August 28, 2005
William Losee, a young student preacher from New York, traveled around what was then upper Canada, preaching mainly in the homes of fellow Methodists, as they had no community building. In the spring of 1792, a chapel was erected here on land owned by a member of the congregation, and for 75 years, was in constant use.
In 1835, in order to accommodate the increasing membership, the building was enlarged, then, in 1850, a brand-new chapel was built and this site became obsolete. In 1910, the Methodist church of Canada decided to restore it, recognizing it as a national treasure. Until restoration, the building was abandoned and served as a farmer’s grain storehouse. It is now Canada’s oldest surviving Methodist church and stands much as it did from 1792 to 1835.
The interior is indeed very peaceful and the smell of pine permeates the air. Wood floors and gleaming benches shine as the light from its windows settle upon the ancient piano and artifacts lining its walls, dust motes rise like fireflies, and the air of peace wafts through it. The pine gallery, which ribbons the three sides of the building, also adds charm to this room.
Displays, artifacts, and literature assist in telling the story of the buildings heritage. On one wall is a memorial dedicated to 10 young people who were drowned Aug 28, 1819, whilst crossing Hay Bay in a leaky boat. Can you imagine the grief and shock of the congregation when they were given the tragic news during the prayer meeting?
The report tells of 18 persons who began their journey from the north shore of Hay Bay (approximately 1 mile). Their boat began to take on water, and they began to bail with small containers. As they bailed, they sang hymns, becoming so enthusiastic that they dropped their containers into the lake. It was the biggest tragedy in the Napanee area and a great loss to the Methodist community. The graves are directly across the road from the church.
Visitors are welcomed during the summer months by volunteer custodians who reside in an adjoining cottage. We spoke with David Whiston (Rt, clergy), a charming and well-informed man who made the history of this vintage building come alive.
The church is 30km southwest of Napanee on the south Hay Bay shore road. It is 9.5km from the Glenora ferry. The ferry operates every 15 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes after 6:30pm. The church hours are from 9 to 6pm between mid-June and Labour Day. There is free admission.
From journal Delightful Hay Bay, Southeastern Ontario