Rural Moore Township - Bear Creek Presbyterian Church

Large wooden church with central square tower

The first settlers arrived in the Bear Creek area in 1832 (William Tremells lot 17 conc. 6) but the first minister to the settlers there did not arrive until 5 years later. In 1834, Rev. Cheyne walked into the river area from Amherstburg on a missions’ trip and in 1838 or 1839 he held service at the home of Finlay Farquharson. After this the settlement was occasionally visited by the Methodist ministers who were stationed in Sarnia.  By 1843, Rev. W. McAllister from St. Andrew's Church in Sarnia came to Bear Creek to hold services in the home of Mr. John Coutts. This led to a 12 year relationship between Bear Creek and Sarnia St. Andrews with several Bear Creek residents becoming charter members of the Sarnia congregation. Worship services were held during the week and later (1849) they were able to hold two Sabbath services a week.

In 1855, it was decided that the Bear Creek membership was strong and large enough to warrant its own congregation, set aside as a mission station under the leadership of Mr. Sutherland. At the same time it was also decided to build a house of worship. The land for the building had been purchased 10 years earlier and the building materials were brought across the frozen river from St. Clair, Michigan with volunteer labour from the whole community.  The church was built by Angus McBean and William Young and opened in August 1855, at which time it had 22 members and was to form the nucleus for all the surrounding Presbyterian Churches.  Bear Creek was the first Presbyterian Church in Moore Township.  People would come from miles away to worship here, walking in through the forests and swamps on bare feet and putting on stockings and shoes before entering the house of worship in order to be reverent and respectful. The first minister, inducted in 1855, was Rev. John Gauld. During the first years of the congregation, communion services were held both in English and Gaelic, the mother tongue of the Scottish immigrants.  The customary worship period would last from Friday to Monday with the members bringing their lunches to eat between services on Sunday to avoid the long trek back and forth from church and home.  In 1864 the system of letting pews was instituted to raise money for the minister’s salary.

Disaster struck the congregation in 1867 when the church building was mysteriously destroyed by fire. It was believed that there was arson involved in the incident but, despite the $100 reward, no further information came to light. Only the pulpit Bible was saved by Adam McDonald who climbed in through a window. But with Scottish perseverance a new church was planned on the original site and a contract let within seven days. The contractor, George Procter, built a 300 seat frame church with an ornamental steeple at an estimated cost of $1,400. The doors of the church opened in September 1868. The second church was replaced with a more modern structure built by D.P. Shaw of Brigden in 1909. This church was opened in January 1910 and over the years has been redecorated and remodeled by dedicated members.

Previous to 1867, there is no mention of church music, but in that year the records indicate the provision of a precentor's desk for Mr. Peter Gauld. Instrumental music was introduced to the congregation in 1889 when an organ was purchased. The singing of hymns during the service began in 1898 and the congregation induced to stand while singing. The first organist was Jane McDonald.

The Bear Creek congregation was traditional and conservative Scottish Presbyterian. They were careful about traveling the straight and narrow path with the elders carefully overseeing moral conduct. Dancing was frowned upon and one man was suspended for three years for slandering a woman. It is said that once the elders walked out of the church when, during a social event, "The Land of the Leal" was sung because it was not a hymn. Aside from that, Bear Creek church was noted for the fine quality of its social events, with good food, good entertainment and "intellectual and musical treats". The Presbyterians of the township owe a lot to the Bear Creek church as a "mother" congregation.

In 1925 the congregation was at odds over the discussion of Church Union.  Although eventually Bear Creek Church voted to remain Presbyterian, some individual members left to join the United Church.  In 1931-4 Rev. WM Mitchell came to the charge and, through his influence, Bear Creek and the newly formed Brigden Presbyterian Church became affiliated with Knox Dawn.

The church was redecorated and remodeled in the early 1950s.  Landscaping was completed prior to the Centennial Celebration in 1955.

In 1973 the church was realigned and associated with the Wyoming and Camlachie charges, under the leadership of Rev. Hugh Nugent.

In 1986 discussions began with regard to the church’s future as concern grew over declining numbers of members.  In 1987, at a Joint Congregational meeting, the Presbytery approved amalgamation of Bear Creek and Brigden Presbyterian Churches.  The last service was held September 27th, 1987 under the direction of Rev. Lois Whitwell who remarked that this was not the end of Bear Creek church but the beginning of a new chapter for all.

When the church was closed in 1987, the steeple was removed and used as part of a mini-golf course at Sarnia’s 402 Golfland. When the golf course closed it was donated to Moore Museum, where it remains on the outdoor grounds of the museum.