News Local

Simcoe County churches subject of new book

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Val Brucker of the Barrie Historical Association holds a copy of Eileen Murdoch's new book 'We Worship The Lord In Simcoe County Churches'. 
Mark Wanzel /The Barrie Examiner /QMI

Val Brucker of the Barrie Historical Association holds a copy of Eileen Murdoch's new book 'We Worship The Lord In Simcoe County Churches'. Mark Wanzel /The Barrie Examiner /QMI

Bricks, mortar and steeples.

Eileen Murdoch has been photographing local places of worship since 1986, images and history collected in her book 'We Worship the Lord In Simcoe County Churches'.

Sponsored by the Barrie Historical Association, Murdoch's book features 346 churches from one end of the county to the other.

The 81-year-old former school teacher says no one incident in her long life sparked an interest in churches.

“I'm not sure when, it seems always,” she said. “There's the architecture, but I'm very interested in the history. I've done a lot of work at the (Simcoe County) Archives, looking up history.

“I really like scrap-booking, and I love history,” she said. “I was born in Barrie, but I lived in Guthrie so Oro Township history is very dear to my heart.”

Murdoch was a teacher for 35 years, 23 of them at Base Borden, mostly in Grade 1. She began her teaching career in a one-room school house.

Indeed, many of the captions accompanying Murdoch's photographs include church history (see pullout).

Val Brucker, vice-president of the Barrie Historical Association, says the book is both interesting and important.

“In our ever-changing Simcoe County, the past is quickly being erased,” he said. “I feel this collection of church photos is already our glimpse into our past.

“It's really a tragedy. In 10 years, maybe half of these churches will be gone.”

Brucker notes Simcoe County's settlement began in the early 19th Century, with settlers worshipping at home and sometimes guided by a travelling clergyman.

Churches were built as communities grew in size, plain buildings made from local materials. When villages and towns sprang up, and their residents became more prosperous, the churches became larger and more appealing to the eye.

But as rural residents moved to larger centres, churches have become the only remnant of the past for many hamlets and crossroads communities, Brucker said.

Murdoch has spent 27 years travelling throughout Simcoe County, photographing these churches. Most of her pictures were taken with a Canon Sure-Shot camera, which uses film – practically ancient technology in today's digital world.

“Her photographs are an important record of this legacy of church buildings,” Brucker said.

It was Brucker that Murdoch told about her photographs, fittingly at church, and he pushed her to consider a book.

“I didn't realize other people would be interested,” she said.

Brucker recruited Barrie historical consultant Su Murdoch to edit and format 'We Worship the Lord In Simcoe County Churches'.

It's available for $25 at Rivendell Books in Barrie's Wellington Plaza, Simcoe County Museum on Highway 26 or through the Barrie Historical Association, at

“Take time to appreciate their meaning and architectural glory, past and present,” Brucker said.



  • Collier Street United Church, Barrie – When the new bell rang for the first time in 1873 to call to worship, the newspaper reported that people were rushing around wondering where there was a fire.
  • Trinity United Church, Beeton – Its 1926 minister's voice was so weak that a large umbrella was placed behind the pulpit to carry the sound of his voice to the congregation.
  • St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Barrie – In 1926, dynamite exploded in the furnace room's brick wall at the former Mulcaster Street church. The man responsible was caught and admitted having orders from the Ku Klux Klan to blow up the church. It was later built on Amelia Street.
  • Belle Ewart Community Baptist Church – Tollendal Baptist Church was moved across the Lake Simcoe ice to its new home.
  • Holy Martyrs of Japan Roman Catholic Church, in Bradford West Gwilllimbury, is dedicated to the memory of six missionaries and 20 native Japanese who were put to death in Japan, bound to crosses and pierced with spears.
  • First Baptist Church, Collingwood – One December, 1878 evening, rags saturated with oil and set on fire were stuffed through a broken rear window, but the caretaker saw the still-smoldering rags and saved the church.
  • Elmvale Presbyterian Church – For several years, the church bell was also used as the village fire alarm.
  • Ivy Presbyterian Church – In 1903, members of the congregation gave their minister a surprise by presenting him with 40 bushels of oats.
  • Rich Hill United Church, New Tecumseth – Wind toppled the church steeple in 1928. It wasn't replaced until August, 2001.
  • St. Noel Chabonel Roman Catholic Church, Wasaga Beach – It's named for the Jesuit priest murdered by aboriginals in 1649, who threw his body into the Nottawasaga River at Wasaga Beach.

Source: We Worship the Lord In Simcoe County Churches





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