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St. James on-the-Lines Church – Historic Penetanguishene church has served worshipers for almost 200 years

June 2024

The St. James on-the-Lines Church, a small, unassuming, white clapboard-sided church in the lakeside town of Penetanguishene, Ontario, may not seem that significant on first inspection. However, there is a very specific reason why the British Union Jack flies outside the church: the St. James on-the-Lines Church is older than Canada itself.

The church was built between 1836 and 1840, when colonel James Keating, commander of the army garrison in Penetanguishene, arranged for the building of a church for the use of his troops. Captain John Moberly, RN, commander of the Penetanguishene Naval Yard secured the funds to build the church, built a rubble foundation in the Greek Revival style, with some Gothic Revival elements. Later, a chancel, sanctuary and vestry were added. Ornate wrought iron hinges adorn the door at the main entrance, crafted by artisans from the military encampment.

Reverend George Hallen, the first rector, served at St. James for 36 years, but also as the chaplain that was established at the Naval Yard after its closure in 1856. Rev. Hallen retired from pastoral service in 1876 and moved to Toronto, where he died in 1882, at the age of 88. He was returned to St. James on-the-Lines and laid to rest in the church cemetery, as are many of the early pioneers and military leaders who helped found Penetanguishene.

St. James had been the only Protestant church in the area until 1877, when All Saints Anglican Church was established in the town in 1877. The two congregations worshipped separately until 1997, when they began cooperating and started the current practice of summer services in St. James and winter services at in All Saints. The two churches formally amalgamated in 2008.

St. James on-the-Lines Church is protected today as a historic site by the Ontario Heritage Trust and is still used by local worshipers over 180 years after its first service.

Interesting features

Some interesting features of St. James on-the-Lines Church is the colourful painted wooden reredos, a large alterpiece, in the sanctuary, the double-wide centre aisle, so that soldiers attending services could March in or out in lines of four abreast and pews that were built by various military members matching their own individual tastes.

There is also a side-by-side wooden memorial plaque with one side plank. The other side is dedicated to the memory of Lieutenant William Glascott, who fell off a cutter and froze to death after an evening of drinking (“a night of festivity”). It’s unknown now exactly why one side is left blank, but it’s thought that a second officer also fell overboard and was expected to die, but lived and was posted to another location.

Another possibility is that it was intentionally left blank as a not-so-subtle warning to other soldiers that their name could be added if they are as careless as Glascott after a night of drinking.

Sources: St. James on-the-Lines – Wikipedia, Welcome to the Anglican Parish of Penetanguishene, Rev. George Hallen, a pioneer priest (simcoecountyhistory.ca), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reredos.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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