Description of Historic Place
The United Church in the Village of St. Peter's Bay stands prominently on the St. Peter's Road and overlooks the picturesque bay. The Gothic Revival style white church has a gable roof, a series of five pointed arch windows on each of its sides, and a unique three staged entrance tower designed in the New England style which culminates in a Wren-like circular spire. The registration includes the footprint of the building.
The church is valued for its Gothic Revival architectural style; for its association with the history of the Presbyterian and United Church in PEI; and for its contribution to the streetscape of the Village of St. Peter's Bay.
The building was constructed by local builders William Coffin and W.A. Dingwell in the Village of St. Peter's Bay on land which (according to Meacham's Atlas) had been owned by William Coffin. The opening services were held on Sunday, August 8, 1886, with Rev. J.W. MacKenzie as the first minister. MacKenzie had grown up in Hartsville, PEI and attended the Presbyterian College in Montreal. Funding for the building likely came from fundraising activities such as tea parties. One such party was advertised for September 28, 1880 in the Island newspaper, The Presbyterian and Evangelical Protestant Union, to be held by the "ladies of the Presbyterian congregation of St. Peter's... on the grounds adjoining St. Peter's station."
The church replaced an older structure once located on the grounds of the nearby Midgell Cemetery. Presbyterianism had come to the area as early as 1791 with the missionary work of Rev. Dr. James MacGregor (1759-1830) of Pictou, Nova Scotia. He routinely visited the Island, stopping at St. Peter's, Covehead, and Bay Fortune. These areas were later combined to create the first Presbyterian pastoral charge in PEI.
The first resident minister of the new charge was Rev. Peter Gordon in 1806. Gordon only served for three years, dying suddenly in April 1809, of what one historian called the "germs of consumption."* His widow, Janet, would leave the Island for Pictou and remarry in 1811 - to none other than Rev. Dr. James MacGregor, who was then, himself, a widower! Today, Gordon is remembered in the name of the Peter Gordon Memorial United Church in nearby Morell. The centennial of Rev. Gordon's service was celebrated by the St. Peter's Bay congregation on August 23, 1906 with the unveiling of a plaque. Gordon rests in a pioneer cemetery at St. Peter's Harbour.
At the time of church union in Canada which united the Methodist, Congregational, and two thirds of the Presbyterian churches into the United Church of Canada, the congregation was one of the Island Presbyterian churches which favoured union. In fact, the minister at St. Peter's Bay, Rev. J.M. MacLeod, a graduate of Princeton, was one of three Island commissioners to the first General Council of the United Church which met in a hockey arena in Toronto on June 10, 1925. MacLeod had grown up in Valleyfield, PEI. Ironically, the first moderator of the new United Church, Rev. George C. Pidgeon, also had a link to the St. Peter's Bay area. His grandfather, Rev. Edward Pidgeon, had succeeded Rev. Peter Gordon in 1812!
The architectural style of the church has many typical Gothic Revival elements, including pointed arch tracery windows, the use of finials in each of the four corners of the body of the church, the gingerbread bargeboard under the front gable, and the triangular hood moulding over the entrance door of the tower. The tower is designed in three stages and culminates in a pointed spire with decoration reminiscent of those designed by Sir Christopher Wren.
In recent years, a gable roof addition has been made at the back of the church and vinyl siding has been applied to parts of the building. The church remains a landmark in the Village of St. Peter's Bay and contributes greatly to the streetscape of the Village.
*MacLeod, History of Presbyterianism on Prince Edward Island (Chicago: Winona Publishing Company, 1904)
Source: Culture and Heritage Division, PEI Department of Communities, Cultural Affairs and Labour, Charlottetown, PE C1A 7N8
File #: 4310-20/S12
Character-defining elements that reflect the heritage value of the church include:
- The rectangular configuration of the main part of the church with its gable roof and small brick chimney
- The rows of five pointed arch windows on either side of the main body of the church
- The three stage central entrance tower topped by a decorative tapering spire
- The pointed arch windows on either side of the entrance tower
- The smaller pointed arch windows on either side of the tower itself with a large round arch window on the north side of the tower facing the street
- The double entrance door on the north side of the tower with a semi-circular transom light above it
- The tracery elements in all of the windows
- The finials in each of the four corners of the church and on the sides of the first stage of the tower
- The location of the church on the main highway in the picturesque Village of St. Peter's Bay facing north and overlooking the bay