Genealogy | Transcriptions | St. Paul's (1793-1906)
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1. The Pioneer Period

In the first period of the congregation's history two names bulk largely -- the Rev. Jabez Collver, its founder and its pastor for twenty-five years; and the Rev. John Bryning who ministered to the flock for about 18 years. As much of the information concerning these has never been printed and has to be gathered from widely separated sources, we give it more fully than limited space will permit for those whose lives are known to us all and whose names are household words. The Rev. Jabez Collver was a native of New Jersey; and as a young man he left home to push his way in life to a settlement not far distant which he found destitute of religious ordinances. Filled with youthful fervour and zeal for his Master he began to hold meetings, and his services were so acceptable that the people invited him to give himself wholly to the work and become their settled pastor.

The Presbytery licensed him as a preacher for that district, and when he was 30 years of age they ordained him to the ministry, without a college training.   Like D. L. Moody he learned his profession by following it. That he was a man of great physical vigor and of mental force is evidenced by the fact that at the age of 64 years he decided to face the hardships of pioneer life in what was then the wilds of Canada. In 1793, having been promised grants of land for himself and is sons, he came to Norfolk County as a United Empire Loyalist. He was accompanied by seven sons and one daughter, most of them already married and having young children. In due time he had selected four choice lots in Windham, and patents were issued on March 12th, 1797. His home was on the lot on which the Windham Methodist Church stands. It was the first log cabin in Windham; and it served as manse or church as occasion required.  The county when he came was an almost unbroken primeval forest with one five or six families of white people in it. It had only a dozen members in full communion, but in the new parts of Canada to-day there are many new churches no larger.

As settlers came in he visited them and gave them counsel and encouragement; he taught them the Word of God and prayed with them; he held meetings where he could gather two or three together; he baptized their children, married their young people, and buried their dead. Thus he helped to keep alive the knowledge of God in the homes and hearts of the fathers of Norfolk. He visited all parts of the county, at first on foot (on snowshoes in winter), then in the saddle, and later in a rough gig or sulky made by himself. A huge cow-bell on the old mare's neck gave notice of his approach, invited the colt to follow, and enabled him to find the beast when ready to start again. He received no pay for his labors, but was content to share the frugal repast of the settler, and to sleep on a shake-down on the floor. Tradition says, however, that once at least his people presented him with a fine linen shirt, which was likely made, according to a Dutch-American custom, from the linen provided by the women of the congregation for the communion service.

In his autobiography he states: "I was ordained according to the Cambridge Presbyterian order, which was a congregational platform.  The ordination was performed by ministers and elders by the desire of the church. In that order by the grace of God I still continue."  It was Presbyterian as the congregation was governed, not by the direct vote of the members, as in Congregational churches, but by an elected Session of ministers and elders. (A republic, not a democracy.)   It was "Congregational" at that time, as the "Cambridge" Presbytery left its churches as free as Presbyterian churches are to-day. While Collver's church in Norfolk was Presbyterian, it was beyond the reach of Presbytery, Synod, or Assembly. He continued preaching till almost the day of his death, which occurred on December 29th, 1818, in his eighty-eighth year. "His parish was the wilderness, his reward the Master's 'Well done.'" He and his wife were buried in what afterwards became the Old Windham Churchyard, their graves, marked by stones without inscription, being immediately surrounded by those of their children and grandchildren. On investigation, one is astonished to find how large a proportion of the people of Norfolk, although not all bearing his name, are descended from the Rev. Jabez Collver.

When he died the member of his church were like sheep without a shepherd and without a fold; but in almost every home there was a church, for the family alter was everywhere erected. The Sabbath was strictly observed; and the members took counsel together and held together during the vacancy, notwithstanding many invitations to join other denominations. Before Mr. Collver's death the Methodists had begun work in the county, and had organized a congregation in Woodhouse, and built a church there. Soon after his death they effected an organization and built a church near the spot were Mr. Collver had ministered to his little flock. The Presbyterians gladly worshipped in the meantime with their brethren and were cordially invited to unite with them permanently. Some did so as they saw little prospect of their own church sending them a minister; but the greater number were loyal to the church of their convictions and of their fathers; and at length they found a pastor for themselves when they invited John Bryning of Mount Pleasant to preach to them.


Historical Chart


Mr. Bryning had come from England to New Brunswick whence in 1820 he followed his eldest son, John, to Long Point Settlement. Like Mr. Collver he began the work of the ministry without a college training. He taught school at Forestville and elsewhere in the county; and being a man of decided piety, mighty in the Scriptures, and of marked ability as a public speaker, he soon found his Sabbaths employed in conducting religious services at Forestville, Normandale, Scotland, Oakland, and Mount Pleasant; and before long his whole time was given to the work.

About 1822 or 1823 he began to come once a month to Simcoe. This he continued till 1830 when "The United Presbytery of Upper Canada" was formed and took him and his work under its care. Being satisfied with his piety, attachments, and acceptability, the Presbytery licensed him in August 1830; and on Nov. 3rd they ordained him and inducted him as pastor of the churches at Mount Pleasant and Simcoe. From then till 1840 he gave Simcoe fortnightly services.

Mr. Bryning was in more senses than one a great man. Physically he was great; well proportioned and muscular, he was of the astonishing weight of 412 pounds. He was married three times and had fifteen vigorous sons and daughters. Two sons (physicians) and two widowed daughters are still alive.

He was loyal to his work in Canada. A church in Batavia, N.Y., offered him $1,000 a year, which he declined, although Canada gave him but half that amount.  He did a solid and enduring work in Simcoe, and his genial, sanctified life is still remembered with affection by some who knew him 65 and 70 years ago.  On Sept. 15th, 1853, he "fell asleep" at Mount Pleasant, age 84 years.

In his day all the churches in Simcoe seem to have conducted their services in the old Grammar School, a frame building that stood in the square back of where Austin's drug store now stands.  Afterwards the building was moved directly westward to the west side of Kent Street.  In 1838 a movement was begun for the building of a Presbyterian church.  A subscription list, which we still possess, was opened at a meeting on Dec. 16th, 1838, and was well signed, but for some reason the work was allowed to drop.

In Mr. Bryning's time population in Norfolk was increasing rapidly; marriages were many; but none were authorized to perform the ceremony except Roman, Anglican, and Presbyterian clergymen. Consequently so many were the marriages solemnized in the Manse that the minister's children could repeat the marriage service.  On one occasion the Manse witnessed a triple marriage of three sisters.

Mr. Bryning's elders were Abraham Youngs, Jonas Chamberlain, a Mr. Kieder, and John Polley. Mr. Youngs served as an elder from about 1833 till the union of 1876, and died Sept. 12th, 1879, aged 92 years.  Mr. Polley served from about 1836 till his death on March 12, 1873. His godly and practical life was a blessing to the church and community; and his home was for many years the ministers' headquarters in Simcoe.  Both Mr. Youngs and Mr. Polley served in St. Andrew's church after the division of 1846.

"The United Presbytery of Upper Canada," to which Simcoe congregation now belonged, had been formed only a few months before ordaining Mr. Bryning. Its half dozen ministers came from different branches of the Presbyterian church in Britain and the United States and settled throughout the Province. It soon developed into a Synod of seventeen ministers and their congregations. These, in 1840, united with the larger equally recent Synod of the Church of Scotland in Canada; and from that time Mr. Bryning confined his labors to Mount Pleasant and vicinity.

In the remaining six years before the congregation divided, five men were sent to take charge of it in succession, namely, Mr. Dey, who remained two years, Messrs. Kingin, Graham, Thos. Scott, and John Dyer, all of whom are remembered by survivors of their day.

The Rev. John Dyer, (once a Congregationalist) was sent to Simcoe by the Presbytery of Hamilton, and in one year made a profound and lasting impression. He was brought up a sailor, but being a devout young man with extraordinary oratorical gifts and widely acquainted with his Bible, he did splendid work among sailors and others in England, New Brunswick, New York, and on our own Lakes. He electrified the easy going churches in Simcoe and vicinity, leading Vittoria to build their present church, Port Dover to prepare for building, and securing for Simcoe church the land on which their first church was built on the gore formed by the union of Dean and John Streets. Leaving Simcoe he ministered for a time to St. Andrew's Church, Galt. Later he started to visit Cornish fellow countrymen who were mining on the shore of Lake Superior; he embarked at Sault Ste. Marie but the vessel with all on board went down in a storm. "No man knowth of his sepulchre unto this day."

Rev. John Bryning


Mr. John Polley




Rev. John Dyer

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