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St. John’s Church, Irondale

June 18, 2023

An aerial view of Irondale, with St. John's Church lower right

By Guy Scott

It began in Pennsylvania when Charles Pusey married Ruth Atklins, the daughter of a family that had made its fortune in the iron ore industry. Pusey joined the family business and dedicated himself to expanding it. In 1881, he heard reports of iron deposits in Snowdon Township and formed the Toronto Iron Company with other American investors in order to investigate.

It wasn’t long before he found an ore body in the tiny community of Devil’s Creek and began buying up land in the area, which he quickly renamed Irondale. As the town began to flourish around the mines, Pusey sent for his wife, Ruth, who arrived at Irondale in the mid-1880s. Active in the Anglican Church, Ruth devoted herself to providing a place for the town to worship. It was a task that occupied her until her death in 1892. Her obituary in the Peterborough Examiner read:

She was a member of the English church and showed her fidelity by procuring through her own effort, and largely by her own means, the erection of a new church at Irondale, now nearly completed. She was a most amiable character, kind-hearted, kind and unselfish, almost to a fault. Almost entirely on the Puseys’ dollar, construction began on the church in 1887 and upon its completion, the Puseys donated it to the community to be a house of worship for people of all denominations. The building was erected in a hip-roofed style, out of native pine, the same wood that was used for its pews. It remains, to this day, the only church in the county built through the generosity of a single donor.

When it turned out that the ore deposits in the hills were not going to make anyone rich, the Toronto Iron Ore Company’s holdings were sold off, including the church, which was purchased by the Anglican Synod in 1901 for $50. The story of generosity continued, however, as the church remained non-denominational.

From 1920 until 1940, there were separate United and Anglican services held each Sunday. There was soon nothing left of the stores, hotels, mills and railway station that made up Irondale, but the church remained, tucked up against the tree line, and cared for by its parishioners. George and Ethel Simmons lived across from the church, and with the help of others, took on much of its upkeep. It was Ethel who got permission to plant a vegetable garden beside the church, her son Fred who continued the garden after her death and Fred’s daughter Brenda who had the idea to use the vegetables for the magnificent decorations in the church each Thanksgiving. Fred also took on much of the maintenance of the church itself, aided by parishioners and friends giving of their time.

There have been a few changes to Pusey’s original church. It was painted white sometime between 1928 and 1935; a belfry was added in the 1930s. When the church hall was built in 1979, everything but the framing was done through donated labour. Once completed, the congregation found out that the church did not own the land it was built on, but the township stepped in and donated the land.

As much as has changed has remained the same. The clear glass windows are original, as is the alter and the wainscoting, which was stripped back to its original wood in the 1970s. Perhaps the most interesting thing hasn’t changed, though is the generosity of the St. John’s congregation, which has lovingly cared for the church for over 120 years. The last service was given at St. John’s on August 29, 2010, with Margaret Milne officiating.

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