391 Beach Road
(Little Metis Presbyterian Church)
Known locally as the Yellow Kirk (honouring the Scottish roots of the population), the Little Metis Presbyterian Church welcomes parishioners every summer, some from families coming to Metis for generations, and others – newcomers. Presbyterian services, until this church was built, were held at Leggatt’s Point, three miles distant along poor roads, and hard to reach for “downtown” (Beach Road) summer residents, especially as many attended church twice on Sundays. Ground for the church was cleared in 1882 and construction began in 1883, with the participation of local French and English community members, whose names – Astle, Bérubé, Campbell, Cavil, Crawford, Gagnon, Levesque, Martin, McEwing, Meikle, Page, Picard, Proulx, Rousseau, Sim, Smith, Tuggey and Turriff – are still known to many today.
Did you know… ? Summer churches, open just a few months a year, were very popular at one time. In Quebec, there were such places of worship in holiday spots like Tadoussac, Cacouna, St. Patrick’s, and Murray Bay. Why not then in Little Metis with its many hotels and summer homes?
This church was restored in 2019 as a perfect example of what a summer church built in the 1880s looked like – simple, but welcoming, with large plain windows and straight wooden pews, adorned by the surreptitiously scratched-in initials of bored teen-aged boys (and girls). Suitable for most Protestant denominations, the Little Metis church in its day boasted some of Canada’s finest preachers, attracted by the bracing air of what McGill’s Sir William Dawson declared was Quebec’s healthiest location. It’s a pity to miss the inside, but those who attend its services are happy to show you their historic old church (better yet, everyone is welcome to attend Sunday 10:30 a.m. services in July and August!).
Long-time summer resident and trustee of the church, Anson McKim, explains the origin of the church and recalls a family story.
John Cook Thomson, Quebec City businessman and elder of Quebec City’s St. Andrew’s Church and a summer visitor to Metis, was the driving force behind the building of the “East End Presbyterian Church”– later called the Little Metis Presbyterian Church or LMPC. The term ‘East End’ distinguished it from the year-round Leggatt’s Point Presbyterian Church, which was being built at the same time to the west in Grand Metis. Until these churches opened, Presbyterian services were held at what is now the Killiekrankie Inn.
In 1881, Thomson bought a 6,000 metre2 (1½-acre) plot of land at the west end of the village from fellow summer visitor, Hugh Patton. Thomson then deeded the land to the Ministers of St. Andrew’s and Chalmers Churches in Quebec City, to be held in trust for the Presbyterian Church in Canada for the purpose of building a church.
The Rev. Thomas Fenwick, himself a major donor and Presbyterian Minister in Metis at the time, led fundraising for the new church through donations from residents and summer visitors, as well as from concerts at local hotels, and by borrowing by Messrs. Thomson and Ferguson from Robert and William Turriff.
A building committee comprised of John Thomson, Seigneur John H. Ferguson and a prominent summer visitor, Professor J. Clark Murray of McGill University, chose the Montreal architects Hutchison & Steele, planners of McGill’s Redpath Museum, to design the church.
Following clearing of the land in 1882, construction of the church began in 1883, with community members contributing through subscriptions and in other ways, such as by offering work or produce. People involved were not only those whose descendants live on or are known to those in the area today, but also others well known at the time: Craig, Blue, and Laing.
The church opened in 1884, and since then has operated continually in the months of July and August (although distanced in 2020). Each year, church Trustees – many descended from earlier church Trustees – arrange for Presbyterian ministers from away to lead services. While there have been considerable social and economic changes in the years since its inauguration, the church has altered relatively little since then, as you can see from the list below.
1892: The Mason and Hamlin foot-pump organ, to be used for the next 85 years, was installed in the church. In 1874, Metis’s Sir William Dawson had been so perturbed by the issue of organs in churches that he and 60 others walked out of Montreal’s Erskine Church. If some more conservative Presbyterians might still have refused to sing hymns in 1884, concerns had dissipated by the turn of the century.
1893 Evidence of the church’s settling led to the addition of new foundation support posts, and the fitting of wrought iron ‘knees’ to reinforce the beam, rafter joints, and four internal wooden pillars.
1895: The portico and roof over the front door were added, providing the minister of the day with some protection against inclement weather when greeting congregants leaving services. When the back vestry (where the minister dons his – or now her – robes) was added is unknown.
So, what’s missing from this early photo of the church?
Yup, a place for the bell.
1922: Congregation members Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Lowden, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, donated a bell to call church members to worship.
1924: The Bell Tower, designed by Montrealer Harold H.L. Featherstonhaugh (also a summer resident), was built to house the bell donated by the Lowdens.
~1935: Members of the LMPC voted in the first female trustee – Mrs. John Pullen – whose husband had preceded her.
1978: The Board of Trustees recognized the 52 years of service by caretaker Norman Crawford; his picture by the bell tower remains in the church. Derek Astle has been his successor for over 30 years.
2017: After working with the Ministère de Culture et des Communications (Quebec Ministry of Culture and Communications) and the Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Quebec (Quebec Religious Heritage Council), the Quebec government and LMPC congregation funded restoration of the church and bell tower, stabilizing the foundation and roofing to preserve the old, well-known, and largely original landmark for at least another (the congregation hopes) 135 years.
All’s well that ends well… While bell-ringers can be adults, there is no honour as exciting for a young Presbyterian child in Metis as being allowed to ring the bell for Sunday services. Some of the children’s names are scribbled inside the bell
tower’s wooden walls. In 2013, tragedy struck: the 136-kg bell – 28 feet above the ground – was stolen from the tower and never recovered. Happily, it was replaced in 2016 and the sound of the bell is again heard in the land. As Trustee Ted Savage said, “It brought everybody together. It made us more aware, actually, of the history of this bell.”
Like all Metis-area churches, the Little Metis Presbyterian Church is a family affair. As many as six generations of family commitment can be seen in this partial list of the Church’s Board of Trustees over the years and a number of these have donated items in memory of loved ones.
Baptisms and weddings are increasingly being celebrated in the Little Yellow Church, and memorial services allow members to recognize the passing of members during the rest of the year. The deaths of summer minister James (Jimmy) Jones and long-time Trustee Kerry Martin were marked there. Also, the wedding of third-generation church Trustee Peter Amsden took place there, and the start of new life was celebrated with the baptism of Trustee Beverley Birks’ granddaughter.
Share and share alike. Interestingly, the Little Metis Presbyterian Church was built with the understanding that it would be available for other Protestant denominations to use when not being used for Presbyterian services.
- It was used for services for Anglicans until the early 1900s when St. George’s Anglican Church was built on MacNider Road with the patronage of the Molson family.
- For over 100 years, the LMPC has contributed to the Leggatt’s Point Presbyterian Church and, since 1925, also to the Metis Beach United Church (two thirds of Presbyterians in Canada joined three other Protestant denominations that year to form the United Church).
Lest you think the traffic between the churches is only one way, think again: LMPC congregation members are welcomed warmly by these two year-round churches for services in June and September. And all three churches work with L’Église Notre-Dame de-la-Compassion to raise money for all the churches at Metis’s annual Garden Party.
In 1993, recognizing the LMPC’s broader community, an outreach committee was formed with on-the-ground “eyes and ears” looking out for local families in need of some assistance. Contributions also have been made to the local school for athletic endeavours. More recently, the LMPC and congregation members gave to the ‘Virtual Fridge’, a project set up to help families whose livelihood has been hurt by Covid-19. The ties of summer residents to their local neighbours remain strong.
Did you know…? A vote was taken by plebiscite in 1926 to decide a very weighty matter: whether to allow Sunday afternoon golf after services had ended at the respective churches. It passed.
Connections through time: Stemming from the warm relationships built in Metis among families and friends – is it the air? the light? the water? the sports? the sunsets? the cocktail parties? – there are connections well beyond Metis’s physical borders.
The Little Metis Presbyterian Church has a long-standing (if informal) link with Montreal’s Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul. Two can be seen by peeking in a window. The round memorial windows on the north wall were a gift from the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul for the local church’s centenary in 1983 (the windows were in the original ‘A&P’ church at what is now Central Station), Montreal). The Celtic Cross behind the podium and the Baptismal Font near the organ were made by Rev. James Peter Jones, an LMPC summer minister who also was an assistant minister at St. Andrew and St. Paul.