In the early days of this community the church, school and post office were located up on the hill above the village of Baptiste and people living along the lake shore were called “squatters”. The first church was built in 1920 on property donated by Mr. Neil Bowen. This property was located about half way up the hill where the Sutherland cottages now stand. In fact, one of these cottages is built on the old church foundation.
Names prominent in the building of the church were “Redman, Mercer, Kelly, Baptiste, Bowen, Hinds, Sutherland, Robbins, Hartwick, Brinklow, Reynolds, Hunter, Vance, Bailey, Jennings and LaVallee. The minister at that time was Matthew Wilson and it is from this that the church was named St. Matthews.
The first Women’s Group was called “The Ladies’ Aid” and was organized in 1935 with these officers: — President — Mrs. Arthur Nicoll, Vice President — Mrs. Joseph Storey, Secretary-Treasurer — Mrs. Whitney Martin. Also in the same year a Sunday School was organized with Mr. Fred Renals as Superintendent and Mrs. Cameron as Assistant Superintendent. Mrs. Verla (Sutherland) Fisk as Sec. Treas. The teachers were Mrs. Cameron, Mrs. Bowen, Mrs. Nicoll and Miss Enid Smith. The classes were held in the “Edenswald Cottage” owned by the Cameron’s and later in the school-house during the winter.
As more people settled along the shore of the lake a Village was gradually built up and the post-office was moved down to what is now Grants’ General Store, and operated by Mabel (Grant) Poff. It was about this time that the tourist industry began to flourish and cottages, lodges and camps sprang up all along the shores of Lake Baptiste. It soon became evident that the church in its’ present shape and location was not serving the new community fully for various reasons. The view was beautiful but the building was too large with a very high ceiling and hard to heat in the winter. The yard was for horse and buggy days and not suitable to accommodate the cars now being used. After some deliberation, the congregation decided to tear down the old building, save all the materials possible, and re-build it in a more central and suitable location nearer the village.
In 1942, while Mr. N. R. Flower was the minister, the project was undertaken and the new church was built on the present site which was donated by Mrs. Hiram Grant. Some of the same people who helped build the first church now helped pull it down. All possible material was saved, the older men even straightened the nails to they could be used again.
Arthur Nicoll was appointed chairman of the building committee and the ladies of the church started out to raise the funds necessary. Many donations came in from the cottagers as well, and by the time it was needed they had the money ready.
Outside of one carpenter and a stone-mason the church was entirely built by free labour and as in the case of the first building, all denominations, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, United and others worked together happily to finish the job. Our windows, floors, pulpit and chairs, wainscoting, pulpit railings, box-stove, furnace and bell are from the old building. It is said that the bell on this church was taken from the first engine (The Old Mary Anne) to run on the I.B. & O (Irondale, Bancroft & Ottawa) Railroad which is still remembered by many of the people.
Names prominent in the re-building of this church are Summers, Grant, Nicoll, Martin, Peever, Covert, Kelly, Cox, Bowen, Robbins, Baptiste, Fisk, McAllister, Sutherland, Sears, Vance, Sweet, Young, Huff, Hinds, Reynolds, Storey, and Holbrook.
We have had many donations over the years for which we give thanks. To mention some, the organ was donated by Mr. Clealan Blakely, the communion table and collection plates by Mrs. Sifton in memory of her son Frank, the fine oil painting by Mr. George Miller of Buffalo, the front door by Mr. Whitney Martin, the silver baptismal bowl and bread plate by Mrs. Whiteman of Penna. U.S.A. and the Hymn Board by Mr. Fred Renals. The pews are hand made by Mr. Lorne Davy of Bancroft and each family paid for one.
In 1961 a committe was formed to build a church hall connected to the main building. Mr. Ken Fisk was chairman and this was completed within due time and as before by free labour. It has proved a great benefit to the community as well as the church.
There is a good hard-topped road right to the church now but this wasn’t always the case. At one time the minister left his car below Tripp’s Hill in the spring of the year and was transported by army truck to and from the church. Usually the whole congregation rode along with him on the return trip with Arthur Nicoll at the wheel.
The people of Baptiste are very proud of their little church. Until last year it was the only church open in Herschel Township and we hope it will always remain here as a landmark and inspiration.
It is to be regretted that the regular congregation has dwindled until now services are held only in the summer when the tourists and cottagers are here.
The U.C.W. has less than 10 members with Mrs. Ken Fisk as President, but every year they plan and hold a summer bazaar which is really worth attending. At one time there was a Sunday School of over fifty members with Ken Fisk as Superintendent, but it also has been discontinued for lack of children in the community. Mrs. Effie Summers was organist for the U.C.W. and also the congregation for a period of 35 years while the Summers’ operated a tourist lodge at Baptiste. Also Mrs. Edythe Nicoll will have completed 45 years as Secretary Treasurer when she resigns at the end of 1975.
To All the dedicated members over the years we say “Thanks” and “God Bless You”.
God has been very kind in many ways to the people who live around this beautiful lake and it is to be hoped that the few dedicated families who still remain here will keep this church operating for many years to come.
Written by Marguerite McColl