Clipped from The Ottawa Journal, 10 Dec 1955
If you cross the 7th Concession line of Beckwith there is a gnarled black oak that over a 190 years ago the Highlanders rested by after crossing the Jock River. Under this tree they had put their boots and shoes which they had removed to cross the water to worship. In the 195o’s there remained just 4 stone walls where they had once sung praises to a higher power that had led them through the bush.
The lonely forgotten Auld Kirk was once a beacon of promise and a memento of when life in the Lanark County wilderness was a struggle. In the fall of 1821 the people of Beckwith Township petitioned Scotland for a Presbyterian minister. Over twenty five miles of swamp and bush separated them from going to worship in Perth. They demanded unusual qualifications not asked of another preacher in the area. The minister was to be of ungodly carriage and well qualified to give the Scripture in Gaelic and English. The local citizens also wanted their new preacher to be a man skilled of medicine, but it proved to be a long and difficult item to fill for the people of Beckwith Township.
Eventually the call came to a man by the name of Rev George Buchanan M.D. who decided to leave his civilized living and respond to the urgent summons in the bush. After a difficult journey the Buchanans arrived August 22 1822 at Franktown almost 3 miles from their destination. They arrived to no home at all– not even a temporary one had been set up for them. They had come there because of a plea from the township, but yet all that existed there were harsh impossible living conditions for this family with 10 children.
A big souled Irishman by the name of James Wall offered a small log cabin he had just built and the Buchanans accepted it. With spartan endurance the family did its best and the family hung quilts and blankets over the doors and windows. They cooked on a flat stone at the end of the cabin and that first Sabbath in Beckwith they had their first service outside in a clearing. Logs made furniture and flour and provisions were brought back to Beckwith from Perth and Brockville on the backs of men.
The initial English Gaelic service was held in the middle of a bush with women and children that had trudged many miles and sat on logs while mosquitoes swarmed over them. The services were held for 6 weeks until the harshness came.There was no choir only his wife with 10 children who led song along with John Cram. It was said that there were tears shed of joy when they heard the service in their native’glens’. The next year they made him a better home,said to be a larger shanty, that people knocked on the door in the middle of the night to attend babies that were being born or sickness. Services were also held in the barn. In 1824 Reverend Bell of Perth invited Buchanan to preach and the reverend and wife walked to Perth crossing a swamp a mile long.
For several years George preached under an open sky and then they built the church with stone hauled by stone boats but he never got to preach in that church. There was a formal separation of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the dissent even reached Beckwith Township. Rumours circulated that his wife was controlling and was both “husband and wife”. The barn on his property that he held services in burned down and no one offered to replace it. Bad crops were blamed on Buchanan’s poor preaching of services and the list went on until Reverend Bell brought someone else in to assist him. Broken hearted Buchanan died three years later.
For only 7 years the church that was built with free labour of a congregation held services and then it was deserted. Remembering the heartbreak dissension of the Free Kirk and the Auld Kirk I imagine the voice of Rev George Buchanan still echos in Beckwith Township somewhere still today.
Photo 1910 — original photo
Joann Voyce sent us this newspaper photo–thanks Joann!
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