Farnham Church


Among the early pioneers of Puslinch were John and Rachel Oulton who travelled from New York and settled on the Farnham Plains in 1831.  Before the Farnham Church was built, Rachel would sweep out the barn and set up chairs and planks for the Sunday service, which was conducted by ministers who travelled from Guelph.


It is very difficult to determine the exact date of the opening of this church.  A meeting was held in 1839, at which £102 was subscribed.  John Arkell sent £25 from England.  The church appears to have been opened in 1845.  The people all gave very generously, both in cash and in labour.  Not only did they build and pay for the church, but also Mr. John Oulton, in his will, left the sum of $2,000 as a small endowment for it, the interest to be paid to each officiating minister.


The fencing of the burial ground, which covers about an acre and a half, took place in 1852.


The old custom of dividing the sexes prevailed for many years but gradually died out.


Music seems to have been provided with difficulty in the early days.  One who knew the church years ago said, “The singing was led by the aid of a small melodeon, played by old Mr. Hewer and young Mr. Wood, each using one finger.  Mr. Wood provided the treble and Mr. Hewer, the bass.  However, we got on fairly well, and certainly a more reverent and devout congregation, I have never met with, before or since.”  We think that it is a fact that Mr. Hewer carried the melodeon to the church from his house each Sunday.


From the time of its erection until 1861, the church was cared for by the Rector of Guelph, Reverend Arthur Palmer.  In 1861, it appears to have been placed under the care of Reverend C. H. Drinkwater, who was then stationed at Rockwood.  When he left, Farnham was apparently reunited with Guelph, and Archdeacon Palmer and his curate, Reverend Finlow Alexander conducted services until 1898.


For many years, Farnham Church continued to be a centre of great activity, but gradually the pioneers passed away and were laid to rest around the church, which they had loved so well.  Some families moved away, others became intermarried with families of other faiths, and while the enthusiasm of the few kept the church alive, it’s role in the community gradually lessened.  This was in no small measure due to its situation.  The village of Farnham had never materialized, but instead of it, there had grown up quite a considerable village at Arkell, about a mile and a half distant, in which there was a Methodist Church.  Only very keen and staunch church people persevered in the long walk to the Plains, and to crown it all, the Rector, Archdeacon Dixon was compelled in 1900 to abandon the services, as he was single-handed.  For nearly a year, the church was closed.


In 1901, Reverend Gilbert Farquhar Davidson became curate at St. George’s, and in the autumn of that year, Farnham church was re-opened.  An effort was made to rekindle the interest of the people by holding service every Sunday and the Holy Communion once a month.  The results were distinctly encouraging.  In Lent 1902, weeknight services were held in the village of Arkell, with amazing success.  During the summer, it was agreed to repair the church, putting in new windows and chancel furniture.  The church was closed and the services transferred to the schoolhouse in the village, the result being that within a few weeks the congregation had decided to remove the church into the village.  Mr. John Arkell generously gave a very suitable site and the consent of the standing committee was obtained.  The people responded to the appeal for funds with the same generosity which was characteristic of their forefathers, and like them, they not only gave money, but saved much expense, by giving labour.  Not only did the men work hard, but also the ladies helped in the painting of the seats, and if any work was ever a labour of love, this was.


For a whole year, they were out of the church, worshipping first in the schoolhouse, and later, in the Methodist Church.  On Sunday September 27th 1903, the church was re-opened by the Lord Bishop of Niagara, assisted by the Vicar.  The building was crowded in every part; the service was very hearty.  The Bishop delivered a magnificent sermon on the duty of keeping the Sabbath and reverencing the Sanctuary.  Another large congregation filled the church on St. Michael and All Angels Day, when the senior curate of St. James Cathedral, Toronto, preached on the duty of thankfulness.  As the clergy of the Rural Deanery were meeting at Guelph, a number of them came over and quite an imposing procession made its way from the vestries under the gallery to the Chancel.  On Sunday October 4th, the Holy Communion was celebrated by the Vicar, there being nineteen communicants.  There was a very good congregation.  The offertories of the three services amounted to very nearly forty dollars and provision was made for payment for all the improvements that had been made.  Upwards of $500 had been spent altogether.


The three ladies, who had been acting as organists, all took part in the opening services.  Miss Mae Hallet played on the Sunday evenings, Miss Maddock on Tuesday, and Miss Colwill at the Communion service.  On the Tuesday evening, Mr. Harold Ryan sang “Angels bright and angels fair” with great feeling during the offertory, Mr. Charles Aldrich playing his accompaniment.


The young Mr. Wood, referred to above, now old and stricken, was brought from Rockwood, and was present at the opening service.  He was quite overcome with joy at the condition and prospects of the church.


The general effect of the interior of the church was very beautiful.  The new windows supplied by the Dominion Stained Glass Company added greatly to its appearance.  The Chancel furnishings were all presented to the church, and are solid and good.  The carpet was made in Guelph, and both it and the curtains were procured from Messrs. G. B. Ryan and Company.  The rest of the furniture came from Toronto, except the alms dish, which was made in Hamilton.


The church was heated by a wood stove, and lit by coal oil lamps.  Ella Tolton recalls that the drapes at the front of the church were a rich red colour, with a yellow-gold panel behind the altar.  The alms dish was displayed on the altar.


It only remains to add that the Bishop had seen fit to give the church a new name by which it would be legally known.  Curiously enough, the church seems never to have had any special dedication before, a thing quite unheard of in the Church of England.  As the Bishop pointed out, it must be dedicated either in the name of our blessed Lord or of some Saint.  As the opening coincided with the feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, the Bishop dedicated it in that name.  The legal title of the church is therefore “The Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Arkell”.  It could not legally be known as Farnham Church, because it is not in Farnham, but we could expect that those who have always known it by that name will continue to call it Farnham Church, and if they choose to do so, there is no reason why they should not.


In 1907, Reverend Gilbert F. Davidson became the rector, and remained so until 1918.  He was succeeded by the Venerable G. F. Scovil.


A mission of St. Georges Church was built in St. Patrick’s ward, and in April 1911, the first services were held in the new mission hall of St. Patrick.  When St. Patrick’s became a separate parish, the Arkell church was attached to St. Patrick’s.  In 1920, Reverend Ernest Slack became the first full-time priest at St. Patrick’s Church and was also in charge of St. Michael and All Angels Church in Arkell.  He had to allow for at least one service per week at St. Michael’s, Arkell.  It was agreed that he could cancel one of the 8:00 a.m. services in each month so that he could celebrate Holy Communion at Arkell.   He would hold most of his services at St. Michael’s in the afternoon.


On August 15th 1943, Reverend George MacKay became rector of St. Patrick’s in Guelph and St. Michael’s in Arkell.  When Mr. MacKay arrived, the wardens of St. Michael’s Church in Arkell informed him that the congregation had shrunk to about ten people, many of whom were really attending services only out of a sense of obligation to old times, and were really nearer to other churches, and suggested that this church be closed.  Mr. MacKay took this up with the Bishop, and after due consideration, St. Michael’s of Arkell was closed.  All the memorials and most of the furnishings went to St. Patrick’s, but a few that they did not need were given to other mission churches for their use.


On November 27th 1944, Peter Iles received a letter from Reverend Thompson, the rector in Georgetown, giving permission to demolish St. Michael’s and All Angels.  He also mentioned that if the Arkell Women’s Institute were interested in the building, they should put their offer in writing.  At the Women’s Institute meeting in December 1944, there was a motion that Mrs. Gordon, Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Starkey be a committee regarding the English church.  At the July 1945 meeting, Mrs. Gordon reported for her committee that it was impractical to make a community hall out of the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, and the matter was then dropped.  The building and most of the land was sold, and the building was demolished.  However, the part of the land which had been used as a cemetery was retained by the Diocese as a remembrance of the older settlers in that community.


In 1967, a new St. David’s and St. Patrick’s Church was opened in Guelph.  In the side chapel, there is the old but still beautiful altar that had been in St. Michael and All Angels Church in Arkell.







St. George’s Church Parochial Magazine, October 1903.



“A History of St. Patrick’s Church, Guelph” by John Heap.



Arkell Women’s Institute Minute Book.



Puslinch Past by Cleo Melzer in the Puslinch Pioneer.


The foregoing article was researched and composed by Mrs. J. P. Bennett in September 1985.  This article is an example of some of the splendid Puslinch history made available in 2004 by the Wellington County Museum.  Please refer to “Wellington County Museum Presents Puslinch history” on the clarksoftomfad homepage.