One of the big white churches on Main Street is the Methodist Church, which became Trinity United Church in 1925. While the United Church was the result of a merger of three churches in 1925, the Methodist Church was founded in 1824.
The roots of the Methodist Church in Newmarket date back to 1824, when a very young Newmarket became part of the Yonge Street circuit of Methodist churches.
The circuit stretched from what was then York (now Toronto) to Lake Simcoe and was serviced by saddle-back preachers. For the first few years, the Newmarket congregation met in the homes of church members, as was common then of many religious groups.
Early ministers were Rev. William H. Williams and Rev. James Atwood. One of the very first ministers, in 1825, was the Rev. Egerton Ryerson, father of Ontario’s public school system and the man for whom Ryerson College was named.
The first location of the Methodist church was on the northeast corner of Prospect and Timothy streets, then called Garbutt Hill. It was later to become the home of the Alexander Muir School (demolished in 1979). Most early churches had their own burial ground in close proximity, which likely explains why remains were found on the property during construction in 1989.
There would be two church buildings constructed on the site. The first, erected in 1827, consisted of a temporary chapel house and schoolhouse at a cost of 7s. 6d. The second church was a more substantial frame building of two storeys, built in 1840.
However, by 1877, the congregation had expanded substantially and a parcel of land was purchased on the northwest corner of Main Street and Park Avenue, the church’s current location. Two years later, in 1879, the front section of the church had been erected, with broad stone steps leading up to two entrances, north and south, facing Main. The total cost was said to be $11,000. The cornerstone was laid in May 1879 by Danford Roche, George Williams, Elwood Hughes, Moses Bogart, David Lloyd and Dr. Nash.
The new church was dedicated Jan. 22, 1880 with a series of services held throughout the week. The 400-seat church was filled to capacity for the dedication. In 1903, electricity came to the church and it was fully lit by electric lighting.
In 1888, Rueben Robinson deeded a house and lot on Prospect to the church to use as a parsonage, where it remained until the parsonage was built on Main Street.
By 1908, it had become clear that the church had outgrown its space and a decision was made to expand. While it was being renovated, they worshipped at the Old Town Hall.
The renovation doubled the seating capacity, and an auditorium was added. In the basement, the Sunday School was enlarged and a gym was added. The church would re-open on Feb. 11, 1912. The front entrance was changed from two entrances to one central entrance in 1911.
On July 23, 1921, the interior of the church was destroyed by fire and rebuilt.
My article on St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church details that, in 1925, a splinter group from the Presbyterians joined with the Methodists and the Congregational Church to become Trinity United Church.
In 1931, a donation enabled the church to purchase land to the west of the building, on which a tennis court was built for the young parishioners. This parcel of land eventually was used for a new parsonage in 1950 and then the Christian education wing in 1962. Today, it is a daycare.
In 1953-54, the church sanctuary was completely remodelled, the interior modernized, and a new three-manual Keats electric organ was installed.
In 1962, the congregation numbered close to a thousand. It was said that if you wanted to have political or commercial success in Newmarket, you had better be a member of the church. Charles Boyd, a man who achieved both financial and personal success was one of the elders of the church and a board member. Many of those listed on the member list were considered the who’s who of Newmarket.
Beginning in 1974, numerous building projects were carried out. The front entrance to the church was redecorated and chair lifts installed. The second floor of the old Sunday school was remodelled to include a chapel, music studio, a choir/general purpose room, new administration offices and a modern kitchen.
Over the years, this beautiful church has faced a few obstacles. There is, of course, a diminishing demographic attending today’s churches. When the clock tower condo project was first explored a few years ago, the resulting effect that the shadows would have on the church and its stained glass windows was front and centre in the discussions.
In front of the church, at the corner on the northeast side, stood a drinking fountain, erected in 1903, which served local horses, dogs and people. Unfortunately, it was removed in 1954. I have posted a picture of this fountain for those who still may remember it! There have been calls to re-establish the fountain over the intervening years, but it hasn’t happened.
Trinity United was home to the Lions Music Festival, which now is held at the Free Methodist church on Queen Street. I can remember attending the festival there and performing as part of Miss Denne’s choral read group.
Often when I am searching for photographs of Main Street, whether for an article, presentation or individual with an interest, I am struck by the building, there in the background, like a pillar of Main.
I have a personal attachment to the church myself. My mother was a member of the choir for years, graduating from the junior to the senior choir as she grew up. I was a member of the church, attending Sunday School with the likes of Donald Slessor. Alas, for some reason, at the age of about 12, I was traded to the Christian Church up the street. Not sure they got much for me.
I hope that you enjoyed this brief look at this incredibly beautiful house of worship that still shines over our Main Street to this day.
Sources: The History of Newmarket Churches from the Newmarket Era 1933; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Trinity United Calendar 1955; Trinity United 125th Anniversary Booklet 1949; Newmarket Centennial 1857-1957 by John Luck; Oral Interview with George Luesby 1999.
NewmarketToday.ca brings you this weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, a local historian for more than 40 years. He conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, as well as leads local oral history interviews. You can contact the History Hound at email@example.com.