Description of Historic Place
Located in a pastoral setting in Belfast, this wood framed church is one of the oldest Presbyterian houses of worship in the province. The unique church occupies its original footprint and has many original features including a four stage entrance tower with bell and weathervane. The gable roof has eave returns and the wood shingled exterior has various sized pointed arch Gothic windows with tracery.
This early 19th century rural church is valued for its historic association with the pioneer Selkirk settlers of Belfast; for its well preserved Neoclassical architectural style; and for its contribution to the community.
The Scottish pioneers who established the church arrived in 1803 aboard the "Polly" which anchored off the coast. Others came later on the "Dykes" which landed in Charlottetown and the "Oughton" which arrived in Georgetown. Most of the settlers were from the Isle of Skye and had been personally sponsored by Lord Selkirk who was one of the few lairds who tried to improve the lives of their clansmen during the time of the Highland Clearances.
The efforts of Dr. Angus MacAulay, a lay preacher and medical doctor, was instrumental in helping to establish the first church (a log structure) in 1804. MacAulay also served as the agent for Selkirk in PEI and had been a chaplain in the British Army.
MacAulay tended to the spiritual needs of the settlers until 1822, when he was replaced by the Rev. John MacLennan, the first full time minister in the congregation.
During the early years of MacLennan's ministry, it was decided that a new church was needed. Members of the congregation had become familar with Robert Jones, a shipjoiner and lumber surveyor who had been operating Lord Selkirk's lumber mill on the Pinette River near Belfast since 1815. When the project to build the new church was advertised in the Island Register in 1824, Jones applied for the job and was successful.
The Neoclassical design Jones created has aspects which resemble the work of Sir Christopher Wren in London, England. The multi-staged tower, for instance, is purely Wren-like in its design. Jones kept a meticulous diary of his work on the church which is still in the possession of his descendants.
Some aspects of the design were added later such as the bell in the 1830s and the spire in the 1860s. Six of the original nine windows are original, as are the double front doors and the interior balcony. The building was reshingled in 1856 and in 1934 stained glass was added to the large window in the east elevation.
The Scottish traditions of the congregation remained strong with services being conducted in both English and Gaelic into the 20th century. In 1903, a commemorative monument to the Selkirk pioneers was erected on the church grounds. The congregation voted to remain Presbyterian at the time of Church Union in Canada in 1925.
Today, the well preserved church is a landmark in the community and a significant cultural resource in the province.
Source: Culture and Heritage Division, PEI Department of Tourism and Culture, Charlottetown, PE C1A 7N8
File #: 4310-20/K11
The heritage value of the church is shown in the following character-defining elements:
- the wood frame and wood shingle cladding
- the gable roof with eave returns
- the four stage entrance tower with bell and tapered spire topped by a weathervane
- the various sized pointed arch Gothic windows with tracery
- the hood moulding of the windows
- the location of the church in a rural setting near its cemetery