Good Roots: St. Peter's Celebrates its Centenary in 2014
"Can there be a more natural or idyllic place for a church than a small, rocky island in the narrows near Hell's Gate and Devil's Elbow on the "jewel of the Kawarthas" - Stony Lake?" This description, from a 1989 article in the Katchewanooka Herald, succinctly describes St. Peter's Church on-the-Rock, our beloved landmark since 1914.
One hundred years ago this summer, the first service at St. Peter's was held for a congregation of 24. Then, as now, the congregation arrived by boat and people of different denominations were welcomed. Generations of worshippers have described a special feeling of peace and closeness to God's creation while sitting at a service in St. Peter's, looking out the window and hearing the waves gently lapping on the shore. At the special 75th anniversary service in 1989, Kay Douglas, one of the original members of the church, observed that the lofty pine near the front entrance "appears in every picture of St. Peter's and has been there for 75 years. It must have very good roots." To which a friend replied, "Just like you and the church do". Twenty-five years later, this pine and the church remain and it takes a heavy storm to keep people away. The good roots of this community are strengthened each summer when sharing the common bond of worship in this simple and beautiful setting.
By the turn of the last century, clusters of cottages had been built around the lake. Cottagers had modified their Sunday church-going by gathering for a service at various lake locations such as at 'Headlands', at the Viamede Hotel or on 'Kiluna's' verandah. When Juniper Island's pavilion was built in 1896, simple interdenominational services were held there by a minister who often stayed in the "boathouse", now the SLYC's clubhouse. It was in 1913, while at a regular service at 'Kiluna', that Alick Mackenzie suggested building a church for the lake's community and lumberman F.W. Lillicrap offered one of his five islands for the proposal. A fundraising committee collected $499.15 in donations and the church, a simple 24 by 45 feet structure designed to hold 150 people, was built by local farmer and carpenter John Cassidy and his brother.
As the congregation grew and became stable, founders Alick and his brother Michael Mackenzie devised a model that is still adhered to today. Their vision was for an incumbent and his family, ideally from a city parish, to live on the island and to officiate for either July or August. In 1920, funds were raised for the Clergy Cottage, which was built and furnished the next year and equipped with a skiff and canoe. In 1921 the church was extended by 10 feet to the north allowing for the seating of an additional 30 people. When Bishop Sweeny dedicated St. Peter's on July 16, 1922, the church furnishings included shutters, pine pews replacing the old steamer chairs and a new wharf.
By the early 1950s the congregation's numbers had been increasing to the extent that some had to sit on the rocks outside, at least until the children left for Sunday School. An ingenious transept design provided seating for an additional 60 increasing the sanctuary space to 14 by 35 feet. The 1954 construction was built by Howard Hamilton at a cost of $4,000. Then on a fine July day in 1955, "the church was crowded to overflowing with 225 summer cottage parishioners for the dedication service". The next major construction period came after a heavy snow load which led to the roof's collapse in early 1971. Over $5,000 was quickly raised by the "Raise the Roof " campaign. In fact many donors were non-attenders who commented, " I enjoy fishing there" and ,"The church flood-light has been a real help!" The Chrismon "nailie" hanging at the front of the church commemorating this event and was made by artist David Partridge from a shattered pew. More recently, the community generously funded a new small boat dock in 2003.
Over its 100 years, St. Peter's has hosted countless significant events in the lives of its community. The first wedding, between Aileen Mackenzie and Eric Grier, was held in 1919 and the first baptism was that of their daughter, Bea (Morris), the following summer. The new, now common, immersion baptism began in 1988 when the Rev. Doug Stoute baptised cousins Allie Handler and Andrew Dean in the lake. The first funeral was held in 1931 after the tragic drowning of John Brewin. After generally larger congregations during WWII, a special service of "Thanksgiving, Remembrance and Rededication with the close of war" was held on August 19, 1945.
Many cottagers lucky enough to have been a child on Ston(e)y Lake have fond Sunday memories. Many remember the delight of being swung through the air by the force of the ringing bell, the accomplishment of jumping the gap in the canoe dock and the prestige in carrying the cross to lead the group to Sunday School in the Clergy Cottage. Being chosen to carry the children's cross is still so highly treasured, that recently one boy, upon meeting the incumbent in Lakefield's IGA, asked him for this particular honour the following Sunday. The practise of a children's homily prior to their procession from church was started in the 1980s by clergy who took a special interest in young people.
St. Peter's celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1989 with a theme of "Looking Back, Reaching Out and Moving Ahead". The occasion was kicked off with a "hearty potluck shared by over 500 people" at Juniper Island. The following day, a Service of Thanksgiving officiated by seven past clergy was attended by approximately 500 including 180 seated on a covered barge, with many more moored offshore in their boats. In August, St. Peter's held a Consecration Service and was visited that Sunday by the Diocese's Sesquicentennial Cross which was brought to the island on a special pontoon boat by parishioners of St. Aidan's, Young's Point. Continuing a long tradition of local outreach, two donations of $5,000 each were made that year to St. Aidan's Church and to the Lovesick Lake Native Women's Association.
As any visitor can see, St. Peter's buildings and islands have changed very little over these 100 years, a fact which holds a place of pride for many. The congregation still travels by boat to attend morning services, but the days of "dressing up" have long been replaced by comfortable informality. St. Peter's good roots go deep. Countless dedicated past and present volunteers have long replaced the original two or three people necessary to the life of this small Anglican church. In the words of John Sloane, St. Peter's "has grown over the years through the efforts of many who were inspired by the "Spirit of Stony" to come together to worship and give thanks among family and friends. It Is an Anglican church, but one where people of all denominations, including many with no formal church affiliation, come to be close to God. it is a place where awareness of God's love comes naturally in response to the quiet hospitality and beauty of His creation."