Presbyterianism began early in the west. The history of the Portage la Prairie closely ties in to the history of the church.
The first Presbyterian missionary to the Northwest was the Reverend James Sutherland, in 1811. He was given the authority to marry, baptize, and to attend to the spiritual wants of his fellow countrymen (until such time as an ordained minister should arrive). One of the stipulations the Scottish pioneers made with Lord Selkirk before leaving their native homes, was that they should have a “clergyman of their own persuasion” (quoted from the History by Robert Hill)
Selkirk agreed to this request and suggested the Reverend Donald Sage as minister, however Mr. Sage was too busy at his Gaelic and Mr. Sutherland an ordained elder was sent as a substitute.
Before Lord Selkirk left his settlement in 1817 he renewed his promise to his settlers. However in 1820 the Reverend John West, an Anglican was settled in charge of all religious denominations.
For a while the Scottish people endured him, then developed a high regard for him. Reverend Mr. West did try to modify the order of services to meet the wishes of the Scottish Presbyterians. He even went so far as to making use of Rowe’s version of the Psalms and also of holding one of the Sunday services after the Presbyterian form.
Finally on the appointment of the Reverend John Black (their own minister) 300 Scottish immigrants forsook the Anglican cause and followed Dr. Black. Dr. John Black acted as a missionary at large and with keen insight he began to establish Presbyterian causes among the settlers.
The history, then, of Presbyterianism, is a much-coveted history. It is the church, which has challenged tyrants from its very beginning. It has been the champion and the custodian of “Freedom”. It has always stood for ” freedom of speech and freedom of Religion.” It has always been a democratic church and is proud of its record as such. It is the church, which places intellect on its proper plane. The basis of its religion is and has always been; “Faith based on Reason”. Its system of government is democratic. Little wonder is it, then, that this church has always taken its place in the spheres of government, National, Provincial and Municipal.
The history of Presbyterianism is as old as the history of the city of Portage la Prairie and district.
In 1862, Mr. Kenneth McBain and Mr. John McLean with their families settled within the limits of the present City of Portage la Prairie. Winnipeg was then, only a village. John (Jack) McLean an elder of our congregation is the fourth generation descendant of John McLean one of the founders of the Presbyterian Church in Portage la Prairie.
Our Heritage in Portage la Prairie…
In our last installment of the history of Presbyterianism in Portage la Prairie, and our own First Presbyterian we closed with the events surrounding the building of our present church at 17 Royal Road South. The uniqness of this building is the fact that we have three cornerstones. The original 1881 stone is in part of the wall of the Northeast tower. The 1989 stone is located by the south front door.
The story is recorded by Mr. R.C. Brown an elder and member of the choir, who was responsible for the preservation of the original stone, was involved in the building of the new church. Mr. Brown says,” in the summer of 1886,1 personally resurected corner stone of the church, which had been laid with Masonic honors by the officers of the Grand Lodge of Manitoba, on the 28th day of July 1881. For the purpose of preservation and safe keeping, I had it deposited in the lodge room of the Masonic Lodge in Portage la Prairie, together with the box of records contained in the stone.”
“The box of the original records and cornerstone were restored to Marquette Lodge 21 A.F.A.M. and they were gratefully restored to us by the present Masonic lodge, No 7 A.F.A.M. We have had the honor and satisfaction of seeing them used and built into the walls of the new building”. Mr. Brown was manager of the local office of the Manitoba Telephone System.
The Rev. Peter Wright succeeded Rev. Bell in 1888 and remained as minister until 1889. Rev. William Bell was the first minister in the new building g serving from 1925 to 1933. Rev. Harold G. Lowry from 19334-35, Rev. C.J. MacKay from 35 to 37. Rev. MacKay later became a moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.
From 1937 until 1942 the Rev. William Weir, Rev. P.A. Ferguson, Rev. E.H. Lockhart. Served the congregation.
In May 1943, Rev. H.L. Henderson arrived in Portage la Prairie to take the pulpit of First Presbyterian Church. His service to First church lasted over 40 years. He also served 23 years as Mayor of the City of Portage la Prairie. At that time the church was ministering to 48 families with 97 church members and 3 elders.
During the ministry of Rev. Henderson the church increased in membership substantially and at one time had 36 elders to minister to the spiritual welfare of the congregation.
Many improvements were made. All contractual debts on the building were paid in full. The congregation as well purchased a manse. The church building was improved with a complete renovation of the sanctuary. There were chimes installed presented by the Young People, and served the community for some twenty six years. During the time the congregation also installed three new organs. The present organ was presented to the church by Charles Oliver, in memory of his wife, Lillian. Charles Oliver was the son of Mr. and Mrs. William Oliver who were prominent in the building of the present church.
In consequence of the growth of the congregation, a new congregation, a sister church, was organized in the west end of the city. It was named St. Andrew’s Crescent Heights. A new church was also built in the Sioux Village to serve the people there. There was also a mission in the North end of Portage la Prairie.
All of these programs were the result of the dedicated service and generous gifts of the people who worshipped the one living and true God and his son Jesus Christ as Lord of all life, and this in the Presbyterian form. Wee rejoice with all those of the various religious faiths, in their growth and prosperity. The place where we have our responsibilities, and our privileges as well as our authority is within our own denomination.
We celebrated our church anniversary on Sunday December 14, 2012 with our guest minister, The Moderator of the 134th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.