This is the third and final part of a story which has recalled some of the events in the memorable background of the Old Kirk Ruins of Beckwith township. The first Presbyterian Church of the eastern half of Lanark County was built near Carleton Place in 1832, replacing a primitive log structure in a vicinity where services had been held since about 1818 and continuously since 1822. The church remained in use until about 1870.
On the township’s Seventh Line road, two miles south of Black’s Corners and a mile east, its foundations may be seen. In a recent pictorial map issued by the National Capital Commission its location is shown as one of the district’s historic sites. Church services here were carried on for two pioneer generations by the first colony of Scottish Highlanders to be established north of the Glengarry settlement in Ontario.
One of the last commemoration services to be held within the walls of the Beckwith Old Kirk was conducted thirty-five years ago by a native son who still “had the Gaelic,” the Rev. Dr. James Carmichael, returning at the age of eighty-eight for the occasion.
A service of commemoration had been observed at the Old Kirk in the previous year. It had opened with a procession in which the beadle, William Young, followed by the precentor, D. R. Ferguson and the minister, the Rev. J. W. S. Lowry, in black gowns, accompanied by a large number of the ruling elders of the neighbouring congregations, had made their way out from one of the doorways of the hallowed ruins to a raised platform. A concluding service of prayer within the Old Kirk walls was attended by those present who in their youth had had their church upbringing there. Among them were Margaret Anderson, Alan Cameron and Mrs. Cameron, Mrs. Donald Carmichael, William Drummond and James C. Elliott, John H. Ferguson, Mrs. Robert Ferguson (The Derry), Mrs. T. Ferguson, Mr. and Mrs. John McArthur and Mary McArthur ; also Duncan McEwen, Mrs. Finlay McEwen (Jock), Mr. and Mrs. Hugh McEwen, John McFarlane (11th line) and Mrs. Peter McLaren.
Gaelic Commemoration of Highland Scots
Reports of the commemoration services of 1916, conducted in English and Gaelic at the honoured meeting place, said in part:
Sunday last was a red letter day in Beckwith township, when the Presbyterian Church people observed the anniversary of the first public services held there by their forefathers. The renowned highway, the Seventh Line, was all a-going with automobiles, rigs and pedestrians for the Presbyterian rally at the Old Kirk. They came from all over Beckwith, from Montague and Elmsley, from Almonte and Carleton Place and from Ottawa, to pay their reverential respect to the days of the fathers and to that scriptural and reformation faith in which they lived and died.
After a largely attended and impressive sacramental service in Knox church in the morning, at which Rev. Mr. Lowry presided and Rev. Dr. Carmichael of King preached, the people assembled in large numbers in the afternoon beside the ruins of the Old Kirk on the seventh line of Beckwith, where for a generation the worship was conducted according to the principles and usages of the Church of Scotland. A pulpit and precentor’s desk were erected and comfortable seating accommodation provided. Following the opening exercises of prayer and scripture reading, and the singing of the 100th, 90th, and 103rd Psalms led by Mr. D. R. Ferguson as precentor, Rev. James Carmichael, D. D., was introduced by the pastor, Rev. Mr. Lowry, as a son of Beckwith welcomed back to his native heath. Dr. Carmichael preached the commemoration sermon, the theme of his discourse being “The Cloud of Witnesses,” and was a most pathetic exhortation to those present to walk in the ways of their fathers.
With the singing of “O God of Bethel,” the benediction and the singing of “God Save the King,” the people crowded inside the stately old walls of the church ruin and listened to devotional exercises and a short address in the Gaelic language by Dr. Carmichael. At its conclusion the cheerful tones of “When the Roll is called up Yonder” rang through the old gray walls.
Many visitors from outside points spent the day “on the line” and some, following the old-time custom, “walked to meeting.” They took part in a bilingual service on the Sabbath and all seemed to enjoy the variations, whether they understood the ancient Gaelic or not. It is the mother tongue of many of them, and they still dearly love its soft toned accents. Those who know the Gaelic sincerely sympathize with those who have only the Saxon tongue. It is the language of paradise, “which the devil does not understand, and in which the angels praise God.”