By Stefan Hiratsuka
If you’ve ever driven by the Goulbourn Museum, you may have noticed this unusual object (above) in the adjacent cemetery. This elegant metal ornament, known as a finial, is not just a memorial marker; it once adorned the steeple of a church which was situated on that very spot. This post was inspired by a recent donation to the Museum by the Roy McCooeye family that contains photographs of said church taken by Roy from previously unseen angles. In fact, one of them is the only known photograph to date that has both the church and the Museum in the same shot!
As early as 1858, the property beside the modern museum was used as a graveyard. Construction of a church for the area began in 1866 when Thomas McCaffery deeded a quarter acre of land to the Church Wardens James Lewis and Averil C. Lackey for this purpose. According to a former rector, the lumber used in its construction was harvested from a nearby forest by members of the local community. By 1873 construction was completed and the structure, as well as the graveyard, were consecrated by the Right Reverend John Travers Lewis; they would receive the names Saint Thomas Anglican Church and the Saint Thomas Anglican Cemetery.
For almost a century the church and cemetery would expand alongside the township. While the name of the locality would change over time from Rathwell’s Corners to Stanley’s Corners, the 175-seat church remained a constant within the community.
However, on June 24, 1964, tragedy struck. The elegant metal finial which crowned the steeple served as an attractor for a lightning bolt during a severe summer storm. The roof, which was filled with wood shavings to provide insulation, caught fire. Efforts to fight the blaze were hampered by a lack of water, which had to be drawn and brought in from a creek almost a kilometre away. While the firefighters combated the inferno, parishioners rushed into the burning structure in an attempt to save as much as possible from the devouring flames. Thanks to the bravery of the firefighters and parishioners, some objects were rescued; foremost among these were eight out of nine of the stained glass windows which had been custom made for the building. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of all involved, the roof was damaged so severely the structure had to be abandoned.
The gutted remains of the church would stand for another five years, until the ruin was sold in August 1969. The structure was demolished, and a marker was raised in 1973 at the gate entrance; the spire was placed adjacent to it 23 years later in 1996. The cemetery continues to be in use to this day.
This would not however mark the end of the St. Thomas Church. The community would band together and rebuild, as it has done so often in the past. On October 19, 1969 ground was broken for a new church located on Stittsville Main Street. The church was completed by May 1970. Eight years later, in 1978, with all its debts repaid, the service of consecration took place. The church would expand again in 1989 with the construction of an entirely new church building as an addition to the existing structure; the prior brick church became a Sunday school and administrative facility. On December 23, 1990 the new church, now named St. Thomas the Apostle of Stittsville, held its inaugural service. As a token of remembrance, seven of the stained glass windows, the bell, and the altar from the 1866 church were installed where they can still be seen to this day at 1619 Stittsville Main Street.
Click on the thumbnails below to see some of the other photographs taken by Roy McCooeye.