Our History

A Brief History of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Riverside Heights

The American Revolutionary War came to its conclusion on October 19, 1781. The Treaty of Versailles was signed permitting the rebel colonists to negotiate peace with England and the Act of Separation was signed. In February, 1782, the Act of Evacuation was proclaimed by the United States Congress. It required all Crown Loyalists who refused to take the American Oath to leave the country, forfeiting all their material possessions and properties. A convoy of disbanded Loyalist soldiers and families, under the command of Brigadier-General, Sir John Johnson, left Montreal on July 10, 1784 for New Johnstown (Cornwall) and Kingston. Others followed spreading out along the front. In November 1784, the first Loyalists, about 440 in number arrived at Riverside. Imagine, if you will, what that must have been like.

Soon after, this group of United Empire Loyalists, who were settled in the townships of Williamsburg, Matilda and Osnabruck, began a community effort to build a Church at Riverside or East Williamsburg as the area was known for some time. Lack of funds and the inability to obtain an ordained pastor seems to have hampered the effort. Many of these settlers were of German descent, Palatinate refugees, who had been displaced earlier from their homes in Germany and had been forced to travel to England before moving on to America. Naturally, these settlers wanted a Lutheran pastor who could speak German. They petitioned the Governor of Quebec for permission to build a church on the centre Commons in Williamsburg Township. Secondary sources list various dates ranging from 1788 to 1793 as to when this frame church was built. It was known originally as Zion Church. This Church was built by Colonel Henry Merkley, Master Builder.

James Croil in his “Dundas : or, A Sketch of Canadian History” (1861) states that the Lutherans of Williamsburg, in the year 1789 commenced to build a frame church 60 feet by 40 feet in size, on the centre commons. This church, Croil goes on to say, was located on the very site of the edifice occupied by the present (1861) Church of England. Hazel Mae Schwerdtfeger in her book, “Memoirs of Reverend J. Samuel Schwerdtfeger” (1961) describes the first church as follows : “Built in the Dutch style, the church went neither to the extreme of plainness nor to that of fancy design. The windows and doorways were arched, and the massive beams were of white oak. The walls were bare of any paint or varnish, and there were no stained glass windows or cushioned seats with curved backs. The pulpit was high, with a sounding board over it.” The winter, setting in earlier than usual, did not allow the frame to be raised that season. In spring, it was commenced anew and the work went on rapidly.