The History of Fraser Church, Tottenham
In the beginning, the congregation that became Fraser Church, wasn’t in Tottenham, wasn’t called Fraser, and wasn’t yet its own church. Irish Presbyterians were among the first settlers in Simcoe County. While facing the challenges of pioneer life they placed a high priority on public worship but had no church in the largely unbroken wilderness of Tecumseth township. As they arrived in the 1820s they joined the church at the Scotch settlement in the neighbouring township of West Gwillimbury. The congregation there, probably the first in Simcoe County, was organized in 1822 by the Rev. William Jenkins, a minister of the Synod of the Canadas (an independent Presbyterian denomination, and forerunner of the United Synod of Upper Canada). Although Rev. Jenkins was based in Richmond Hill, he traveled extensively and occasionally visited the settlement until the congregation acquired its own minister. The Rev. Peter Ferguson arrived from Scotland in 1830 and was officially inducted by the United Presbytery of Upper Canada in the spring of the following year. As the local population grew the congregation expanded into multiple meeting locations in the neighbouring townships of Tecumseth and Essa. It was likely around this time that settlers in western Tecumseth began to have a Presbyterian minister regularly preach the gospel in their area at the home of James Ellison, setting the foundation for what would become its own congregation in 1836.
The situation was looking promising for the widespread congregation until Rev. Ferguson left in the spring of 1832 to serve a church in Esquising (near Milton). After his departure, the congregation became divided. While many members held to the voluntary principle, believing that a church should not receive money from the state, the Scottish majority in West Gwillimbury believed otherwise, and voted to leave the expanded congregation and find a minister from the Church of Scotland. By joining this established church they would be eligible to receive government money from the clergy reserves to pay for their ministers. The remaining congregants then held their own meeting, and maintaining their voluntarist principles, voted to stay within the United Synod of Upper Canada. Despite this division, the two congregations shared the use of the original meeting house in the Scotch Settlement for a few years.
After this setback the continuing voluntarist congregation proceeded to seek a minister. On October 9 of the following year, James Howey of Ireland was ordained and inducted to the charge through the United Synod. His ministry was very short, however, has he had contracted tuberculosis and became too sick to complete his first worship service. The congregation carried on without the services of their minister or any support from the United Synod which had begun to seek a merger with the Church of Scotland. It would be more than a year before help would arrive through another Presbyterian body, the Missionary Presbytery of the United Secession Church of Scotland. This small band of missionaries had originally planned to work with the United Synod of Upper Canada, but learning of its plan to join the Church of Scotland, they decided to form their own presbytery adhering to the voluntary principle. They began establishing congregations mostly west of Toronto but sent the struggling Simcoe County congregation two missionaries in turn. On March 27, 1835, being appreciative of the support and agreeable to Rev. Howey’s dying request, the congregation voted unanimously to join the Missionary Presbytery. Two months later they sent a letter to the second missionary requesting that he become their minister. Although this meant giving up his original mission of reaching Gaelic-speaking Scots, he accepted the invitation and began serving the congregation on August 9, 1835. He settled near Bond Head and donated land for a new church and cemetery (with the original church later being sold to the Church of Scotland congregation). He was officially inducted on June 17, 1836 and organized the Presbyterian groups in West Gwillimbury, Essa, and Tecumseth into three growing congregations. That minister was the Rev. William Fraser.
In western Tecumseth, before a church was built there, worship was held at the home of James Ellison on the Second concession. But even after Rev. Fraser’s arrival, services took place there only once a month due to his other preaching responsibilities. After three new elders were ordained on July 12th, 1836, the Presbyterians in Tecumseth could finally make decisions and function as a distinct congregation. The church transitioned from monthly to weekly worship and within four years grew from 5 to 28 members. An acre of land was purchased on the 3rd Concession, just northwest of the Ellison home, and by the early 1840s a log church had been built. By 1856 the congregation’s growth justified becoming a single point. A new frame church was constructed around 1860, which served the congregation until the move in 1881 to the current brick church in Tottenham. By the 1930s the church was raised to create a downstairs hall. In 2001 the back end was extended to increase the sanctuary and create a nursery space downstairs. The newest addition, an accessible entrance and lift, was added on the south side in 2014. However, the main structure from 1881 still stands as one of the oldest church buildings in New Tecumseth.
In official records the congregation was simply referred to by its location, “Tecumseth”. This later became “1st Tecumseth” when a new congregation, “2nd Tecumseth” was started in Beeton in 1859. According to local history it was also called “Ellison’s Church” in the early days, after the congregation’s original host (pictured left). On November 24, 1885, the congregation was officially named “Fraser Church” in honour of the minister who had arrived 50 years earlier and organized an enduring congregation from the settlers who first gathered for prayer and praise at the Ellison home.
Former Ministers and Years of Service
1822-1830 Rev. William Jenkins
1830-1832 Rev. Peter Ferguson
1833-1835 Rev. James Howey
1835-1856 Rev. William Fraser
1858-1862 Rev. John F. A. Sykes Fayette
1868-1873 Rev. Robert Moodie
1874-1880 Rev. James A. McConnell
1882-1885 Rev. D. H. McLennan
1886-1888 Rev. Thomas Wilson
1889-1895 Rev. J. McD. Duncan
1896-1908 Rev. Peter Nicol
1909-1919 Rev. Hugh D. McCuaig
1920-1925 Rev. James Nevin McFaul
1926-1944 Rev. William T. Cranston
1945-1947 Rev. Robert Jenkins
1947-1955 Rev. Joseph Reay Duke
1956-1964 Rev. Joseph E. Taylor
1969-1981 Rev. Basil P. Dass
1985-1988 Rev. Frederick Shaffer
1988-1995 Rev. James McLenaghen
1998-2002 Rev. Bryn MacPhail
2004-2009 Rev. John Fair
The Rev. Jonathan Dennis has been the minister of Fraser Church since November, 2010.
Fraser Church has also been served through the years by a number of theology students and presbytery appointed ministers.