Church cross keys
Four miles beyond Carleton Place on the Franktown highway is an interesting road which the old timers called the “Cross Keys.” It is the line between the sixth and seventh concessions of the township of Beckwith. It runs easterly, a mile or so between quiet homesteads; then comes to a dead end. A heavy cedar log fence bars further progress. There, inside the farm fence, near the roadside, are the crumbling walls of a ruined church.No one knows why they calledit Cross Keys but the corner was once called Ladies Corners.
Their story may interest those who love the records of old times in our county of Lanark. In 1819 some hundreds of Highland Scots, mostly from Perthshire, sailed from their home land in the ships Sophia, Curlew and Jean, and settled in the township of Beckwith. It is fairly certain that the last stage of their journey from Montreal was by way of Nepean and the new road through Richmond Village which the foxbitten Duke of that name had planned.
It led to Franktown—named after Col. Francis Cockburn, companion on that walk from Perth to Richmond Village which ended so tragically in the Duke’s death from hydrophobia in Chapman’s shanty near the Richmond road. Today a cairn at the roadside reminds the passer-by of that strange death of one of Canada’s governors. read-The Haunted Canoe from the Jock River
The new settlers were located in the usual way, and entered into the hard but hopeful life of settlers in the Upper Canada bush. Twenty miles of swamp and forest separated them from Perth, the capital of a community of retired army officers and discharged soldiers, and of Scotch immigrants, mostly of the mechanic class.
There, since 1817, Rev. William Bell had ministered to a Presbyterian congregation, and from that centre had travelled far and wide on missionary journeys. After the arrival of the Beckwith highlanders, he went there occasionally to preach and to baptize the children. He urged them to get a minister of their own, and prepared a petition to the Presbytery in Edinburgh for this purpose. He wrote, in 1820, enclosing this petition:—
“The petitioners are mostly from Perthshire. A minister who can preach in Gaelic will be very comfortable A fine gentleman’ will not suit the people here. A plain, pious and diligent minister is the one they want. A bond I sent to them has been returned with 54 names subscribed, each of them pledging two bushels of wheat yearly. Money for the last twelve months has almost disappeared, so that barter is the only means by which business can be transacted. People have now, however, plenty to eat.
Disputes on the subject of the KIRK have not yet been introduced among us. In the fall of 1821 the Beckwith people formally asked the Presbytery of Edinburgh to send them a Minister. A ‘Call’ was prepared, signed by nearly all the adults and forwarded in due course to Scotland. This interesting document stipulated that the man chosen must be:
“Of Godly carriage” and conversation, well qualified to expound the Scriptures, gifted in prayer, SKILLED IN THE PRACTICE OF MEDICINE, and able to preach in Gaelic and English. For one who could satisfy these requirements the congregation would guarantee a yearly stipend of £75, about $300 in 1821. The call was answered and Rev. George Buchanan, a graduate in medicine of Edinburgh University and Licentiate of the Associated (Presbyterian) Synod consented to come to this rough field of labor in the new world.
His daughter writes of him that—“Although sixty years old his eye was not dimmed nor his natural strength abated. Gaelic and English he spoke with equal readiness, while scarcely less familiar with Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Of medium height and compact build, vigorous in mind and body, brisk in movement and pleasing in address. With his wife and ten children he sailed from Greenock in May, 1822, in the good ship the Earl of Buckinghamshire which had in previous years brought out hundreds of settlers for North Lanark. An ocean voyage of 38 days brought the travellers to Quebec. Thence part of the route was by water; and many a weary mile by land over roads and through swamps almost impassable.
From Brockville the tiring journey in wagons heavily loaded with furniture and supplies lasted alnost a week, ending at Franktown. McKim’s log tavern and three shanties in a patch of half cleared ground made up that so called village. More than one of the younger Buchanans tearfully begged their parents to be taken back to Scotland. No abode awaited them.
James Wall, a big-hearted Irishm and not a Presbyterian—offered them the use of a small log shack he had just put up; and in it the new Minister’s family lived for six weeks. It had one room, and neither door nor window. Quilts and blankets served as doors and partitions. Cooking was done on the flat stone which served as a hearth in the fireplace. More smoke stayed inside than found its way out. Millions of mosquitoes and black flies added to their discomfort. Wolves prowled around the house in the darkness, uttering dismal howls.
Their first Sabbath was clear and bright and a crowd gathered from far and near to the open air service. A huge tree had been cut down, the stump of which, sawed off straight, sufficed for a pulpit. First in English; then, after an intermisson, in Gaelic, Mr. Buchanan preached to his congregation. And aged men and women, not a few, shed tears of joy to hear the gospel again in the language of their native glens.
Children baptised at that time bore names still familiar in the district:
Peter Stewart, James McDiarmid, Alexander Campbell, Daniel Ferguson, Robert Scott, Mary Carmichael, Janet Cram: These appear on the first page of the Church Register of baptisms. And the congregation was Scottish through and through: Carmichael, Kennedy, Dewar, Ferguson, Stewart, Anderson, McGregor, McEwen, Cram, McArthur, McTavish, Snclair, McLaren are characteristic names among the heads of families which composed th at congregation of one hundred and fifteen years ago
Dr. Buchanan selected for his home lot 14 in the 7th Concession of Beckwith—on the road known as the Cross Keys. The family lived six weeks in Wall’s shack. Then, harvesting finished, the people turned out in force, cut logs, and built a large shanty for their minister. They roofed it with troughs, laid a big flat stone against the wall for a chimney, left a space at the ridge for smoke to escape, smoothed one side of split logs for the floor, and put in a door and two windows.
There was no lumber for partitions, so curtains were used to divide the interior. And this was the Beckwith Manse for about a year. That winter men were hired to clear some of the land and take out timber for a new house which was ready by September, 1823. It had plank floors, a stone chimney, several rooms and a cellar.
A rude building had been put up for church services. For years there was ” little” improvement in this respect.
Today all that remains is a sign hidden by the trees and the remains of scattered stone.