The St. James Churches of Wakeham
When the first Church of England congregation in Gaspé, that is, all Anglicans living around Gaspé Bay, had been gathering for about 20 years at St. Paul’s Church in what is now the Town of Gaspé, those who came from the more distant settlements such as Haldimand, Sandy Beach, Peninsula, Little Gaspé, and the Southwest Arm (Wakeham and York today) were beginning to think of building their own churches. It was not very easy or convenient to have to row or sail or drive so far to attend church.
The first congregation to get their plans made and a building underway was Sandy Beach which encompassed Anglicans from Douglastown to Lobster Cove with “Peninsula as an adjunct thereto.” By June of 1841 the frame of a church had been erected on or near the site of the present day Sandy Beach church. After a long slow process the building was completed and it was consecrated in 1856.
In the case of the Southwest, there was some opposition to building a church within about three miles of St. Paul’s. However, the fact that in York there was a growing population who could cross the river and attend such a church more easily than having to go farther to Gaspé swayed the argument to build St. James’ Church, as it was known from the start.
Ellen Boyle who owned a certain field south of the road offered a piece of it as a site for the church. The location was already of special significance as Ellen’s sister, Jane Campbell Boyle, widow of Captain William Hall, had died in 1817 and been buried there. A large tombstone with a long, touching inscription, still legible after nearly 200 years, stands south of where the church was built.
Thus a church was begun in 1843. The entrance was probably at the west end and the chancel at the east, as with all the other churches, and people passing on the road could watch the delivery of lumber for sills and the frame, boards for walls and roof and other materials no doubt donated by the landowners, as the slow, sporadic steps in erecting the building went on. Many people on both sides of the river continued attending the Gaspé church and also went to the new church, but the Reverend Mr. Richmond in his report for 1870 stated that the two congregations were becoming more and more distinct. In that year the church in the Southwest had been able to pay their assessment of $75, pay the sexton $18, and make repairs worth $30. In addition the people bought a harmonium for $80.
The 1860s had begun with a terrible diphtheria epidemic affecting all the congregations around Gaspé Bay but especially the Southwest. The many mourning families marked the period. There was hardship everywhere in that decade and the next. Even in 1883 Mr. Richmond was reporting on the exodus of many young men going elsewhere to look for employment, leaving fewer people to keep the churches in repair and contribute financially.
However, the mid-1880s saw the beginning of change to a more prosperous era in which prices for fish, lumber, and other products were rising, lumber companies were moving in and work was becoming more easily available. The problem which had dogged St. James’ Church from its beginning, that it moved with the frost and was constantly in need of repair, had to be dealt with. About 1890, the decision was made to abandon the 50-year-old building, get a new piece of land, and build a new church.
The new land was given by Felix William Boyle, a nephew of Ellen Boyle who had given the first site. This lot was on the north side of the road and not far to the west of the old church. Eden Street, which runs north from the highway today, divides the old lot from the new. I have been told that Mr. George James Boyle Ascah (1858-1938) of Haldimand was hired to put up the frame of the new church; otherwise I do not have the names or contribution of any of the many other men who must have worked on the building. The walls were strengthened and the roof given added support by the construction of flying buttresses along the outside walls between the windows.
The church saw its first wedding ceremony before it was fully completed, as it was said that the shavings were swept up to allow a marriage to proceed, November 24, 1891. The couple were Francis Elias Annett and Charlotte Jane Boyle. A diary entry on January 1, 1893 states that the new church in the Southwest opened that day and the minister from Peninsula, the Reverend H.A. Brooke, attended. Finally on Thursday, July 18, 1893 it was consecrated during a service conducted by Bishop Dunn.
Being consecrated meant it was ready to be used for Divine services and was free of debt. However, the following years, even to the present, saw the church improve. One can walk about the church and look at the interior woodwork and furnishings and read the plaques on the walls. One can also read the In Memoriam book and see the long record of donations made year by year by parishioners, all making the story of St. James’ Church.
The minister from St. Paul’s Church, Gaspé, always served St. James. When the weather was fine and the roads good, or at least passable, he probably enjoyed that 3-mile drive. Mr. Wayman, who was the minister during most of the first half of the 20th century, kept a fast horse and would offer a drive to any pedestrian he overtook. Most ministers had to make longer drives than this one. In Sandy Beach, up to the 1890s, the minister had to cross the bay to Peninsula and Little Gaspé but they now had their own churches and a resident clergyman living in a parsonage in Peninsula. Sandy Beach was, therefore, linked to York which opened its first church in 1895 and the minister residing in Sandy Beach drove back and forth between them. Just as boats had largely gone out of use by the clergy by the early 1900s, in the 1930s horses were being used only in the winter, as cars running on better roads and new bridges replaced them in summer.
Thus when Mr. Wayman died in 1945, another reorganization of the parishes took place. Gaspé and Sandy Beach were served by the clergyman who resided in Gaspé, and the Southwest (which had been renamed Wakeham in 1926) was now separated from Gaspé and linked to York. It was decided that the clergyman would live in Wakeham. A property was obtained from Mr. Mervyn Beattie and a parsonage or rectory was built by the firm Boyle and Keays. This piece of land had probably been part of the Boyle property originally, just as the earlier sites were.
The reorganization of the work of the Gaspé clergy was not the last one to take place but it had special significance. The Bishop of the Diocese wished the clergy to encourage the parishes to strive to become self-supporting. Heretofore, all of them had been “missions” which meant they relied on the larger, better-off parishes in the Diocese to pay a portion of their assessment. Gradually, some did achieve the self-supporting status.
The old church in Wakeham was demolished and a tall white cross was erected to mark its site about in the middle of the old cemetery. This burying ground continued to be used in spite of the poor drainage and heavy clay soil which had helped cause the need for a new church. As the years passed the remains of the dead of each generation were laid there until in the 1920s it was decided to obtain land for a new cemetery. The site chosen was on the hillside a distance north of the new church, possibly also a part of the original Boyle land and it was first used in 1929. Some burials continued in the old as well, for many years.
There is much history to learn and much to think about if one wanders among the marked graves, well over 150 of them, and many, many unmarked ones. There is a description written by an old woman, who knew the place well in her youth, of a beautiful flower garden with a summer-house in it which was once probably down near the river in front of the graveyard. We know there was also a small wharf there where churchgoers travelling by water could tie up their craft. It is easy, then, for someone closely observing the “new” church, now 121 years old, and looking down the road to the 197-year-old cemetery, to see much of the history of St. James’ Church and its community.
appreciation for the help of Mrs. Marguerite Palmer and Mr. David Baird who
answered some of my questions, and Ms. Sharon Howell who typed the article. I
am grateful also for the following: Ministers' annual reports preserved in old
issues of the "Diocesan Gazette", "Remembrance", a memoir
by Edith B. Mills, and "Obituary of nNon-Catholic Deaths of Gaspe County
(circa 1820-2000)" by Serge Ouellet and Guy W. Richard.
by Dorothy Phillips