Christ Church in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory is one of the country’s oldest churches. (Jan Murphy/Local Journalism Initiative) Jan Murphy, Local Journalism Initiative

Christ Church

What: Christ Church, in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, is one of only three Royals Chapel in Canada.

Where: 52 South Church Street, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory

Building: Replacing the original Mohawk Church, famed architect John Howard devised the plans for the construction of Christ Church, which was constructed in 1843.

History: Some of the first settlers to Canada are buried at Christ Church, whose headstones date back to the 1700s.

Also: Important historical figures including John Deseronto, Oronhyatekha, several Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte chiefs and first catechist John Otsi’tsyohskon Hill Sr. are some of those laid to rest in the cemetery on the grounds of Christ Church.

Plaque: The historic plaque in the church yard reads: “The Mohawks, allies of the British during the American Revolution, settled permanently in Canada following that conflict. A party led by Capt. John Deserontyon landed here in 1784 and constructed a chapel shortly thereafter.” Plaques have also been erected within the church to commemorate the military service of Mohawk veterans from the First and Second World Wars, demonstrating the close bond of friendship and military alliance that has existed between the Mohawks and the Crown for more than three centuries.

Memorial window: The church displays a window given by Dr. Oronhyatekha, who attended the University of Toronto and Oxford University in England. Dr. O was one of the earliest academically accredited Indigenous medical doctors.

Early on: The first resident Missionary was Rev. Saltern Givens, who began serving in 1831. There have been many ministers ever since and the church hosts regular services each Sunday.

Jan Murphy

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY – Paris has the Eiffel Tower. New York, the Statue of Liberty. Toronto, the CN Tower. In Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, there is one landmark that stands above all others: Christ Church.

The church, nestled tidily up off the road on Church Street, is not only the oldest structure on the reserve, but its most significant and important.

“I went to church there. I also sang in the choir there and taught Sunday school there for a period of time,” Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte Chief R. Donald Maracle said during an interview inside his office on the reserve east of Belleville.

Maracle speaks proudly of the church, one of Canada’s oldest religious buildings, and one of only three Chapels Royal in the entire country.

“People have worshipped there, married there, people were baptized there, people have had their funerals there,” the longtime chief said. “There have been special ceremonies held there,” he added, noting that following the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II, a ceremony was held at the church in her honour.

“King Charles III’s coronation, there’ll be a ceremony commemorating that,” the chief added. “ It’s been used for fundraising events for the food bank. There’s a Remembrance Day service there annually to remember our fallen and loved ones who served in the wars,” the chief continued.

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In 1843, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, using their own money and volunteers, commissioned and built the church, then an impressive upgrade from the original place of worship, Mohawk Church, a wooden place of worship first constructed in 1792 and enlarged in 1796.

“After the American Revolution, our people encamped at Lachine, Quebec, on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River,” Maracle said. “When the Treaty of Paris of 1783 was signed, there was no provision in the treaty for our people to reoccupy the Mohawk Valley. So Joseph Brant and John Deseronto, who were Mohawk military captains in the British Army, were instructed by the governor to look for other settlements. Joseph Brant chose the land along the Grand River near Brantford and John Deseronto chose the Bay of Quinte area. So our people settled here on the on the 22nd of May, 1784. And of course, one of the first things they did was build a shelter, which also served as a sleeping quarters, a community hall and a church. That became the first wooden church here, the first building that was built here.”

Of course, being constructed from wood, the church struggled to withstand the test of time and weather, which could be cruel coming off Lake Ontario.

“It became dilapidated,” Maracle said. “So in 1843, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte built Christ Church.”

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Chief Maracle speaks passionately about the long and storied history between the Mohawks and the British Crown, a relationship that continues to this day.

“The Mohawk people have a long history and close association with the English Crown,” Maracle said. “Our treaty relationship actually began with the Dutch settlers who came in the early 1600s. We have the Two Row Wampum treaty with the Dutch. It’s thought to be around 1613, somewhere around that time, which basically says we’ll have peace and friendship and trade.”

After the Dutch were defeated by the English, the Mohawks entered into a similar relationship with the English, Maracle said.

“The Covenant Chain of 1677 brought us into military alliance with the English Crown. If there were wars, then we would fight on the English Crown side.”

Over the ensuing centuries, the Mohawks did fight alongside the British Crown on many occasions, Maracle said. That alliance was rewarded with a long and rich royal connection, which is well documented in and around the church.

“Bishop Strachan consecrated (the church) in 1843, but John Stuart was the clergyman at the Mohawk Chapel at Fort Hunter and John Stuart is regarded as the father of the Church of England in Upper Canada,” Maracle said. “He often came to visit the Mohawk people here, first at the wooden church, to see how they were doing and he wrote reports about the progress and the adherence to the faith and that sort of thing.”

The Mohawks received a communion setting from Queen Anne in 1712, part of which is still held within the community. The other part is held by the Six Nations of the Grand River. In 1798, King George III gave a Triptych, a bell and a Royal Coat of Arms to the Mohawks. Queen Elizabeth II also gave a chalice with the Mohawk clans each represented — Turtle, Wolf and Bear – as well as a hand bells set in 2010 that played at the commemoration of her death earlier this year. Other gifts given to the Mohawks include a bible gifted by Queen Victoria, a replacement of the Coat of Arms and a prayer book that belonged to King George VI. In 2019, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte gave Queen Elizabeth II a sweet grass basket that sits in the Chapel Royal in Windsor Castle.

“When there was a war, the Crown would send some token of appreciation to our people,” Maracle said. Queen Anne, to establish the relationship of military alliance and friendship, sent the first gift.”

The royal gifts, the chief said, are “important to establish that there was a unique and special relationship between the Mohawk people and that was symbolized when national leaders would meet each other, they’d give each other a gift of some kind. That just was always the protocol of our nation. Other kings have decorated the chapel as I mentioned before. There was King George III, who gave a bell in 1798 and that hung on a pole at the first wooden church below the hill for a long time. Eventually that bell was put in the steeple in that wooden church. After the church became dilapidated and they built Christ Church, they moved the bell from there over to the tower at Christ Church, and it’s still there. So that’s been ringing since 1798.”

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Christ Church received Chapel Royal distinction in 2004, when Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the distinction on the church in recognition of the Mohawks’ military service. The church became designated a provincial and national historic site in 1995.

And while it stands in all of its glory now, it hasn’t been without its difficult times.

On May 13, 1906, lightning struck the church, igniting a fire that caused extensive damage at the time. It was subsequently fully restored by the community.

On Sept. 8, 1939, the church was damaged when a severe hail and windstorm swept through the community, again forcing residents to help with its restoration.

In 2018, Christ Church underwent a major restoration project, transforming it to the modernized, glorious state in which it now sits.

“I chaired the Christ Church restoration committee and we had a number of volunteers from the community who were part of that and we raised in total $1.4 million for its restoration,” Maracle said. “Queen Elizabeth gave a donation, so did then Prince Charles. Canada provided $500,000 through Parks Canada and the Ontario Heritage Challenge Fund provided $100,000. Some of the Anglican churches helped outside of the community and then band members and fundraising events, raffles and dinners and that sort of thing that we raised the money to restore it.”

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What stands now, surrounded by grave stones dating back to the 1700s, is one of the nation’s most important pieces of architecture, a symbol of a proud and storied Mohawk nation and its deep ties to the historic development and preservation of what became Canada.

“Really it’s a symbol that we have a treaty relationship with the Crown,” Maracle said of the church. “That it’s not just a political relationship, it’s a treaty relationship that has obligations. Queen Anne voluntarily entered into this special relationship. It’s unique, there’s no other relationship like that within any other group of people who live in this land.”

Jan Murphy is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Belleville Intelligencer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

By Jan Murphy, Local Journalism Initiative

Original Published on Dec 22, 2022 at 07:48

This item reprinted with permission from   Belleville Intelligencer   Toronto, Ontario

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