W8422a TO JAMES CHISHOLM from a friend William Smith
May 2 1930
To: Mr. James Chisholm James Street Hamilton, Ontario
From: Ottawa, Ontario MEMORIES OF MACNAB IN THE PERIOD OF THE 1860'S TO 1886, (WHEN MR. WILLIAM SMITH MOVED TO OTTAWA)
Ottawa, May 2, 1930
Mr dear James,- [Chisholm]
I was very glad to receive your letter of the 28th ultimo, with its reminder of a promise, lightly but, as I now see, rashly given to Mr. McQuesten to jot down some memories of the church into which I was born and which still has a first hold on my affections.
Although my heart warms as my mind runs back to the spiritual home of my boyhood and early manhood, it is because it was a real home, aglow with loving kindness and good-feeling, and not because anything particular happened in it. Perhaps it was the absence of happenings that constituted its charm.
For my family and myself, my father and mother were members of McNab St. Church from its commencement. They were married by Mr. Inglis, and all their children baptized by him. I was received into full membership in 1880, the first opportunity after I reached manhood. I was taken to Sunday School before I was six, and remained there successively as pupil, librarian and secretary until I left Hamilton in 1886. You see, I can almost re-echo Paul's boast. If any man think he is in close communion with MacNab Street Church, I more.
Looking back to my early boyhood, that to the middle sixties, I can see Mr. Inglis in the pulpit and Mr. Wilson, the Precentor, with tuning fork in his hand, leading the singing. There was no choir in those days, as it was thought that a choir might lessen the zeal of the congregation. We sat during the singing, and stood for prayer.
Mr. Inglis was a preacher of great power, who commanded the reverent admiration of his hearers, at least of the circle in which I lived. Often have I heard the sermon-tasters, quite the equals, I am convinced, of those whom Ian McLaren has commemorated, discuss the discourse of the morning or evening and pronounce it wonderful. But it was whispered about that the minister was a trial to Mrs. Inglis, who sat in a square pew to the left of the pulpit. She had to watch him closely or there would be a repetition of an actual happening when he drew from his pocket and waved in the face of the congregation, a handkerchief full of holes. On another occasion, he wanted to buy a horse, and found himself with three on his hands, because he had given the purchasing commision to three of his country members, each without knowledge of the others doings. But I fancy these little weaknesses endeared him to the congregation who held him in no little awe.
Sacrament Sunday in those far-off days was a dreary time to the small boy. Occasionmally, we were allowed to leave at the end of the regular service, but oftener my mother insisted on our staying until the end, and, during the taking of the Sacrament, the children were relegated to the gallery. But for those who could conquer their weariness, there was much to interest. I cannot now remember all the members of the session, but I can still see the majestic figure of Mr. Plummer Dewar, and the devout bearing of John Brown, Colin Dingwall and John Taylor, and James Osborne. Dr. Macdonald was an elder a very long time ago, but I am not certain whether he was so in Mr. Inglis time.
Turning from the pulpit and the precentor's chair, I shall take a glance at the seats about me. As we sat nearly in the front of the church, my range of observation was not large. There were four square pews, one on each side of the pulpit, and one at the head of each of the outside rows. On the left [of] the minister was his family pew, in which sat Mrs. Inglis, a stately woman, with her children. On the preacher's right, was the pew of Mr. James Watson, which was well filled by his numerous family. At the head of the left row sat Mr. (afterwards Senator) James Turner, and his family and in the corresponding pew on the other side of the church was Mr. James Osborne, with Mrs. Osborne and their two sons and daughters. I cannot now place many of those who occupied seats in front of our family pew, but I remember Mr. Robert Chisholm who sat behind the Watson pew, which was afterwards held by Dr. Macdonald, I have a lively recollection of Mrs. McQuesten coming in as a bride, and, after this lapse of time, there can be no harm in saying that she seemed very lovely, to one small boy at least.
There were two sharp controversies in my time. The first was on the question of using hymns in addition to the psalms and paraphrases. I do not think there were doubts in the minds of any of the congregation as to the inspired character of the psalms and paraphrases, and I think there was a general agreement as to the beauty of the hymns and their appropriateness for Sunday School, where they had been in use for some time. But evidence for the Divine inspiration of Isaac Watts, McCheyne, Bonar and other hymn writers was lacking, and some few felt that this was a fatal objection to their productions being incorporated into the service of the Church. After hymn books were introduced, a few die-hards indicated their disapproval by remaining seated, while the rest of the congregation felt for some time shyness, for it was remarked that the singing of the hymns was less hearty than of the psalms and paraphrases, in which the congregation generally joined with much spirit.
I cannot remember, if I ever understaood, the merits of the case against the organ. But the introduction of it occasioned much betterness. A member sitting in the front of me denounced the organ, as a "kist of Whustles," and a prophanation of a place of worship. This caused a general uneasiness, and comfort was offered in the fact that david played before the Lord on harps, psalteries, timbrels and other instruments. But the opponents had a losing cause, as the organs in many of the other city churches were not seen to lead to the ill-effects predicted from our organ.
I imagine that nearly all of those who took part in these disputes, many of them of the salt of the earth, have passed away, and the excess of zeal for purity of worship on the part of those who opposed innovations will not be counted against them.
With the coming of Dr. Fletcher, I was approaching years of discretion, as my mother used to remind me when I seemed in danger of forgetting it, and I early enjoyed his friendship, which I still cherish as a precious memory. For many years, it was to Dr. Fletcher that I took such difficulties as occurred to me, and I am still grateful that, during many intimate conversations, he never once attempterd to silence me by the voice of authority, as he might well have done in those days.
I should say a word about the Sunday School, with which I was connected fom early boyhood until I left Hamilton, forty four years ago. But my memory supplies almost nothing about it, so eventlessly did the years pass during my long association with it. My first teacher was Mr. Donald McLellan, whom all the older members of the Church will recall, and I think Mr. Colin Dingwall was superintendent at the time, though of that I am not quite sure. Among the few things I remember was a ludicrous incident when Dr. Macdonald was superintendent. In the course of his opening prayer, a boy in my class was misbehaving, so as to attract the Doctor's attention. Opening his eyes sufficiently to spot the misdemeanant, the Docotor without intermitting his exercise stepped from the platform moved with stately and ominous tread towards our class, boxed the boy's ears, and went back to his platform and finished as if nothing had happened to disturb him.
Another incident related to Dr. Fletcher. When he became pastor of MacNab Street and for a number of years after, Mr. Fletcher was a bachelor, and subject to that account to some criticism. Whether it ever reached him, I know not. But when the whisper became a certainty, and no doubt was no longer possible that the beautiful Miss Murray, one of our teachers, had consented to remove the reproach from the pastor, great was the sensation and rejoicing. I cannot remember in what form the teachers and pupils expressed their approval, but I am sure that if the expression equalled the satisfaction felt, the wedding gift would have been a handsome one.
As I am rummaging in the dark corners of my memory, to bring out these notes, my regret grows deeper and deeper that I cannot be with you on this momentous occasion. It would have been an opportunity of renewing old and valued friendships, and of linking up visibly the beginnings of my life with long years since I ceased to make Hamilton my home.>
It has not been my privilege to know your present pastor, Mr. Ketchen, but that may still be my good fortune. He is the third pastor in three quarters of a century, and I fervently hope that the Church may be able to boast that it has had no more than three pastors in the century.
With thanks for inviting my participation thus far in your memorial service, and affectionate greetings to all my old friends in the congregation,
I am, with very kind regards to yourself,
James Chisholm, Esq., K.C.
Barrister, James Street,
1 See W8422 for a similar address made by Mrs. Mary Baker McQuesten in 1927, on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation. For this address, Mary's memories span 1873 to 1927.