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Jun. 17, 2019 | Monday
Entertainment News
Niagara's History Unveiled: Grace United Church
Grace United Church. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

A church built through controversy, Grace United Church has one of the more interesting histories in this town.

In 1786, Major George Neal, Canada’s first Itinerant Preacher crossed Niagara River to start preaching Methodism in Queenston. It is said his sermons were so lively that the garrison commander of Newark ordered Neal to stop preaching.

Luck (or bad luck) would have it, the commander died before his order was acted upon and Neal continued his work. His “meetings” continued to gain popularity and Neal formed a second congregation in St. Davids with meetings being held in Christian Warner’s home.

By 1821, the Methodist congregation in Niagara-on-the-Lake was ready to build their own meeting house. Property was purchased, from St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, at Gage and Gate Streets in Old Town. A frame building was completed by 1823 and the first Methodist minister was John Ryerson. The following two ministers were John’s brothers, William Ryerson and then Edgerton Ryerson (founder of Ryerson University)

The meeting house on Gate and Gage was used for 52 years. The building was later sold and moved to Gate and Prideaux Street where it can still be seen today.

The cemetery on Gate Street was situated beside the first meeting house and used by the early Methodist congregation. One can still take a stroll through the trees there. Details of the cemetery can be found at the Niagara Historical Society and Museum.

The congregation moved into a red brick church on Victoria Street, which they rented from a small Presbyterian congregation that had broken away from St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. The Methodists made the decision in 1874 to purchase the building. At a staggering sum of $1,500.00 and with another $500.00 in repairs, the small congregation had found a new home.

The church structure, built in 1852, was designed by the architect William Thomas of Toronto. This was one of Thomas’ smaller works having designed the Court House in NOTL, St. Michaels Cathedral in Toronto, St. Lawrence Hall in Toronto as well as Brock’s Monument.

The design of the church is mostly Romanesque with squared off corbel tables (stone or wood jutting from a wall to help support of the wall) and pilaster strips (to look like columns) on the exterior.

The interior had renovations done when the Methodist congregation purchased the church. The aisles were reconstructed, carpeting was put on the floor, cushions on the seats and new chandeliers were hung.

The alter railing and chairs remained and are the original form the Presbyterian Church period. The Baptismal Font was donated by the MacLellam family who owned a grocery store at Victoria and Queen for over 100 years. The communion set is from the original Methodist congregation.

In 1896 an extension to accommodate a school room was constructed to the rear of the church. At this time the pipe-organ was moved to an alcove.

The pulpit was donated by Mr. Trance in 1924. In 1957, Mrs. Trance donated $500 for the new pipe organ.

One of the stain glass windows is in memory of Lewis Peake who was one of the founders of Chautauqua (traveling tent shows) in Niagara-on-the-Lake 1929. However, the Chautauqua here in NOTL had a more permanence to it with tents be replaced by a three story hotel, cottages and an amphitheatre that could seat 4,000 people.

Above the front door of Grace United Church, is another beautiful stain glass window. It is in memory of Ephraim Meadows 1865-1917, who was one of the founders of the Methodist Church in Upper Canada.

In 1925 there was another great divide in the Protestant Churches. Methodist, Presbyterians and Congregational Churches were in a flux. Many people left these established congregations and formed the new United Church of Canada.

No church was left unscathed; seventeen members from St. Andrews alone joined the newly formed congregation at Grace United Church. Amongst the new members were Mr. and Mrs. Harrison who owned a hardware store (where the post office is now) and Mrs. Owens who was the organist at St. Andrews.

The newly formed congregation was huge and additions were made to the building once again. In 1926, a shelter was built with three double stalls and a coal storage space.

Also in 1926 a stain glass window was installed commemorating the young men who did not return from World War One. And in 1929 another window was added to honour the founding families of the Methodist Church. Amongst these names are some very familiar ones, Chrysler, Ball and Peake.

By 1965, Virgil United Church closed its doors and the congregation joined Grace United Church in NOTL.

By 1984, the church had grown significantly and another addition was built. This was the office and Minister’s Study. The congregation was now able to hire a full time minister.

The wonderful people of Grace United Church are still very active hosting many special events; the next popular event is their Ham Supper on February 8th. All are welcome.

Please go to their web site for further information:

Many thanks to John Sayers and David Greaves for taking the time to show me their wonderful church.


To learn more about the topic of this story you can visit the Niagara Historical Society & Museum website at,, or visit the museum for yourself.

The Niagara Historical Museum is located at 43 Castlereagh St. in Old Town, in Memorial Hall. Visit, or give them a call at 905-468-3912.

Ascenzo is a regular Niagara Now contributor. Her full profile can be found here.