After 226 years of use, the oldest surviving Methodist building in Canada is due for restoration — to the tune of $300,000. Old Hay Bay Church in Napanee, Ont., was built in 1792 by a group of Loyalist pioneers who also used the building as a courthouse and for community meetings. It was designated a National Historic Site in 2001.
“[These sites] provide a link to the past,” says Orland French, a church board trustee. “For the descendants of the Loyalists who built Old Hay Bay, the church and its cemetery provide evidence of their ancestors in this area in the 1790s. . . . It [also] provides a reminder of the dedication of our ancestors to their faith even as they struggled to establish new farms and homes in the wilderness of eastern Ontario.”
French and his wife were church custodians for several years and enjoy seeing visitors’ curiosity and excitement at Old Hay Bay, which hosts an annual pilgrimage service and is open to visitors from the end of May until October. It’s lovingly maintained and managed by volunteers, some of whom are direct descendants of the founders.
The renovations will focus mainly on the church’s siding, windows and foundation. The property, including the cemetery and custodians’ cottage, also needs restoration. To raise the money, the church has launched a three-year campaign. Along with applying for grants, the committee plans to focus on direct donations and events. So far, many United Church Women groups have made substantial donations, as have United Church As One That Serves men’s groups. But more is still needed.
“We hope to raise larger amounts from foundations that are interested in preserving and protecting the heritage of our country,” says French, who is helping with the campaign. “We view it as more than a church, even though it is owned by The United Church of Canada. It is a true heritage site.”