Last week I was doing some research work on Eliza and William Kelly who donated the stained glass windows on the Epistle side of St. James Anglican church in Carleton Place, ON. when I got side tracked. The windows of St. John the Beloved and St. Andrew have been plaguing me for awhile now, but there is nothing more enjoyable to write about than the story of a building.
It was the old brick parish hall built in 1924 that really intrigued me. Elliot Memorial Hall sits on the former location of an old lumber yard, and if the walls of the church hall could talk, they would tell tales of quilting bees, farm meetings, wedding receptions and the voices of the Junior Choir would provide the soundtrack. All these wonderful memories were housed in a building that was named after one of the most influential and longest serving rectors of the parish: Canon Archibald Elliot.
Thinking of my own church hall, Trinity Anglican Church in Cowansville, Quebec, I realized both buildings were similar. None of these structures are noteworthy in architecture, but I can remember every nook and cranny like a lot of people. From the stage where I sang my first song of “How Much is that Doggie in the Window” to memories of the annual Christmas tea, the men’s oyster suppers and the teen dances later on in life.
In the summer the hall was used for Vacation School, and to this day I still remember how to make a pencil holder with Plaster of Paris, aluminum foil and and an empty frozen orange juice container. I will never forget being wedged between my grandmother and my mother on hard “splinter-giving” chairs while we waited to serve tea after a funeral. I can still smell my grandmother’s “Evening in Paris” perfume, and hear the noises my mothers crinoline made while she fanned herself with a napkin.
Did I learn much about religion in those hallowed halls?
Did I run a tight ship when I was head of the Sunday School?
I remember picture and hymn books, but what I remember most is the inner workings and the warmth of that building. That is what lingers most in my memories just like the parish hall of St. James does. When I walk into that building today I still feel the invisible arms of friendship around me. I sense the history of women that worked in the kitchen that was sometimes too small, or the fridge not big enough. I hear the scrapings of wooden tables and chairs being moved about and hear laughter in the air.
How many slices of pie were given out in that church hall and how many leftovers were donated to those in need? Of course there are still the whispers of arguments during budget meetings, but some how they are soothed over by the men and their muffins brought in once a week.
I am lucky; I have two buildings to remember, but for others Elliot Memorial Hall is the only memory some have. Photographs can preserve the memories of things, as good fellowship and friendships are lasting, while sometimes buildings are not. Some structures stand forever, some stand for a short while. I suspect the church hall’s favourite task was providing shelter for those that entered, listening to the laughter of playgroups, the clicking of needles, and spirited tongues. The memories of Elliot Hall and all the other church halls, almost tangible, still something real, in this world that changes so fast, are soon to become simply reflections of the way life once used to be.
St. Andrews Church choir, Perth, Ontario, 1911