Founded in 1835
St. John’s – Nelson, the second oldest Anglican Church in Burlington, was founded in 1835 though worship has taken place in the present building since 1839. Though St. Luke’s, Wellington Square was established in 1834, the people who had settled in the Nelson area found that travelling to the more southerly parish over the rough and muddy roads was inconvenient at best. Joseph Ireland, William Spence and John Wettenhall successfully petitioned the Bishop of Quebec (who spent half of each year in Toronto) for a local church. In 1835 the first service was held in an old schoolhouse which was located near the present rectory building. A travelling missionary, Rev. Frederick Mack, rode his horse from St. Luke’s to the Guelph Line school. Rev. Henry Hugh O’Neill and Rev. J. Gamble-Geddes, also travelling missionaries, continued to visit the Nelson area from 1836 to 1838.
In 1838, Nelson had its first resident rector, Rev. Thomas Greene, who urged the congregation to build a church building of their own. The membership had grown beyond the limits of the old schoolhouse, and besides, the lease was about to expire. A building committee was struck and requests for donations made. Three quarters of an acre of land was purchased from Thomas Atkinson, a local farmer, at a cost of one pound twenty-five. It is on this lot that the present day church and cemetery are located.
John Malcolmson, builder, of Hamilton, William Grant and Alexander Brown were contracted to build the church on May 17, 1839, for three hundred and seventy-eight pounds. The first service, on December 7, 1839, was attended by “a devout and numerous congregation”, and on June 25, 1840, Thomas Greene recorded that it was full to overflowing.
While services were held in the Ballykill Bay schoolhouse, the “church” was simply referred to as “the church in the street.” It had risen to the title “the Dundas Street Church” when the Stewart Mission donated the first Book of Common Prayer and communion vessels to the fledgling community of worshippers. When the official name of St. John’s was given, is unknown, but it was probably at the time the church was consecrated by the Bishop.
It is difficult to follow the history of St. John’s since many of its early records are incorporated into those of other nearby parishes. The reason for this is that until 1983, St. John’s was a “two-point” parish which depended on the services of rectors from neighboring parishes such as St. Luke’s, Wellington Square, Waterdown, Lowville, Nassagawea, as well as St. Christopher’s, Burlington.
Genealogists and others wishing to obtain records and microfilmed archives for the early years of St. John’s and other churches of the diocese, should consult The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections at Mills Memorial Library at McMaster University.