THE history of Port Hope lies inscribed in its oldest Church as in some ancient book. Within the portals and among the gray old tombstones of St. Mark’s, the modern citizen stands on common
ground with the Fathers of the settlement. Here worshipped the Waltons, the Smiths, the Wards, the White-heads and many other old and honoured families. Here were baptized children who grew to useful manhood and womanhood and who have long since passed away. Here were performed with much pomp and ceremonial the marriage rites of the long ago. Here were buried the remains of many of the brave founders of the Town. Their names are still decipherable on the moss-grown gravestones. Their memory is still perpetuated by the marble tablets on the walls of the sacred edifice and up in the belfry the name of Captain Jonathan Walton still stands out clear-cut on the old bell.
The construction of St. Mark’s Church (known at its erection and until the building of the present St. John’s Church, as the Church of St. John the Evangelist) was begun in the year 1822 and was completed two years later. It was virtually a gift to the Anglicans of Port Hope from John D. Smith, Esq., who erected it at his own expense. The bell, to which quite an historical interest attaches, was added to the edifice in 1826. It bears the names ASPINWALL and ALBANY and near the lower edge 1826 PRESENTED BY J. WALTON.
Until 1830 there was no regular incumbent in the new Church. The Rev. A. N. Bethune of St. Peter’s in Cobourg conducted services every Sunday afternoon at three o’clock and attended as best he could to the needs of the parish. In 1830, however, the Lord Bishop of Montreal appointed the Rev. James Coghlan to the church in Port Hope. Mr. Coghlan held the charge for six years and during that period was instrumental for much good in the Town. He conducted a boys’ school on the property until recently occupied by Mr. James Kerr, near the Toronto Road.
On the 18th of January 1836, letters patent were issued by Sir John Colborne, K.C.B., Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, constituting the Rectory of St. John the Evangelist at Port Hope, designating it as ” the first Rectory within the Township of Hope.” In the same year Mr. Coghlan was succeeded by the Rev. Jonathan Shortt, D.D., who for thirty-one years continued as Rector. Dr. Shortt was during those many years a prominent and useful member of the community and interested himself largely in municipal and educational affairs. He belonged to the evangelical school of thought and for many years edited the Echo newspaper, the organ of that branch of the Church.
In recognition of his services the Archbishop of Canterbury conferred on him the honorary degree of D.D. Dr. Shortt died on August 24th, 1867 but before he passed away, a movement had been set on foot towards the erection of a new Church. A subscription list, to which the Hon. Benjamin Seymour, Colonel Williams, J. S. Smith and H. H. Meredith were the chief donators, secured over eight thousand dollars. Gundry and Langley of Toronto were appointed architects and the superintendence of the building operations was entrusted to J. G. Williams, Esq.
Work on the present St. John’s Church was begun on the 18th July, 1867 and by Feb. 6th, 1869 the structure was completed. The total cost entailed amounted to well over $18,300 but by the careful management of Mr. Williams, the product was well worth the money expended. The handsome Gothic structure is considered by many as the most beautiful architectural production in the Town.
Meanwhile on the 9th Sept. 1867 the Rev. Frederick Augustus O’Meara, LL.D., who had been Dr. Shortt’s assistant during the last few months’ of his life, was appointed his successor. Dr. O’Meara, who was a Canon of St. James’ Cathedral at Toronto and later of St. Alban’s Cathedral, was like Dr. Shortt a large-hearted and broadminded man. He had spent over twenty of his earlier years as a missionary to the Ojibway Indians on Manitoulin Island and whilst there had translated a great part of the Bible and the Prayer Book into their language.
In 1875 the School House was erected at a cost of seven thousand five hundred dollars. Its exterior harmonizes well with the general effect of the Church and its equipment is all that could be desired.
The official consecration of St. John’s Church by the Bishop of Toronto took place on April 5th, 1882. The ceremonial was most impressive, being carried out according to the approved forms of the Provincial Synod. Five years later on Sept. 27th, 1887, Dr. O’Meara’s Jubilee was celebrated. Many leading clergymen, including the Bishop of the Diocese, assembled to do honour to the man, who for fifty years had fought the battles of the Church. Addresses were presented from various bodies, all testifying to the esteem in which the Rector was held and the value laid on his work. Scarcely, however, had this time of rejoicing passed away than the sudden death of Dr. O’Meara cast a cloud over the community. His end came very unexpectedly whilst he was awaiting a train at the Grand Trunk Depot on the morning of December 17th, 1888.
Short occupancies of the Church by the former Curate, Mr. Hamilton and by the Rev. E. C. Saunders followed, until the appointment of the present Rector, the Rev. Edwin Daniel, B.A., who was inducted on the 16th of January 1890 by Rural Dean Allen.
Since the erection of the Church its beauty has been much enhanced by the installation of many fine memorial windows, so that the interior of the building now possesses a most appropriate and sacred aspect. The large central chancel window representing St. John, and its two accompanying and smaller windows, were placed there by the parishioners in memory of Dr. Shorn. Over the main entrance two large windows commemorate John Tucker Williams and Thomas Benson respectively. The side windows are all filled with memorials as well as the small windows on the left of the Chancel. Of these probably the most beautiful are those with the large figuresthe one filled with a group of angels erected to the memory of Lilian Holland, the other portraying Christ with Mary and Martha, in memory of Margaret O’Meara, wife of Dr. O’Meara.
In addition to these impressive colored windows, the stone font and the carved oak lectern are objects of interest. The former resting on four marble pillars each with a carved capital, was presented in memory of Mrs. Shorn, while the lectern bears as its inscription, ” In loving memory of Frederick Augustus O’Meara and Margaret Johnston (Dallas) his wife.”
A new organ was placed in the Church during 1896 by Warren & Son of Toronto at a cost of over sixteen hundred dollars and was opened on Nov. 20th of that year by Mr. Wm. Reed of Montreal.
Some attention must now be paid to the subsequent career of the old Church on Protestant Hill. About the period when the new Church was in course of construction it was believed by several of the members, that there was room for two churches in the town, and that the old church being in a convenient position for them, it might profitably be reopened. They accordingly petitioned the Bishop with the result that in 1873 the church was repaired and re-dedicated to St. Mark. The first incumbent was the Rev. Charles Patterson. He was succeeded by the Rev. J. S. Baker in 1878 and he by the Rev. Mr. Hibbard in 1891. The Rev. C. B. Kenrick the next Rector came in 1895 and shortly after through his instrumentality the church building was greatly improved in convenience and appearance. The Rev. Mr. Kenrick left recently for the maritime provinces and has been succeeded by the Rev. E. G. Dymond, who was inducted in November 1900.
St. Mark’s Church is a substantial old wooden structure in form of a cross. Its interior, though it lacks the impressive attributes of St. John’s Church, yet possesses the air of sacredness associated with a long past. Besides the marble slabs on the walls erected to the memory of departed members, there is a massive oak altar, which is the most imposing object in the building. The church is hung with exquisite cloth hangings of various colours and delicate embroidery, the work of Mrs. Baker, widow of a preceding incumbent. A gallery occupies one end of the structure, being all that remains of the old gallery which encircled three sides of the church.