If Ontario’s barns are its “castles” as some have stated, the rural churches are its cathedrals – erected by early settlers as a testament to their faith in a new land.
The Bond Head Women’s Institute has just completed a series of calendars on the “Disappearing Barns of Bradford West Gwillimbury.”
For five years – with a break to create a Canada 150 Sesquicentennial Calendar for 2017 – the ladies of the Women’s Institute photographed the historic barns of BWG and old West Gwillimbury township, to create a series of colourful and collectible calendars.
“The barns are the backbone of the Scotch Settlement (the lands around Line 5) and the Bradford area,” explained WI president Leila Lloyd. “If you turn the clock back 100 years, every farm would have a beautiful barn, and a family living there.”
With family farms disappearing, farm amalgamations, and spreading subdivisions, many of the barns have fallen into disrepair. The calendars were a way to document a fast-disappearing way of life.
Which brings the Women’s Institute to its 2019 calendar project – the Historic Churches of Bradford West Gwillimbury.
“With the family farms disappearing, the small churches are disappearing,” said Lloyd. “People went to the local church. It was the social highlight of the community.”
Building a place of worship was often the settlers’ first concern, after clearing their land and housing their families. In the Scotch Settlement area of West Gwillimbury, families returning from Lord Selkirk’s failed Red River colony arrived circa 1819, and built their first log church in 1820.
That church is the Auld Kirk, replaced at first by a frame structure and then, in 1868, by the brick church that still stands on Line 6 – a church that was designated a Heritage Site and graces the cover of the calendar.
“We remember the church dances, dinners, bazaars, bingos and barbecues,” said WI member Mikki Nanowski. “Churches represented the heart and soul of the community, and we commemorate our calendar to that era.”
The calendars are available for only $20 each, and make a great gift or stocking-stuffer for anyone interested in the history of Bradford West Gwillimbury. Each page gives a brief history of a different historic church, and its current status – from those that are still thriving, to those that have closed their doors, reflecting Ontario’s changing demographics.
Calendars are available at the Bradford Print Shoppe, from any member of the Bond Head Women’s Institute, or call Leila at 905-775-6618, Jan at 705-456-1870, Mikki at 905-775-4011, or Lynda, 905-775-3188. Funds raised through calendar sales will go to support a range of community projects, including school bursaries.
Just a note: The Auld Kirk will celebrate 200 years in 2020 – and the Bond Head Women’s Institute, its 100th anniversary.