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Historical Plaque to commemorate the Grand River Mission
First name Joyce
Last name Smith
Community Onondaga


Story

Press Release of the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities

On Sunday, July 22, 1973, at 1:00 p.m. an historical plaque commemorating the Grand River Mission will be unveiled at Salt Springs United Church, about three miles south of Cainsville. This plaque is one of a series being erected throughout the province by the Historical and Museums Branch, Ministry of Colleges and Universities, acting on the advice of the Archaeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario.

Sunday's ceremony is being arranged and sponsored jointly by the Salt Springs United Church and the Brant Historical Society. Mr. J. Howard Hamilton, Chairman of the Church's Anniversary Committee, will act as master of ceremonies. Among those who have been invited to take part are: Mr. Robert Nixon, M.P.P., Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario; Mr. Derek Blackburn, M.P. (Brant); Mr. Vernon C. Young, Warden, Brant County; Mr. James McBlain, Reeve, Onondaga Township; Mr. J. Seston Holden, President of the Brant Historical Society; Chief Richard Isaac, Chief Councillor of the Six Nations Council; Mr. Leslie R. Gray, who will represent the province's Historic Sites Board; and, Mr. Ronald Black, a member of the Salt Springs congregation and student of the church's history. The plaque will be unveiled by Mrs. William D. Oughtred, the oldest life-long member of the congregation. Mr. Thomas A. Vander Schaaf, student minister of Salt Springs United Church, will dedicate the plaque.

The inscription on the plaque reads:

"THE GRAND RIVER MISSION
The establishment of this mission in 1822 began Methodist missionary work among the province's Indians, and the following year the Reverend Alvin Torry organized the first congregation at an Indian settlement known as Davisville. Within two years services were also being held here at Salt Springs where in 1828-29 the Indians erected a frame church which soon became the headquarters for the mission. Through the efforts of George and William Ryerson and others, the Salt Springs congregation grew, but after 1834 a rapidly increasing proportion of its membership consisted of white settlers who were replacing the Indians in the area. After the erection of an Indian church south of the Grand, a brick church was completed here in 1860 and was replaced by the present structure in 1902."

Historical background

Methodist missionary work among the province's Indians began in 1822 when Rev. Alvin Torry was appointed to the Grand River. This new mission was established by the Genesee Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Torry had previously been stationed at Lyon's Creek, near Long Point, where he frequently came in contact with the Indians from the Grand River Reserve and became interested in working among them. His concern was shared and encouraged by William Case, the presiding elder for the Upper Canada District, and it was the latter's influence that resulted in Torry's appointment.

While the Indians were objects of Terry's and Case's concern, the mission was not begun "professedly for the conversion of the Indians, but for the benefit of the scattered white population on the Indian lands".

The latter, Case hoped, would be a "stepping-stone to the Indians". The reason for the reluctance on the part of many prominent Methodists to appoint a missionary solely for the Indians was their belief that Christianity was one of the blessings that followed, rather than preceded, the civilizing of the Indians. Until the latter goal had been achieved, any attempt to convert the Indians was futile. For this reason, too, the settled townships of Rainham and Walpole were included in the mission.

Even before lorry's arrival on the Grand in August, 1822, proselytization among the Indians had been begun by Edmund Stoney, a pious shoemaker who lived near the reserve. He conducted prayer meetings and occasionally preach¬ed at the home of Thomas Davis, a Mohawk chief who lived at Davisville, a small Indian settlement a few miles northwest of Brant's ford.

This hamlet soon became the centre for Torry's activities, especially when, in 1823, Seth Crawford, a Methodist from New York, arrived there to teach the Indians. No building for use as a school was available, but the Chief again came to their assistance by offering them the use of his house while he retreated to a cabin in the woods. The school was begun that autumn and moved the following spring to a new log building, which was erected by the Indians under the supervision of Peter Jones and Seth Crawford and was financed by donations from persons in nearby settlements. The building served as a school and as a chapel, the first one to be established by the Methodists among the province's Indians.

Initially the school met with considerable success. A band of over 100 Missisauga came and camped nearby so that their children could attend. However, the Methodists had less impact on the other tribes in the vicinity and when the Missisauga moved to their new reserve on the Credit, the school's enrollment dropped sharply.

Meanwhile, Torry had been preaching at various locations throughout the mission. At Salt Springs, about ten miles below Davisville, he began conducting occasional services, or appointments, no later than May 1825. Regular appointments began the following year, just before Torry's return to the United States.

In 1826 several of the families who were settled at the Springs requested that a school and chapel be started among them. Materials were collected and construction begun, but opposition to the project developed from "some influential individuals" and the undertaking was postponed. Early the following year, a school was established in a private house. The objections of the "influential individuals" were eventually overcome and in September 1829 the Missionary Society reported that "at the Salt Springs on the Grand River a decent frame chapel 30 by 40 has been erected, principally by the labour of the Christian Indians". Within a few years a parsonage was added.

These developments, combined with the decline at Davisville following the removal of the Missisauga to the Credit, made Salt Springs Mission House the headquarters for Methodism on the Grand. Under a succession of men, including Joseph Messmore, George Ryerson and John Douse, the congregation grew to a peak of 155 Indian members in 1834.

The decline in the Indian membership after this date was principally the result of two developments. During the 1830's and 1840's white squatters began pushing rapidly into the fertile reserve lands in Onondaga Township. In the face of this advance, the Indians retreated to the south side of the Grand, away from the church on the north side. For lack of another place to worship, the settlers attended the church at Salt Springs and by 1842 outnumbered the Indians in the congregation. The removal of the Indians from the area was completed in 1844 when they ceded their lands north of the Grand to the federal government. In addition to the loss of most Indian members, the congregation suffered further from the transfer since the Government placed the lands on the market at a higher price than many of the squatters could afford, thus forcing them to leave the area.

The second reason for the decline in Indian membership was the abandonment in 1840 of the union, effected in 1833, between the Canadian and British Wesleyan Churches. Many of the Methodist Indians claimed that they preferred to retain their connection with the British church. Thereupon William Ryerson, who was then the missionary on the Grand, locked the dissenters out of their chapel at Salt Springs. The membership dropped by over 50 persons and although eventually the rift was overcome, irreparable damage had been done.

For a number of years following their move from the area, some of the Indians continued to attend Salt Springs church, but in 1846 the Missionary Society resolved to build a church on the reserve south of the river. Con¬fusion over the boundaries of the reserve led to postponement and apparently the building was not completed until about 1855.

The Salt Springs church continued with a white congregation and in 1860 a new brick church was completed. This stood until destroyed by fire in 1901, and was replaced the following year by the present structure.

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