History of Euro-Canadian Worship at the Head of the Lake.

The arrival of several hundred destitute and displaced Northern American settlers at the Head-of-the-Lake, following the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, dates from the last two decades of the eighteenth century. Like the Puritans who fled from the persecution of seventeenth century England, these Loyalists, government officials and soldiers (who were soon followed by thousands of hopeful British immigrants) carried with them strongly held religious beliefs that had long shaped their thinking and way of life. Such convictions were needed to sustain them through their early years of toil and privation, implicit in a pioneer society. Into the area came a variety of faiths-- Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Quaker, Roman Catholic, and Unitarians, the major religions of their European ancestors-- but all with one thing in common, a devotion to the Judaeo-Christian beliefs, whatever the denomination might be.

Settlement beyond the Niagara Peninsula and around the western end of Lake Ontario was slow, especially to the east in the Flamboroughs and above the Niagara Escarpment in Binbrook and Beverly Townships. Yet in Saltfleet Township, by 1792, a nondenominational chapel, with strong Methodist Episcopal leanings, had been erected on the hill in the central area of the present Stoney Creek Cemetery. Constructed of logs, it was known as ”the chapel in the bush” and was among the very earliest places of worship in Upper Canada. During the Battle of Stoney Creek, the Americans occupied the chapel and after the hostilities had ceased, the little building was found to have suffered serious damage, which resulted in the Reverend Anson Green later noting: "Our Church here with the fences and trees all bear the marks of a battle which was fought in this place on the night of June 5, 1813."

In 1795, the Niagara area, including the Head-of-the-Lake, was organized as a circuit of the New York Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Later that same year, at a Quarterly Circuit Meeting on 6 December, there were reports of settlers in Beverly, Ancaster, Stoney Creek and the Winona area, known as Fifty Mile Creek, meeting in homes for worship services. And further east, between 1 796 and 1 798, according to The Accounts Register, an old Methodist Recording Book, the first settlers into the Rock Chapel area of West Flamborough were served not by Circuit Riding Missionaries but by Methodist Exhorters and Class Leaders who had been given the daunting task of establishing a church in the Flamborough wilderness.

During most of the nineteenth century, Methodism exercised the strongest influence at the Head-of the-Lake, and its dominance, especially in the surrounding townships gave rise to the name, "Methodist Mountain"-- applied to those communities located on the Niagara Escarpment Arriving first was the Loyalists who had flooded into the Niagara frontier by 1790 and with the many more "late loyalists" who arrived before the War of 1812, the Methodists were served largely by the circuit rider for the Methodist Episcopal Church, who operated within a system where flexibility allowed him to preach at fixed times and in specific places so that scattered settlers might meet to listen. Known as “saddlebag preachers” their zeal and dedication made them highly effective in frontier conditions, for there was no demand for a building to hold services, in. Barns, homes, even woodland clearings, were ideal for their work

The Reverend William Case was such a man. Appointed in 1808 by the New York Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church to Canada to serve the scattered settlers in a territory that stretched around the western end of Lake Ontario, he was described as”a handsome man with a powerful voice. On his circuit, which stretched from Trafalgar Township in the east, through Nelson, Ancaster, Beverly, East and West Flamborough to Barton Township in the west, the Reverend Case regularly rode as much as one hundred miles per week, preaching seven or eight sermons to gatherings of the faithful. For this he was paid a salary of £80, an amount that had to cover the cost of clothes, books, horse and fodder, in addition to any other living expenses he might occur.

The headquarters of Case's circuit was in Ancaster, with the chapel at Peter Bowman's residence serving as its central place of worship. This had grown out of a class meeting organized in 1796 by Bowman and his pioneer neighbours—- the families of Jacob and Edmund Smith, Isaac Horning and Duncan Speers. And because as Methodists they were denied ownership of property for religious purposes, their early worship services continued to be held in homes until 182323, when the Legislature at York finally conceded that they had the right to hold property.

Hamilton's Heritage, Vol 7, Part A,Community Planning and Design, Hamilton, Ontario, 2007.