A Brief History of The Parish of Sackville, N.S.
Compiled by Darryl Spidell
Halifax was founded on June 21, 1749 by Governor Edward Cornwallis and 2576 settlers. The first ship to anchor in the harbour was the Sphinx. By July 1st the last of the thirteen transports from England with Cornwallis arrived. Halifax was to be a navy and army base to protect the British from the French.
In addition to the fort on Citadel Hill, other defenses were constructed around the newly founded settlement and future capital of the province. In 1749, a barracks was constructed at the head of Bedford Basin. The barracks was called Fort Sackville and the area around the barracks was known as Sackville.
It wasn’t long before settlers built their residences in the Sackville Valley. Many of the early settlers farmed the land in the Sackville Valley.
The present St. John’s Church was built in 1829. It sits on the site of the previous church on top of a hill which is one of the highest points in Sackville. The church is visible as far away as Magazine Hill in Bedford and some claim that St. John’s is even visible from Halifax. There is a question as to how many churches have actually occupied the site over the years – two or three?
The first church may have been built as early as 1790. A Robinson family had settled in the Cornwallis area around 1770 and by 1785 some of the family members settled in Sackville. They had brought materials with them to build a church. John Robinson was granted 200 acres along the Windsor Road (Old Sackville Road). He is buried in St. John’s Cemetery and his son Francis was an active member of the church and helped to construct the present church in 1829.
From the minutes of an old vestry book of November 13, 1830, there is reference made to the church land being conveyed to the parish forty years previously. Tradition has it that the original land may have been given by Godfrey Schultz. However, there was no deed. So the first church may have been built as early as 1790 but the church could have been erected at a later date. This only shows that there was a need for a church as early as 1790.
The Bishop kept an accurate diary of his travels throughout the diocese but he never made mention of there being a church in Sackville before 1807. The Bishop does mention frequently passing through Sackville. Only thirteen householders are included on the Sackville Road assessment roll for 1792. This does not seem to be a very high number of people to support a church.
The boundaries for the township and Parish of Sackville were established on May 19, 1904 at a Legislative Council meeting of the Nova Scotia Government. The Parish of Sackville originally laid out by the legislative council was quite large. It included Lower, Middle and Upper Sackville, Hammonds Plains, Beaver Bank, Bedford, Waverley, Fall River, Birch Cove, Rockingham, Fairview, Nine Mile River, part of the Parish of Rawdon and the Parish of Lantz as far as the head of Grand Lake.
It seems likely that the first St. John’s Church was erected in 1805 and the Rev. Benjamin Gerrish Gray was appointed minister in 1806 by the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) on the recommendation of Bishop Charles Inglis. He arrived in 1807 and lived in a farm house near the junction of the Windsor Road and the Waverley Road, close to where the present Bedford Baptist Church is. The Parish of Sackville received a grant of £250 from the Arms Fund in 1812. Three hundred pounds was needed to complete the church. Fifty pounds was to be provided by the congregation.
The first recorded vestry meeting at St. John’s happened on April 12, 1819 (Easter Monday) and Rev. Jerome Alley was the chairman. He signed his name to the minutes as Jerome Alley Miƒsionary. It was quite common for the annual meeting and usually the only meeting of the year, to be held on Easter Monday.
At the vestry meeting on August 25, 1821, it was “resolved that the pews in this church be let and the rent paid quarterly.” There appears to have been 21 pews. Pew 4 and 15 were not on the list as being rented. The pew for the church warden was number one. It appears that the rent was based on the number of family members.
St. John’s Church was not consecrated by Bishop John Inglis until Sunday, September 3, 1827. Just over a year later, on November 18, 1828, St. John’s burned to the ground. People were gathered for a church service. The sexton may have placed some wood chips on the front of the stove to dry and they caught fire. Another story tells that the sexton had brought hot coals from home to start the fire. One of the coals may have fallen onto some flammable materials which later ignited.
A new church was begun almost right away. Even though it was not completed, the new building was being used for worship during the summer of 1829. It appears that the church was built by only three men. Within a year the new church was paid for but there is no mention in the minutes how the money was raised. The Bishop, the Rt. Rev. John Inglis, consecrated the present church on November 28, 1830. He was the son of the first bishop, Rt. Rev. Charles Inglis.
The design of St. John’s is considered to be Georgian. It is similar in style to St. Paul’s in Halifax or the Church of St. John at Cornwallis. The rectangular plan is simple with a simple pitched roof. The vestibule and chancel are similar but smaller copies of the nave which brings a unity to the whole building. The steeple has a square tower, with an octagonal belfry and a tall, slender spire. Most of the windows have gothic arches.
It is not known why the main door to St. John’s faces away from the Old Sackville Road. It has been suggested that the road may have at one time passed in front of the church on the west side. Nothing in the early records and maps indicate that this was so. The probable explanation is that early Christians built their churches so that the congregation, altar, chancel, and even the interred, faced east towards the holy lands.
The Church seems to have made much progress during the rectorship of Rev. Archibald Gray. Mission churches began within the Parish. Church services were started in Hammonds Plains in about 1839. A small church, St. John’s, was consecrated on May 28, 1843 by Bishop Inglis. This building was replaced and renamed St. Nicholas in 1890. It was consecrated in 1891.
The Parish of Sackville possessed glebe lands near Pictou and was first mentioned in the records in 1847. The lands were taken over by squatters and the government gave the church other wood land located near Stewiacke. This land was later sold.
In 1859, the parishioners abandoned the idea of building a parsonage (rectory) for the rector. Instead they bought a residence and about two hundred and fifty acres of land at a good price.
The Deed of Conveyance for church land at Bedford was registered in Halifax on September 16, 1866. Soon after, Bedford had its own church services and the Bedford congregation was asked to pay towards the rector’s salary and other expenses of the parish. The vestry minutes shows that The Church of All Saints in Bedford was in use as of April 6, 1876.
During Rev. Smith’s stay in the Parish, church services were held in Beaver Bank. A Grove family had moved out from Halifax and they operated a girl’s school which was run by the four spinster sisters. One of the sisters played the organ at S. John’s Church. The church services may have been held in the Grove’s living room around the year 1870. The first Good Shepherd Church was built in 1886. It was consecrated on June 17, 1890.
The Parish of Sackville flourished again during Rev. William Elis’ stay. A new rectory was built in 1881. The Ladies Guild was formed in 1884. In 1886 a parish room was built on to the rectory. Meetings and church suppers were held in the parish room. In 1887 the rental of pews was abolished and the envelope system of collecting income was introduced. St. John’s was restored in 1891. A chancel was added to the church and a “heating apparatus” was installed in the “basement”. The three decker pulpit and box pews were removed. The doors from the pews now form the paneling around the chancel. After Rev. Elis left the Parish, the choir moved to the chancel from the gallery. New windows were installed and the steeple was repaired.
On October 22, 1912, while Rev. G. M. Ambrose was rector, Bedford, Waverley and Windsor Junction became a separate parish. Rev. Arthur Tyers was rector from 1919 – 1946 and was the longest serving minister for the Parish of Sackville. His incumbency provided much stability for the Parish and it was during his time that Sackville began to change from a rural community to a suburban community. It was in 1934 that a new rectory was constructed to replace the previous one. Rev. Tyers and Rev. William Elis are both buried in St. John’s Cemetery.
In 1959 St. John’s Church was raised and a foundation was installed under it. This provided space for the Sunday School, Church suppers and meetings. The chancel was renovated in 1971 and the choir was moved back up into the gallery.
The population of Sackville is now around 60,000 people, compared to the original thirteen pioneer families in 1792. The new Parish of St. Francis by the Lakes in Lower Sackville was established in 1975.
St. John’s built a new Parish hall in 1978 to accommodate the growing Sunday School and to provide facilities for parish functions and community groups. Some parishioners believed that if a new church was needed in the future, it could be built on top of the hall.
On May 3, 1898 St. John’s Church was designated a “Municipal Heritage Site.” It is the oldest building in the Sackville area. The most recent restructuring of the Parish occurred on January 1, 2000, when St. John’s Church in Sackville, St. Nicholas Church in Hammonds Plains and the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beaver Bank each became separate, independent parishes. During this restructuring, much of the Parish lands were sold and the money divided among the three new parishes.
Rev. Benjamin Gerrish Gray, D.D 1806 – 1818
Rev. Jerome Alley, D.D 1819 – 1820
Rev. Cyrus Perkins 1820 – 1821
Rev. Thomas H. C. Parsons 1821 – 1824
Rev. John Conolly 1828 – 1832
Rev. Archibald Gray 1833 – 1851
Rev. Thomas Maynard 1851 – 1856
Rev. John G. Mulholland 1857
Rev. John Heatherington Drumm, M.D. 1857 – 1858
Rev. Walter S. Gray, B.A. 1858
Rev. Edwin Gilpin, D.D. 1858
Rev. William Rupert Cochran, D.D. 1858 – 1863
Rev. J. S. Smith 1863 – 1873
Rev. W. E. Wilson 1874 – 1876
Rev. William Ellis 1876 – 1892
Rev. A. T. Tucker 1893 – 1896
Rev. N. Reginald Raven 1896 – 1897
Rev. R. F. Dixon 1898 – 1899
Rev. T. P. W. Thorman 1899 – 1900
Rev. V. E. Harris 1901 – 1910
Rev. George M. Ambrose 1910 – 1913
Rev. C. H. Fletcher 1913 – 1919
Rev. Arthur H. Tyers 1919 – 1946
Rev. Harry E. Langwith 1946 – 1949
Rev. B. J. Davis 1949 – 1956
Rev. Karl Harrington Tufts 1956 – 1967
Rev. Ronald Francis Parsons 1967 – 1970
Rev. Beverley Cecil Strople 1970 – 1980
Rev. Brian A. Burrows 1980 – 1988
Rev. Arthur James “Calvin” Pretty 1988 – 1996
Rev. Ronald Wayne Cutler 1996 – 2008
Rev. Sandra Hounsell-Drover 2009 – 2013
Rev. Norma Mitchell 2013 – present