A History of St. John's

In 1842 the original church site in Strathroy was granted by John Stewart Buchanan who was associated with the mother church St Ann’s in Adelaide village. A wooden chapel was constructed on what is now 34 Head St. North. Through St Ann’s several chapels were established in the area including St Mary’s Napier which still stands today and St Catherine’s Katesville- long closed (1895). St John's original building served for some time as the first school in the community. In 1846 approximately 4-5 acres of land bounded by Front, Head, Metcalf and Colborn Streets were deeded to the Anglican Bishop of Toronto “forever”. The present church stands on the remaining portion of that property.

The Rail Road came through Strathroy in the 1850s and the population steadily increased consequently the wooden chapel became too small and so was move across Head St where it remains today as a private residence (33 Head St.) A brick structure was then constructed on the original site between 1859 and 1863. That building forms the Nave of the present church. A bible dated January 4, 1863 was given by the then Bishop of Huron Benjamin Cronyn in recognition of the new church and is a cherished possession of today’s church. In 1872 the two transepts were constructed and in 1874 the chancel was added. So the church as it stands today has existed since 1874.

Tragedy struck the parish on December 23 1902 when the annual Sunday school concert was being held in a rented hall on Front St. A large lighted lamp fell, fatally burning a small child named Ida May Hancock. Quick action by parishioner Ernest J. Wright (age 23) prevented a greater tragedy when he quickly smothered the burning light and threw it out a window. A stained glass window commemorates this event and is located in the parish hall. The tragic death of this little child encouraged the building of the church’s first on site parish hall in 1904.

In 1915 WW1 was devastating Europe and the Middlesex 135 Light Infantry battalion was being mobilized with men from all over Middlesex County including Strathroy, Parkhill, Glencoe and London. St. Johns was the garrison church from which the men departed for WW1.Unfortunately due to significant British losses in 1914 at the battle of the Somme, the 135th was disbanded and assigned to bolster three decimated British battle groups. The 135th colors were returned to Canada. Many of the 135th fought in WW1, some died, and some came home. We know of one of our parishioner, Thomas Winston Churchill Pearson who was wounded at Vimy Ridge and had quite a survival story to tell. Fortunately he came home to lead a long and productive life. In 1917 the colors of the 135th were “laid up “in the church where they remain today.

Another flag of note in the church is the Ensign from HMCS Strathroy a WWII Canadian Corvette which served the north Atlantic and in costal command during WWII in the Canadian and American Maritimes. The flag was laid up in the church May 24 1992 (thanks to the efforts of parishioner Norman Smith a WWll veteran) with some of the ships crew participating in the service.

St John's was the “Garrison Church “of the community meaning that was where the local garrison held its church services and parades. Colors being laid up refer to the fact they have served their duty, are now at rest, and will never be brought back into service.

 A Memorial window in the transept bears the names of 17 men of the congregation and Sunday school who gave their lives in WWI and two tablets give memory to other parishioners also killed in WW1.There are many memorial windows and plaques throughout the church testifying to the love, generosity and commitment of parishioners through the ages.

One of the most significant and cherished properties we have is the pipe organ first introduced at St John's in the 1880’s and maintained and repaired through the years. Most recently a major upgrade was generously provided by Mr. Donald J.A. Wright of Strathroy and the University of Western Ontario. Organ music has always been a significant part of St John's worship. A baby grand piano manufactured by the Wright Piano Company of Strathroy is another cherished possession of the church.

In the intervening years the church followed a traditional path of ministry, worship, births, baptisms, funerals, dinners, parades, WW2, Sunday schools, new ministers, renovations etc. In December 2006 a decision was made to deal with aging infrastructure problems of the parish hall, to make the whole church wheel chair accessible and to increase the parking area. A visioning committee was struck lead by a well-qualified parishioner and a comprehensive well defined business plan developed. It envisioned modernizing the HVAC system, insulating the parish hall, making the whole facility wheel chair accessible, developing more parking spaces and installing energy efficient lighting. Committees of dedicated volunteers were struck to raise funds, develop plans, obtain approvals, engage architects and oversee construction which commenced in September 2007 and was completed in December 2008. An important condition of parish council was that local contractors be utilized wherever possible and these contractors never disappointed. Many freely donated time and materials. Numerous parish volunteers also worked evenings and weekends and through this generosity the project was completed in a timely manner.

The fund raising committee also worked hard signing up canvassers and seeking pledges and thanks to the generosity of our congregation the mortgage was retired within a 5 year period.

In all St John's now has a modern energy efficient HVAC heating system, a fully insulated and air conditioned parish hall, a completely wheel chair accessible building, 30 new paved parking spaces and a modern electrical system. The resulting efficiencies are evident by the fact that the present utility costs are lower than 10 years ago. In all our prayers were answered.  

In May 2017, we celebrated 175 years of service in Strathroy.

St John's has survived through the ages even though traditional churches like ours are presently undergoing numerous stresses. We continue to survive thanks to our Ministers, staff and our many volunteers who go about regular church duties like wardens, church councils, chancel guild, Sunday school, choir, Wright Memorial Foundation (we are thankful for the foresight of Dr. Mary Wright, Don Wright and Clark Wright) and many other generous donors and last but not least the maintenance teams through the ages. We are particularly proud to participate now with three other local churches to provide community meals once a month for those less fortunate in our town. St John’s joined with Anglican churches in Kerwood (now closed) and Parkhill (now closed) to provide services utilizing one priest and several lay ministers.

When one worships in St John's one can’t help but reflect on the history that has taken place within those walls. Think back to the early settlers and the hardships they endured without the conveniences of today. Think of all those who have gone before, the Rev Cronyn's , the Winston Pearson's, the Wright family and all the generous benefactors large and small. Think of the men and women who went off to wars and those who lie in foreign graves. Think of all the baptisms, the communions, the funerals, the dinners and of all the souls departed who once sat in those pews and reflected on their lives. Think of all that has happened in the full circle of life that has been repeated over and over and be thankful for old St John's.