Description of Historic Place
The Covenanter Church is a New England meeting house style building located in on a beautiful treed parcel on a hill overlooking the countryside in Grand Pré, NS. The building, cemetery and property are included in the provincial designation.
The Covenanter Church is valued as the oldest extant Presbyterian Church in Canada. It is also valued for its relatively unaltered form and meeting house style.
It was difficult for frontier communities to attract ministers in the late eighteenth century. Therefore, when Reverend James Murdoch, a Presbyterian minister received a land grant in Grand Pré and built a small log church, he was widely welcomed. A parcel of land adjacent to Murdoch’s grant was donated to the congregation near the turn of the nineteenth century for the construction of a wood frame church, the Covenanter Church. Murdoch’s successor, Presbyterian minister Reverend George Gillmore, oversaw the construction of the church between 1804 and 1811. The tower, belfry and steeple were added in 1818.
In 1833 the Reverend Sommerville established a school and introduced a stricter regime by only allowing the psalms to be sung as hymns and began holding longer services. It was at this time that men began sitting on one side of the church and women on the other. Sommerville and his successor, Reverend Thomas McFall, were ordained pastors of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Members of this church called themselves "Covenanters," as successors to those dissenters from the Church of Scotland. From the time this church became identified with this body, and other Presbyterian churches were built in the community, it has been referred to as the Covenanter Church.
From 1894 until its purchase by the Presbyterian Church of Canada in 1912, the church was unused. The church then joined the United Church of Canada in 1925. Today as a member of the Wolfville United Church pastoral charge, the Covenanter Church is still used for services, with the exception of the winter months.
The beauty of the church building is much enhanced by the old cemetery with its great elms and other mature trees surrounding it. Buried in the cemetery are many of the founders of the community, including the Reverend George Gillmore. Others buried there include Andrew and Eunice (Laird) Borden, the parents of Canada's Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden. The cemetery is no longer active.
The Covenanter Church is a typical New England meeting house style, with little sign of decoration, other than the classical entablature supported by pilasters at the main entrance. Since the 1818 addition of the tower and steeple, there have been only occasional repairs made to the building. The interior also remains little altered.
Source: Provincial Heritage Program property files, no. 73
Character-defining elements of the Covenanter Church relate to its New England meeting house style and include:
- two-and-a-half storeys;
- wood frame construction;
- rectangular plan form;
- steeply-pitched gable roof;
- end chimney on the north elevation;
- five-bay front façade;
- classical entablature supported by pilasters at the main entrance;
- wooden tower with a rondel window;
- octagonal belfry with domed roof;
- slender octagonal spire with three-balled metal finial and arrow weathervane.
Character-defining elements of the whole Covenanter Church property include:
- random-rubble stone wall surrounding the church and cemetery;
- mature trees throughout the cemetery;
- all grave stones and monuments, with their surviving inscriptions;
- grass-covered interment areas, and separate family burial plots enclosed with stone pillars and metal links, and cast-iron fencing.