The Tomstown Presbyterian Church will be celebrating 120 years this summer.

The small country church features an amber light filtered through stained glass windows, cushioned pews, and artifacts representing the community through the years.

Two determined women lead a concerted effort to keep the church going, but with only a handful of people attending the monthly meetings, its future is uncertain.

The pandemic has also hindered activities, such as community dinners, that helped provide income for the church.

The church is one of the last of the original country churches in Northeastern Ontario still operating.

Kathy Scott, who is a lifetime member of the church, and Colleen Walker, who grew up in the area, left, then returned again in 2003. They are lay ministers and elders of the church.

They both see it as not just a church, but the centre of the community throughout the past 120 years.

Tomstown was once a thriving community. Situated on the shore of the Blanche River, the community had a hotel, a general store, a post office and a sawmill. Settlers coming up the river on steamboats would disembark in Tomstown before the arrival of the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway to Englehart.  

Henry Thomas was an original settler and became owner of the land where Tomstown now stands. According to stories, when he first arrived in the community, he made use of a cabin that the owner had named Uncle Tom’s Cabin. That was the inspiration for the name of Tomstown.

When the decision was made that the community should have a church, Thomas donated the property for it. The original log church was constructed in 1902 and dedicated on July 5, 1903.

Area families came together and formed friendships and partnerships through the church. Weddings, baptisms, funerals, special occasions and the weekly services drew people together, and whenever tragedies occurred, the church always had an outreach program to offer assistance for the affected family.

The church building grew in comfort over the years, and the current building was constructed in 1928 just north of the original log church.

Early years saw congregation members sitting on chairs rather than pews, and a box stove burning in a central location to provide warmth. Oil lamps were also available when needed.

Many families had little, but that molded them, and also molded the community and the church, Walker points out. The people of the area came together at that church because they were a community, she explained.

The church’s stained glass windows were installed during the years of the Second World War, often in memoriam.

Electric lights, church pews, and electric heat followed in the years ahead. Wide cement steps at the front of the church, and then a full basement, were added to the small but solid building which stands today.

Both Scott and Walker reflect fondly on names from the past of individuals who worked hard to build the church, and help area families.

“It is neat to go back in those old books and read little things,” said Scott, who is the clerk of session for the church, commenting on the church records.

In earlier years, when times were hard, there were Sundays when the entire congregation could give nothing more than $1.50 in total.

Times are hard again, and while confidence was always expressed in the past that things would improve for the church, there is uncertainty now.

While community dinners have not yet restarted, the church basement is used for craft meetings, and the annual roads board meeting. Last summer a wedding took place at the church, Scott noted with pleasure. It is also available for rentals.

Monthly services take place on the third Sunday of the month at 10 a.m. and are adapted to involve the children, said Scott.

Scott and her husband Brian live close by, and volunteer to maintain the property.

“We don’t know how long we’re going to last with what we have right now,” she said, but she and Walker continue to maintain their outreach programs, trying to help members of the community who have experienced difficulties.

She said she knows people care about the church.

“Hopefully we have a presence in the community, and I know we do because when people see you they say ‘how’s the church doing?'”

By Darlene Wroe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jan 18, 2023 at 08:31

This item reprinted with permission from   Temiskaming Speaker   New Liskeard, Ontario

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