Description of Historic Place
Saint Matthew's Presbyterian Church is located on Highway no. 307 in Wallace, Nova Scotia. Situated near the centre of the village, this wooden church was built in 1828. The building, cemetery and property are included in the provincial designation.
Saint Matthew's Presbyterian Church is valued for its historical association with the Church of Scotland tradition in Nova Scotia and as the oldest remaining Presbyterian church in the province.
Out of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland came the established Church of Scotland. Although there were non-adhering Protestant sects and Roman Catholics, most Scots belonged to the Church of Scotland until 1733. In that year, the Secessionist Church came into being over a violent disagreement on the questions of patronage and the role the state should have in the life of the church.
The large majority of Scots who settled both in Pictou County and around Wallace in Cumberland County, were Gaelic speaking Highlanders and members of the Church of Scotland. The Scottish Presbyterian ministers who came to Nova Scotia initially however, were of the Secessionist Church and did not speak Gaelic. An exception was Gaelic speaking Reverend James MacGregor, while based in Pictou, occasionally administered to Presbyterians at Wallace as early as 1793.
In 1828, several families in the Wallace area formed a Church of Scotland congregation. They erected a church and petitioned the Glasgow Colonial Church Society in Scotland for a minister who could preach in both Gaelic and English. Meanwhile, the Reverend John MacKenzie, minister of St. Andrew's Church of Scotland Pictou, visited when he could.
Finally, in 1832, Reverend Hugh MacKenzie arrived from Ross-Shire, Scotland. MacKenzie preached and visited his congregation regularly. He began teaching local children and became the manager of one of the five schools in the area. In 1840, he transferred to Lochaber and shortly afterwards returned to Scotland. The Glasgow Society sent Reverend James Dunn in 1856 to Wallace, but ill health caused him to return to Scotland. Reverend James Christie succeeded him and some stability came to the life of the congregation.
Another disruption in Scottish Presbyterianism in the 1840s had resulted in the formation of the Free Church. This lead to the establishment of another Presbyterian church at Wallce, the Knox Church in 1847. In 1897 the two Presbyterian congregations united under the ministry of the Reverend D.A. Frame and as part of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. On the creation of the United Church of Canada in 1925, when many Presbyterian and Methodist churches joined together, the congregation of St. Matthew's chose to remain within Presbyterian Church of Canada.
Throughout its history, St. Matthew's has upheld the Church of Scotland tradition in Nova Scotia and is the oldest standing church, still adhering to the Presbyterian Church, in the province. It is a large wooden structure, with a gable roof, and a heavy pediment in the front elevation. A bell tower is located in the centre of this elevation, and forms an entrance porch. There is a small rondel, or round window, in the bell tower, a pointed arch window on either side of the tower, and four such windows within each of the side elevations. In the rear elevation is a small Palladian window, with the centre panel pointed. Although erected in 1828, the building underwent several alterations in 1906. These changes included the noted windows, the Palladian window excepted, and the porch. Headstones dating from the founding of the church to more recent times, in a variety of stone, can be found in the cemetery surrounding the church.
Saint Matthew's Presbyterian Church continues to hold regular services and the cemetery is still active.
Source: Provincial Heritage Program property files, no. 190, 1747 Summer Street, Halifax, NS.
Character-defining elements of Saint Matthew's Presbyterian Church include:
- one-storey wooden construction;
- gable roof;
- heavy pediment in the front elevation;
- bell tower located in the centre of front elevation;
- entrance porch;
- small rondel in the bell tower;
- pointed arch windows on either side of tower;
- four pointed arch windows within each side elevation;
- small Palladian window, with the centre panel pointed, in rear elevation;
- cemetery with a variety of headstones surrounding church building on three sides.