of her time on the gender front).

  2. The initials W.A.G. would very likely have been my Great Uncle, Winfred (Fred) Alexander Glover’s (1890 – 1918) initials. Fred’s father, Alex Glover was on a building committee list in 1888. Fred was killed on Aug. 26, 1918 in the Great War. A memorial service was held in the Queensboro Methodist Church on Sunday, Sept. 15, 1918 for Sergt. Fred Glover.

    • Steve, I can’t tell you what a shiver it sent up my spine when I read your words about those initials I discovered last fall – and as you’ll have doubtless seen, I mentioned the connection you made in my Remembrance Day post a couple of days ago. It was all based on the story of your Great-Uncle Fred, which you told so well in your booklet about him. What a wonderful service you did his memory – and by extension, that of all the farm boys who marched off to that terrible war at the beginning of the last century – with your research and writing!

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