The original St. James Anglican Church and rectory were located on the south side of Hatt Street, immediately to the west of the former site of John Bertram and Sons Co., and almost directly south of what is the existing fire station. The rectory address was 58 Hatt Street. For our purposes here, we have located the church at 60 Hatt Street.
The St. James parish congregation was organized in 1839, with the Rev. William McMurray as its first curate. McMurray was also rector of St. John’s in Ancaster as well as Flamborough. He chaired a building committee to raise money for construction of a church in Dundas. Bishop John Strachan was a noted donor. Even William Lyon Mackenzie was reported to have given $5.
Prominent local businessman and industrialist James Bell Ewart donated the property for the church. Stone used in its construction was quarried in the vicinity. Rev. McMurray laid the cornerstone.
St. James was formally opened for service on December 31, 1843. McMurray’s wife Charlotte and infant daughter were the first to be baptized in the new church that day. By that time, Dundas had grown to a population of 1,800.
Various furnishings for the church were donated by parishioners, including funding for an organ made in London, England. Ewart gave a font at the time of his daughter’s baptism, and the church bell was donated by J.H. Greer.
In 1857, after Rev. McMurray left Dundas, Featherstone Lake Osler became rector, serving until 1879. In 1895 the Dundas circuit obtained independence from the Ancaster parish, and E.A. Irving became the first rector of Dundas.
Over time, the neighboring John Bertram and Sons Co. operation grew, and records indicate that the noise emanating from it disturbed services. This became a reason to re-locate the church. Bertam’s purchased the property in 1918, but the church’s move to the Melville Street site was delayed until 1926. The building was razed soon after.
Dr. James Beaven, professor of Divinity at King’s College in Toronto, was asked to deliver the first sermon in the new church on December 31, 1843. In his history of the St. James’ parish, Rev. E.A. Irving transcribes a letter which Dr. Beaven sent to a friend, describing his experiences in Dundas.
Dundas, Jan. 2, 1844
My Dear Sir:
I am just about ready to leave this place, at which on Saturday last, by invitation of the indefatigable missionary, Mr. McMurray, to preach at the opening of his new church. I found myself next morning in a very beautiful village, with one of the most splendid days I have ever witnessed.
The church is a neat and substantial building, constructed mostly of unhewn country stone, well pointed, with the windows and door frames very large. It has four windows in each side, the arches of which are, I imagine, the low four-centered Tudor arch of two lights each; the chancel window in the same style, but of four lights. The rectangular projecting mouldings surmounting the windows on the exterior are well carved in stone; being (it is supposed) the first instance of such an attempt in this country. The principal doorway, which enters under the tower is better executed than anything of the same style I have seen in Canada. The tower at present is unfinished, and simply roofed in.
In the interior the communion table is encircled with a very neat rail of black walnut, and behind it is in an arcade of three arches for the commandments. The pulpit and desk, one on each side, are handsomely formed of black walnut, with Gothic panelling; the whole of which was worked by hand in Dundas, without any of the suitable moulding planes, which in England would have been thought indispensable; and the pulpit is to be further ornamented with foliage, executed likewise by a village artist. The pews are so arranged as to leave a passage up the middle of the church, and two others close to the walls – a far better arrangement than that which places a mass of pews or benches in the centre of the church. All the doors have ornamented Gothic panelling. The galleries are supported by clustered columns, surmounted by low flat arches. The arrangement of the stoves is particularly good; the stove itself being in the church, and the pipes carried along under the galleries, and brought out through the vestry and library into a chimney at the opposite end, whilst the door of each stove is in the vestibule, with wood closets adjoining, so as to admit of the stove being replenished, without in the slightest degree disturbing the congregation. The pews towards the sides of the church have a little inclination given them, so as to face the clergyman more easily. The whole of the fitting-up of the interior is very creditable to Mr. Hiram King, an inhabitant of the village, who executed it.
A fastidious critic might discover that many of the details are not strictly in accordance with the style in which the building professes to be erected; but it is, on the whole, a very pleasing specimen of the desire of those who designed it, to assimilate it as much as possible to the country churches of the mother country, and is very good and substantial in all its parts.
The day appeared quite a festival to the neighbourhood, and the church was crowded to overflowing, many standing in the doorways, and in the stairs of the galleries. The morning prayer was conducted by Mr. McMurray himself. The heartiness with which the congregation joined in the responses was quite refreshing; and “the psalmody”, under the direction of Mr. Clarke, of Hamilton, rivalled the best performance of the country churches of England, and was delightfully aided by the congregation. I was heard very attentively whilst I endeavoured to point out the solid grounds we had for rejoicing in the erection of an edifice in which we might worship God in the communion of the “Church of our fathers and the Church of the apostles.” The collection amounted to £15.11s.3d. and the holy communion terminated the morning service. In the evening we met again, and the Rev. J.G. Geddes of Hamilton, ably and beautifully seconded my morning endeavours by a happy coincidence; taking up a subject almost identical with my own, and thus illustrating the unity of thought and feeling which, I trust, is prevailing more and more amongst us.
This visit has been to me most interesting. I have had the opportunity of becoming acquainted with an open-hearted and English-spirited community whom I hope not soon to forget. I shall stay a day or two longer to attend the meeting of the Church Society, at Hamilton, and you will of course, get an account of our proceedings.
I remain, my dear sir, very faithfully yours,