Description of Historic Place
The Presbyterian Church in Hunter River has a large rectangular sanctuary with a steeply pitched gable roof. A small entrance tower on the east of the building has a conical roof. The church has clapboard and wood shingle siding painted white with decorative horizontal moulding painted black and set underneath the sills of the single and grouped Gothic arch windows.
The church is valued for its elegantly simplistic Gothic Revival style and for its association with the history of the Presbyterian church in Prince Edward Island.
When it opened for services on January 22, 1890, the church was shared by three denominations in Hunter River. Gradually, as members of the Anglican and Church of Scotland denominations declined, the church became exclusively used by members of the Presbyterian faith.
The balanced design of the church is simplistic and clean with many narrow pointed arch Gothic windows. The small side entrance vestibule also has a round arch door. An interesting feature of the building is the open eaves with exposed rafters trimmed for detail.
The land for the church was officially deeded to the trustees of the Hunter River Presbyterian Church on April 6, 1906. It had been owned by James and Sarah Patterson, residents of the oldest homestead in Hunter River.
During the debate over church union in Canada, the Hunter River church became the site of fractious dissent and high drama. When the idea of combining Canada's Presbyterian denomination with those of the Methodist and Congregationalist churches emerged in the early 20th Century, the initial reaction was favourable. In votes held in 1912 and 1915, the churches in the Brookfield Charge (Brookfield, Hunter River, and Hartsville) had strongly supported union.
By the time the union was to become a reality in 1925, the idea was rejected by wide margins in Brookfield and Hartsville. However, in Hunter River, it was rejected by a narrow margin of only 19 to 16. The minister of the day, Rev. Hensley Stavert, was an anti-unionist who rallied those who wished to remain with the continuing Presbyterian Church in Canada. When final voting for union began in May 1925, he refused to abide by the directions of the Island Presbytery, and was accused of obstructing unionist members of his congregation from voting.
In one of the final votes, he locked the doors of the church to prevent voters from entering. Presbytery moved to remove him from his charge and install a replacement. While Stavert appealed this decision, the new minister, Rev. George Christie, received a hostile reception from anti-unionist members. They eventually locked the building after each service to prevent unionists from using it. An observor of the situation penned a poem around 1925 entitled: "The Triumph of Right" which appeared in the Guardian newspaper. It concluded that Stavert had been unfairly treated.
Eventually, the unionists decided to go next door to worship in the former Methodist Church - which became the United Church. The dramatic events which unfolded among the Presbyterians in Hunter River exhibited how church union was not without controversy in some parts of Canada.
Today, the church has an active congregation and is well maintained with modern additions on the back for meeting space. It is an asset to the streetscape of the Village of Hunter River.
Source: Culture and Heritage Division, PEI Department of Communities, Cultural Affairs and Labour, Charlottetown, PE C1A 7N8
File #: 4310-20/H17
The following character-defining elements illustrate the heritage value of the church:
- the wood frame construction and wood clapboard and shingle cladding
- the multi-paned single and grouped narrow Gothic arch windows
- the steeply pitched gable roof with open soffits and eaves and exposed rafter ends
- the brick chimney
- the decorative horizontal bands painted black and located under the sills of the windows
- the low entrance tower/vestibule with conical shaped roof
- the round arched entrance door in the small tower
- the modern additions at the back of the church