History of St Luke’s Church
Portland - Saint John

According to the sermons the minister preached, the Sabbath was supposed to be a day of rest, but this didn’t to apply to Mum. She always seemed very rushed on Sunday mornings getting us ready to get to church on time.

Since there were oil lamps in the Kirk, I had a good idea. They could hold the service in the evening but no one heeded my suggestion as children were to be seen and not heard.

By the way, a little flock of Church of England worshippers at Portland, were without a minister from 1823 to 1827, yet they met together in the evenings with their Bibles and Prayer Books and they gladly welcomed occasional visits from the Reverend Grays.

By 1827, the Reverend J. W. D. Gray, who assisted his father at Trinity Church in the present day uptown Saint John, commenced to regularly hold evening Sunday services in Portland. - probably in the homes of Mr. Waterbury on Paradise Row and Mrs. Israel Merritt in Indiantown - until the Grace Church opened on August 16, 1829 at the corner of Simonds and High Street. It was stated in 1888 that this was the first church in Canada to hold continuous evening services.

There are several ‘firsts’ associated with Grace Church. The first Sunday School was organized in December of 1833 with three teachers and six scholars. The first church report, published in December of 1834, showed the number of scholars to be 211 with 14 teachers. The first Children’s Service was held on the afternoon of October 8, 1834, with 129 scholars present, when each child was presented a book. This was the pioneer Church of England Sunday School in New Brunswick, if not in all of Canada, whose sessions were held in the afternoon. It was the first Free Church of England in New Brunswick  - wholly supported by voluntary subscriptions - where the sittings in the church were free. The first rector, the Reverend Gilbert L Wiggins, served at Grace Church from 1833 until 1836 and he was also the first native-born Church of England minister in New Brunswick.

When the Grace Church became too small for the congregation, St. Luke’s Church opened on December 23, 1838. The building was 75 x 50 feet and cost more than two thousand pounds.

In 1841 the Grace Church edifice was taken down and removed to Wall Street and re-erected, where it was known as the “Valley Church”.

On May 28, 1875, St. Luke’s was destroyed by a fire that was first discovered in the barn in the rear of Keltie’s brewery, off Main Street. A burning shingle flew up from the brewery, crossed the small lane adjoining and lodged in the belfry of St. Luke’s. Fanned by a strong wind, the fire spread quickly and soon covered more than 20 acres with eighty dwelling houses being lost and leaving 163 families turned out of doors. By June, plans for a new building had been accepted and a building committee chosen. The church opened for service in the Sunday School Room in January of 1876.

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary in 1889 of St. Luke’s Church, a 200-page book titled, “A Review of the First Half Century History of St Luke’s Church, Portland”, edited by the Rev. L. G. Stevens with information on the rectors, curates and members of the congregation was published.

The footnotes and biographical details in this book remind one of the exchange of news that often takes place as members of church congregations linger near the doorstep following the service.  Fortunately this type of data was included in the publication and may provide interesting notes for the family researcher.

For example, Mrs. Richard Scoles who died at the age of ninety-eight years, was first married to Hugh Phillips of Fermanagh, a shoemaker in the 66th Regiment who made fine boots and slippers for Napoleon. She lived on the Island of St. Helena during the last four years of Napoleon’s imprisonment there. A few years before her death, she gave a coffee-cup that belonged to Napoleon  to the rector of St. Luke’s.

During the half century of St. Luke’s of 1838 to 1888, there were 2906 baptisms, nearly 700 confirmations, 1038 marriages and 1420 funerals.

By the way, you will find the residences given, are not only of Portland - now part of Saint John but Loch Lomond, Ten Mile Creek, Kingston, Hampton and other localities.

 “A Review of the First Half Century History of St Luke’s Church, Portland”, edited by L. G. Stevens is available at the Saint John Free Public Library and the New Brunswick Museum and can be read online at  http://www.ourroots.ca/e/toc.aspx?id=3295. The microfilm records of St. Luke’s Church 1833 - 1911 are at the Saint John Free Public Library and at the Provincial Archives, Fredericton.

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Microfilm of St. Luke's Church  
Baptisms         - 1833 - 1874        1875 - 1911
Marriages       - 1833 - 1875        1875 - 1911
Burials            - 1833 - 1841        1877 - 1911   
Confirmations  - 1876 - 1911

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