Presbyterian presence in the Orangeville area can be traced back to 1837, the year the Presbyterian Synod of Upper Canada sent a 46 year old Rev. Alexander Lewis into the wilds of Dufferin to minister to the settlers. He originally settled in Mono Mills and soon after he had a small congregation and a log church built at Lot 6, Con7 at 5 Sideroad of Mono.
By 1867 that church was replaced by a stone building and was used until the Mono congregation joined the Mitchell (Yellow Briar) congregation in 1925. Rev. Lewis travelled the area by horse visiting settlers, relying on their hospitality. In return they leaned on him for their spiritual guidance.
The first “old Kirk” Presbyterian Church in the little settlement of Orangeville, called Bethel, was built in the area of Alexandra Park behind the present town hall, in 1840 by Rev. Lewis. Eighteen years later in 1858, land where the present post office stands, was given to the Bethel congregation by Orange Lawrence. Orange Lawrence was the founder of and land developer in Orangeville. Led by Rev. Lewis, a new stone church, Bethel II was erected, surrounded by its own graveyard. Bethel II continued until 1880 when it was sold, the graves moved to Forest Lawn Cemetery. Bethel II congregation then merged with Zion Presbyterian Church.
Meanwhile, Zion Presbyterian church had been established in Orangeville in 1858 by another branch of the Presbyterian Church. Jesse Ketchum, another early land developer in Orangeville granted land to this new congregation on Second St. at First Ave, and that substantial framed building was completed in 1863. Unfortunately on October 18, 1877 that church burned to the ground.
During this period the various branches of the Presbyterian Church (including those represented by Bethel II and Zion), were joined in 1875 into the Presbyterian Church in Canada. So, when Zion was faced with the need for financing and building a new church, overtures were made to Bethel II to join them. Eventually the two congregations did unite and they constructed an elaborate Victorian Gothic styled church at 247 Broadway, opening in 1879. Presently the home of Westminster United Church, the building is one of the prestige heritage buildings in the Town of Orangeville, but when it was built, the congregation was called St. Andrews Presbyterian.
By the year 1925 there was a movement in Canada to join the various protestant churches in Canada including Methodists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians, into a large and powerful United Church. On June 10, 1925, by an act of Canadian Parliament, “the United Church of Canada” came into being and those dissatisfied with the concessions required of this union were left without a church.
Those unable to vote for the uniting of the Methodists and the Congregationalists in Orangeville then created an executive committee to plan for a continuing Presbyterian Church in Orangeville and thus began another new, challenging and faith ridden, ecclesiastical journey.
The upstart group began meeting in the Gem theatre owned by Mr. Jim Merlina, on North Broadway until they were able to purchase a building at 205 Broadway, close by. This store-front church gave them space for worship services and other meetings on the first floor and the minister lived above. Meanwhile, plans emerged for a new centre of worship to be built and after a period of fundraising, a manse was purchased at the corner of John and York streets in 1939. And in 1940, construction began on a lovely stone building. We lovingly refer to it today as “The little stone church with a big heart”. According to church records, the estimated cost of the church was $17,000, the cost kept low as the stone was obtained from an old abandoned building also found on John Street. The stone was cleaned and hauled by horse and wagon by the men of the church, to the building site. Truly a labour of love and dedication!
Present members of Tweedsmuir look back in awe for the faith our forefathers had in constructing our current sanctuary. In 1940 the economy was still in a deep depression and the world war was gathering momentum in Europe. Despite all the challenges, Tweedsmuir Memorial Presbyterian Church opened on May 1, 1941.
Naming our Church
Our church was named after Lord Tweedsmuir, John Buchan, a former Governor General of Canada, serving from 1934-1940. He was born in Scotland, a son of a Scottish Presbyterian Minister and was educated at Glasgow and Oxford Universities. During his lifetime he became a lawyer, civil servant, diplomat, Member of Parliament, High Commissioner of the Church of Scotland and a renowned author. His best known novel “39 Steps” was made into an Alfred Hitchcock movie thriller in 1936.
When John Buchan was chosen as Governor General of Canada in 1934, King George V insisted he drop his family name and assume his title of Lord Tweedsmuir of Elsfield. He passed away in office in 1940. In the minutes of the Kirk Session meeting of April 2, 1940, the Rev. Lindsay Simpson reported that he had received permission from Lady Tweedsmuir allowing the new church to be named after her husband. With his Presbyterian roots, the choice was a logical one. In Lord Tweedsmuir, we had a perfect example of a man dedicated to family, country and to his God.
Affiliation with Waldemar Presbyterian Church
The Waldemar Congregation moved into their church building in October 1887 and in 1927 it became affiliated with Orangeville and remained so for the rest of its 108 years. In later years the congregation size dwindled and in 1995 the church was closed. The remaining congregation joined Tweedsmuir Memorial Presbyterian Church. Many of their beautiful artifacts came with them to Orangeville, including the stained glass windows adorning the south wall of the sanctuary, historic communion trays used each year at the Maundy Thursday Service, and the Celtic Cross that adorns a wall at the Christian Education wing entrance.
Expanding the Church’s Facilities
As the church grew it experienced two more expansions. In 1959 the sanctuary was enlarged and the building of a new Christian Education wing was undertaken on land where the old curling rink had once stood, just north of the Tweedsmuir sanctuary. In 1979, a small extension to the Narthex was undertaken. This addition gave the entrance a more open and gracious appearance.
Ministers of Tweedsmuir Presbyterian Church & Waldemar 1939-Present (date of retirement in brackets)
Rev. Lindsay Simpson (1941): Rev. J.L. Burgess (1945); Rev. John Nute (1964); Rev. Dennis Gibson (1968); Rev. Edwin Nelson (1974) ; Rev. Willis Young (1985): Rev. David Murphy (1989); Rev. Sidney Chang (1995); Rev. Allyson Voo ( Associate 1998-2001); Rev. Harvey Self( 1996-2019, minister emeritus); Rev. Hansel Chen (2019-present).
Members of Tweedsmuir Memorial Presbyterian Church Who have entered Full –Time Ministry
Rev. Charles Scott (retired to Comox B.C.); Rev. John Dayarmond ( Waterloo); Major The Rev. Dwight Nelson (Chaplain, Canadian Armed Forces , N.B.); Allen Self( Bethel Baptist Church, Strathroy); Rev. Scott Sinclair (Gale Presbyterian Church, Elmira); Rev. Creola Simpson( Pulpit Supply, Tweedsmuir Orangeville)
As we trace our history as a denomination in this area, we have living proof of faithfulness, dedication to our Mission statement, “to Know Christ and Make him Known” and members working together to share God’s love in the community.