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Shrewsbury Church Targeted by Vandals -- Again!

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--July 27, 2009

Another remnant of the once-thriving English-speaking population of the Lower Laurentians’ is under attack. St. John’s Anglican Church, built in 1858, and virtually all that remains of the little village of Shrewsbury, has been the target of vandals -- again.

Broken door. (Photo - Christopher Howlett)
Christopher Howlett, a resident of nearby Lakefield, reports that vandals have been “terrorizing the church” which sits along a lonely stretch of road west of Lake Barron near Lachute. Windows have been smashed, the front door kicked in, and the organ and other furnishings broken. The pioneer cemetery, adjacent to the historic church, has also been hit. “Many gravestones,” Howlett reports, “have been smashed or knocked down.”

St. John’s and its little cemetery are all that are left of the once thriving settlement of Shrewsbury. There are no longer any residents or other buildings whatsoever in the immediate vicinity. Shrewsbury was pioneered largely by Irish immigrants who began to arrive in the vicinity in the 1830s. According to historian Sandra Stock, in the beginning, “there was relative prosperity, with the land sustaining livestock and good crops, despite the short Laurentian growing season. Family incomes were supplemented by the production of potash and later on, by the sale of lumber from the forests cleared to create fields. Many men found work on the canals that were then being built at Grenville and Carillon, and eventually in the winter lumber camps. In the early days, the future seemed positive.” More desecration! (Photo - Christopher Howlett)

Disease, depression and drought, however, all took their toll on the little community. “By 1915,” Stock writes, “there were less than half the people living in Gore [the municipality in which Shrewsbury sits] than in 1891. The out-migration had not all gone to the West or the United States. Many families had moved into the Arundel area when that township was opened up for settlement in the 1870s and 1880s… Some had bought or received grants of farms in Mille Isles or Morin though neither of these districts was especially suited to agriculture as the land was much more mountainous and rocky in that area. On the other hand, there were more opportunities for employment outside of farming in these areas. Morin and Arundel had prosperous lumber industries and were on the direct railway line (1895 in the case of Morin Flats) of the Canadian National, unlike Shrewsbury… which never had access to rail transportation.”

Until recently, services were held at St. John’s Church occasionally during the warmer months. The congregation has dwindled, however, to the point where there is now only one annual service. Despite its relative inactivity, the church has been fairly well cared for over the years, although it has been targeted by vandals on countless occasions. In 2007, talks were begun between members of the congregation and the municipality of Gore concerning the future of the building. Scott Pearce, the mayor of Gore, told the congregation that the municipality would be interested in acquiring the building to restore it and convert it into a multi-use community centre. The congregation voted in favour of this plan and a committee was formed to work with the municipality.Although the Anglican Church is still the legal owner of St. John’s, the municipality of Gore is currently attempting to finalize the transfer the church. The file is in the hands of a notary who is attempting to locate the title deeds. “We need to make sure that the Anglican Church does actually own the land the building sits on,” says Gore director general Ron Kelley. “If we can’t locate the deeds, we will petition the government to help us affect the transfer. In any case, the cemetery attached to the church will remain the property of the Anglican Church, and the congregation will retain the right to hold services – free of charge -- in the building.” According to Kelley, the church was broken into “at least 30 times in 2008 alone, and maybe another 15 times this year.” Windows have been smashed, and on one occasion, vandals attempted to get up into the bell tower. The building seems to have some strange fascination among the kids,Kelley says. “Word seems to have gotten out that the church is haunted.” This latest round of wanton destruction -- and desecration – has not deterred the municipality from its plans to acquire the historic building. “We intend to fix up the building gradually, and hopefully get some grants to do this. So far we have $4000. We need more. But we also need to get title to the church before moving any further,” Kelley added.

Meanwhile, the police have been alerted. But with the church situated on such a lonely stretch of road, it will not be easy to protect. Fortunately some of the vandals have reportedly been caught on camera.Stayed tuned...

Reference:Sandra Stock, “Shrewsbury – the Vanished Village,” Laurentian Heritage WebMagazine. Click here for articles by Sandra Stock: