Historic church a marker of time

·2 min read

NAPIER - Down an unassuming country road, just 17km from Strathroy and a stone’s throw from Kerwood, stands St. Mary’s Anglican Church.

It’s a remnant from a time when the small community of Napier - today dubbed “almost a ghost-town” by Wikipedia - was vibrant and bustling with life.

The wood frame church is the oldest remaining in Middlesex County, constructed sometime between 1841 and 1843 on land donated by an early settler.

The church was consecrated by Rev. Benjamin Cronyn, Bishop of Huron, in 1860, at which time it received the name “St. Mary’s”.

“We have now 140 families,” reads an 1844 diary entry from Rev. Dominic Edward Blake. Yet, as time progressed, the congregation dwindled.

St. Catherine’s Church in Katesville, which was built around the same time as St. Mary’s, was closed and used as a school in 1880. The days of St. Mary’s were numbered, too, and the last service was held 29 January 1920.

A committee was formed in 2002 by members of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Kerwood. Members and non-members continue to maintain the little white church and its adjacent cemetery.

“Strong determination, financial support, and past dedication by those such as Enna Field and Ethel Toohill, to name only a few,” lists committee member Mary Ann Martin. She says there are many people to thank for the preservation of the Napier landmark.

These days, the doors are swung open about once per year for an Annual Decoration Service at the cemetery, often with guest speakers and officiants/musical performers. Of course in 2020, this tradition - like s0 many others - was interrupted.

“We hope that after Covid we may return to the routine of opening up the doors to continue the tradition of worship and enjoy fellowship social time after,” adds Martin.

A great deal of the church’s history is documented in St. Mary’s Church and the Soldiers’ Settlement of Metcalfe, written decades ago by Mrs. Arthur Field. Nearby residents may be able to find a dusty copy amongst their grandparents’ things; if not, it is available from the Strathroy & District Historical Society.

McKinley Leonard-Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Middlesex Banner