Many of the early settlers of northern Grey County were Scottish in origin and Presbyterian in faith. At first, families and neighbours worshipped in homes for “house church”. Some lived in the village, while others travelled from their farms in the country.
On June 4, 1846, when the Hamilton Presbytery of the Free Church of Scotland in Canada recognized the congregation “now existing in Sydenham” [Owen Sound] and directed its missionary James Sutherland to give “spiritual supervision to the flock therein.” A year later, the congregation applied for its own minister. The presbytery sent Rev. John McKinnon on 14 April 1848. Before Rev. McKinnon arrived, itinerant ministers served the Presbyterians of this area. Rev. Meldrum and Smiley of the Free Church visited Sydenham. They held the first sacrament during their visit in the upper flat of Kilbourn Tannery. The tannery was located near present day 10th Street and 2nd Avenue East.
The First Church Building
The first church was a hewed log building built in 1849. According to the 1851/52 census, it was large enough to hold about 200 worshippers. By order in council the land at lots 4, 5, 6, 7 on the north side of Union Street (8th Street East) was granted to the Free Presbyterian Church Congregation of Sydenham. The property began at the brow of the hill and went about half way up the block. The exact position of the church building is not known. They requested land for a church and a manse.
The property for the cemetery, east of Garafraxa Road (9th Avenue East), was to be for the community. The cemetery was closed in about 1858. The land was clay and there were problems burying in the ground, because water would rush into the graves.
The location of what was known as Chalmer’s Church did not satisfy all members of the congregation. Later, it was one issue that caused a split. Some wanted the Church in the village itself while others preferred a site at “Kennedy’s Corner” (9th Avenue and 8th Street East).
Chalmer’s Free Presbyterian Church offered church services alternating in English and Gaelic. In 1856, Chalmer’s Church, the parent to Annan, Division Street, and Knox Presbyterian congregations became history.