A Brief History

St. James Church celebrated its 150th anniversary as a Parish in 1990. The present building was dedicated by Benjamin Cronyn, Bishop of Huron in 1870. It is the third church to be built on this site. The first organ was installed in 1874, rebuilt in 1902, and several times since... most recently in 2006. In 2010, the original 11 bells were removed from the tower for tuning. When they were reinstalled, four new ones were added bringing the total to 15 bells. The largest weighs 955 kilos (2100 lbs) and is called Big Joe. The blue carpet in the sanctuary is actually a section from that of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey, 1953.

A Complete and Colourful St. James History
The first services in this area were held in the Shakespeare Inn...


The first incumbent in the Huron Tract was Reverend Robert Francis Campbell; he passed through this area in the 1830's presumably on his way to and from Goderich where he became the Rector. This parish of Stratford was founded by Canon William Bettridge who was Rector of Woodstock in 1840: at that time Stratford was known as "Little Thames". Canon Bettridge, who had been Town Mayor of Brussels during the Battle of Waterloo, had arrived in Canada in 1834 with Admiral Van-Sittart and his family. He travelled throughout the district on horseback seeking out settlers who were without the ministrations of the Church. The first services in this area were held in the Shakespeare Inn of which William Sargent was the innkeeper. In 1843 the Bishop of Toronto sent to this parish the Reverend William Hickey, who was the first resident incumbent, and he held services in a log school house where the Public Library now stands. This first church on the present site was built in 1849; it was of frame construction and was in use for about five years, and was then sold as a private dwelling. Dr. "Tiger" Dunlop was the first contributor and donated five pounds. Mrs Sargent, wife of the innkeeper, raised a lot of money for this church and also for the subsequent one.

In 1855 a second building was erected of red brick and has been described as an "architectural monstrosity". The walls were high, the roof almost flat and the entire structure seems to have trembled in high winds; this building was demolished in 1867 and no picture of it is available. Between 1867-1870 services were held in the Town Hall. In the latter year the third church on this site, the present structure, was completed. The corner stone (containing newspapers of the day and a farmers' almanac and coins) was laid on November 23rd 1868, by the Bishop of Toronto, Right Reverend Neil Bethune, D.D., assisted by the Bishop of Huron, Right Reverend Benjamin Cronyn, D.D. Architecturally the present structure is of early decorated Gothic and was designed by Mssrs. Gundy & Langley of Toronto. Outside dimensions are 130' by 51', while inside dimensions are 92' by 47'. Architects' fees and materials cost approximately $14,000. Although contracts were let for the actual construction, the Church Building Committee purchased all materials. Several of the founding families of the Parish assisted in the hauling of stones, lumber etc. for the Church at one dollar a load. On March 20, 1870, this building was opened for the first time for Divine Service, when the Bishop of Huron preached.

God's Holy Acre
... early parishioners of St. James, and some others were interred within its shadows...


According to early custom the land surrounding a church was used as a cemetery, and so the early parishioners of St. James and some others, were interred within its shadows. A Mrs. John Sharman was the first person interred, but the date of her funeral and the exact location of her grave are unknown. From 1854 to 1855 only members of the United Church of England and Ireland could be interred here. From 1855 to 1859 non-members were accepted for burial on the payment of a one pound fee, but the burial service of the Church had to be used. From 1859 to 1871 only members of the Anglican Church were accepted for burial. The last burial took place in 1871 and was of a Jane Ballough, wife of Charles Lee.

In 1885 the Right Reverend M.S. Baldwin, D.D., Bishop of Huron, dedicated part of the cemetery for use by members of St. James. Ashes are presently being scattered in this acre.

The Choir and Music


There was a choir associated with the Parish from its earliest days and it was accompanied by an orchestra before an organ was installed. The instruments in the orchestra were the flute, big horn and clarinet. One historian referring to this orchestra wrote: "When the trio had risen crescendo style in their finest symphonies to the most sublime point of excellence, so terrible was their melody that the wild fowl on Victoria Lake took flight in dismay never resting their weary wings till a secluded spot was reached in the Ellice swamp." The present organ was rebuilt in 1902 when it was also electrified. In 1958 the console was moved from a position North of the main aisle to its present position in the chancel. It was completely restored in 1991 by Doddington and Doddington.

The Bell Tower
... this bell weighs 2100 lbs...


In 1906 the Battershall bequest of $500.00 towards the purchase of a chime of bells, to be claimed within five years, started the agitation for the completion of the tower. The tower was built and the chime of bells installed during 1909 and were dedicated by Archbishop David Williams. The chime consists of eleven bells, the tone of the largest being E and this bell weighs 2100 lbs. The tones of the others are F#, G#, A, A#, B, C#, D, D#, E, F#. Each bell was donated in the memory of a different person: number two bell to the memory of Queen Victoria. Number eleven bell was donated by the choir of the church.