Presbyterian Church was established in Bytown in 1828 in connection with the Church of Scotland through the efforts of a number of local businessmen and military officers. Thomas MacKay, a Scottish stonemason, had obtained the contract to build the locks joining the Rideau Canal to the Rideau River. During 1828 there was a lull in construction, and MacKay, not wishing to lose his skilled workmen, put them to work building St. Andrew’s Church. At that time there were two churches in Bytown – a Roman Catholic one and a Methodist. Neither of these satisfied MacKay and his Scottish followers, and they decided to establish their own.
MacKay, Connell, William Stewart and John Low purchased a lot, on behalf of the congregation, from Nicholas Sparks for £200, at the corner of Wellington and Kent Street in 1828, and construction began at once. The foundation stone was laid by James Ferguson in April and by mid-October the building was almost complete. The first service was conducted by the Rev. Mr. Machar of Kingston, on Sept. 28.
Charles Shirreff, a lumberman and landowner, headed up the finance committee, raising funds for the new building as well as money to pay the stipend for a new minister. The congregation was trying to raise £100, and was also trying to obtain a £100 grant from the government to pay an annual stipend of £200.
The church itself was a plain A-frame structure, with three windows along each side. There was no steeple or other adorning items on the exterior. The interior was also very plain and seated about 300. Singing at the service was lead by a precentor.
The Rev. John Cruikshank, the first minister, was called and inducted in March of 1830. Thomas MacKay, Daniel Fisher and Thomas McDonald were elected as the first elders of the congregation in January of 1831, and the first communion was served on February 20.
Cruikshank reported in September of that year on the state of his congregation and of Bytown: At the Sunday morning services about 170 to 200 people attended; the Sunday School numbered 40 pupils; he did not receive a fee for burials, nor for marriages; there was no Glebe available and a manse had not been built; and he was sure that Bytown would grow large enough to be able to support him.
But to give credit to the Presbyterians of Bytown, they did build him a manse, obtained a Glebe of land, and were able to support him. The church was reported to be debt free in 1837.
The Glebe Lot
Several clergy reserve lots were granted to the Established Church in early 1837 by the Upper Canada government. The usual interpretation for Established Church was Church of England. But with no Church of England congregation in Bytown at the time, Thomas MacKay and other politicians lobbied on behalf of St. Andrew’s Church, arguing that the Church of Scotland was indeed the Established Church. These arguments won out and St. Andrew’s Church was given a clergy reserve lot which became known as the glebe lot.
For the first thirty years this land was administered by a group of trustees, and was leased out in large blocks. With the incorporation of the Temporal Committee in 1868, responsibility for the land transferred to this group. After St. Andrew’s had opened the present structure in 1874 it found itself in financial troubles, being unable to make any payments on the principal of its outstanding loans, and finding it difficult to make the annual interest payments.
The Glebe Trustees of St. Andrew’s Church was established in 1890 with authority to sell the land and thus help relieve the financial situation. Over the years the glebe lot was surveyed, roads were built, swamps drained, and sales made. The last of the land was sold in 1946.
This glebe lot consisted of 178 acres, the remaining 22 acres being taken up by the Rideau Canal. The boundaries in today’s terms were: Bronson Avenue from Carling Avenue south to Fifth Avenue, and Main Street from the old St. Patrick’s College (at Oblate Avenue) south to Clegg Avenue.
The sale of the glebe lot resulted in $750,000, with some of this being used for the immediate loans. But a better use has been made of this wealth over the years to assist a large number of other congregations.
Growth and Expansion
By the 1850s the church had become too small to accommodate all those who wished to attend services. An addition was made in 1855, and that year a choir was first formed.
In 1872 the original structure was completely taken down and the present church built. With the new church came the first pipe organ, built by Samuel Warren of Montreal.
Twenty-two years later the manse located at the back of the church (which had been built for Rev. Cruikshank) was torn down and a large Sunday School hall erected. The pipe organ was enlarged at this time.
With the advance of years came the requirement for major repairs to the building, an expense the church could not afford. High insurance and heating bills added to the problem. In 1972 Fergus Grant made the bold suggestion that the church take down the Sunday School hall and replace it with a high-rise office tower. Thus began the road to reconstruction. After several years of feasibility studies and the obtaining of various levels of government approvals, St. Andrew’s Tower was built. The new office, refurbished sanctuary and a new pipe organ (by Guilbault-Thérien of St. Hyacinthe) were dedicated in October of 1987. St. Andrew’s did not sell the land but leased the air rights above it for 75 years. A lump sum was paid up front to satisfy this lease agreement.