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Church in the Western part of the County

In the Western part of the County, a congregation was organized at Gairloch and Saltsprings. These two districts contained about four hundred families, nearly .all from the Highlands of Scotland. There first minister was Rev. Hugh McLeod who settled there in 1822. He was succeeded by Rev. Donald McIntosh who remained until the disruption.

Rogers Hill, now Scotsburn, was formed into a congregation about the same time as Gairloch and Saltsprings. The community was settled by Highlanders from Sutherlandshire, who nearly all belonged to the Kirk. The first church (St John's) was built in 1823, and is the oldest church building in the County. Rev. Roderick Macaulay was the first minister. In a few years he went to Prince Edward Island, where he entered into politics and became speaker of House of Assembly. The next minister was the Rev. Donald McConnichie. He was a powerful Gaelic preacher, and the Highlanders considered him very eloquent in the first and best of all tongues. He left for Scotland in 1844.

In 1827 Barney's River was organized into a congregation, with Rev. Donald McKichan as its first minister. He was a man of some ability and a faithful pastor. After a few years he removed to Cape Breton. At a later date he returned to his first charge, and remained there till 1844. The people of Barney's River were nearly all Kirk men. For ten years the people were dependent on Home Mission supply part of which was given by Rev. Dr. McGillivray of McLennan's Mountain. The next pastor of the Kirk congregation was Rev. James Mair, in 1857.

The Kirk grew and prospered. The grain of mustard seed had grown into a stately tree. During the period of twenty-six years, the Kirk had become strong and influential. Then, suddenly, her progress was arrested by an unfortunate division.

During all those years, a memorable conflict had been going on in the Kirk, in the Old Land, which resulted in the disruption of 1843 and the formation of the Free Church of Scotland, led by Rev. Dr. Chalmers.

The ecclesiastical disturbance took a year to cross the sea, but it arrived in due time, and the Free Church in Nova Scotia was formed. It was a time of excitement and confusion. Old time ties were severed; venerable associations were broken up. There were painful misgivings and divisions and hard feelings were engendered. But it is not necessary to dwell on this unhappy story. It is a thing of the past; there let it rest. That year, seven of the Kirk ministers in Pictou returned to Scotland to fill pulpits made vacant by Free Church ministers. A majority of the people remained in the Kirk but they were, for most part, as sheep without a shepherd.

Rev. John Stewart, New Glasgow, was of the first to join the Free Church movement. He became pastor of St. Andrew's Church immediately after Mr. Fraser's resignation, in 1837. In 1819 a frame church was built at Fraser's Mountain. It was originally a part of McLennan's Mountain congregation. but was separated in 1830, when the church was moved down to New Glasgow and placed on a site near the present St. Andrew's Church. This was the first church building in New Glasgow.

When Mr. Stewart left the Kirk, about one hundred and forty-five families, and all the elders, save one, went with him, and they formed Knox Church, of which he became pastor. Mr. Stewart was born in Scotland, in 1800, and came to Nova Scotia in 1833. He was a man of fine natural gifts, enriched by a superior education. He spent himself most lavishly in the best interests of the Church and education. He rendered valuable service in establishing the Free Church College in Halifax and was highly successful in raising funds for it, and in encouraging young men to enter the ministry. He died, May 4, 1880, having completed his four score years in April.

In 1844, a delegation from the Free Church in the Old Country visited the Maritime Provinces. At that time, about one third of the people of the Kirk at Scotsburn joined the Free Church. They worshipped in St. John's Church until 1862, when Bethel Church was built. Rev. Alexander Sutherland became their pastor. He was a stirring and energetic preacher. In 1859 he became a minister of the Scotsburn and Saltsprings Churches, and in both charges gave full and fruitful proof of his ministry. He died in Nebraska, in 1897, in the 80th year of his age.

Knox Church, Pictou, was organized in Jan. 1846, by a handful of mechanics and farmers whose sympathies were with the Free Church of Scotland. The church building was erected in 1848. The first minister inducted was Rev. Murdoch Sutherland. He was called, because of his burning zeal and piety, "the Robert Murray McCheyne of Nova Scotia." On account of ill health he resigned his charge in 1857, and returned to Scotland where he died. The next pastor was Rev. Alexander Ross who was inducted in 1850, and served the people for nineteen years.

The people of Blue Mountain and Garden of Eden with Barney's River joined the movement in 1848, and had for their. leader the Rev. D. B. Blair, a rare and remarkable man who was, in his day, the best Gaelic scholar in America. In 1852, Mr. Blair and his people set about erecting a church which was formally opened for service, before a board had been nailed on its walls, because the congregation had no other place in which to worship.

In three years it was completed, without debt. For forty years Mr. Blair served this congregation and other sections adjoining with great ability and devotion.

For ten years the Kirk in Pictou County struggled on without pastors. Rev. Alexander McGillivray, D.D., the only Kirk minister who did not return to Scotland after the disruption, wrought manfully and faithfully to repair the breach and to build up the church on the old foundations.

Dr. McGillivray came to Nova Scotia, from Inverness, Scotland, in 1833. For five years he labored at Barney's River and Merigomish. He succeeded Mr. Fraser, in 1838, and continued there to discharge the duties of a minister with a devotion and earnestness rarely equaled, until his death, in 1862. He spread his labors over hundreds of miles of territory, to strengthen and encourage the pastor less churches. It was said of him, that he often tired out his horses, but the indefatigable Dr. McGillivray never tired.

In 1848, the Synod opened a seminary at the West River of Pictou. Professor Ross who was pastor at the West River, had charge of the literary and classical departments and Professors Keir and Smith the Divinity Hall. The classes met in the Temperance Hall in an ill ventilated room above the little country schoolhouse not more pretentious than the log cabin that gave birth to the renowned Princeton Seminary. Each of the students acted stoker in turn, and not only kindled the fire, but also swept the floor. Sometimes the little upper room looked tidy and sometimes it did not. The old Temperance Inn where the students boarded is still standing.

In 1853 five men graduated, James McGregor McKay, James Thomson, Henry Crawford, John M. Macleod and James Maclean. They were the first graduates who received all their collegiate education at the West River. They all settled in country congregations, were successful ministers, and all lived to participate in their ministerial Jubilee celebration. Revs. Mr. McKay and Mr. Thomson died at the ripe old age of ninety three years. Mr. Crawford died after he passed four score years, and Mr. Macleod lived hale and hearty until he was eighty seven. Mr. Maclean, died in. 1914, in his eighty eighth year and the sixtieth year of his ministry.

The West River Seminary gave a great impetus to the life and work of the Presbyterian church both at home and abroad. In 1858 the Seminary and Theological Hall with its professors and students were transferred to Truro, Nova Scotia. The Synod of the Free Church of Nova Scotia, realizing their need of a native ministry, also opened a college in Halifax in 1848. It continued over a period of nearly thirty years. In 1860 the Theological department of the College at Truro was removed to Halifax, and united with the Free Church College.

In 1878, the Synod purchased the property at Pine Hill and the Theological Hall was transferred there where it has since remained. As in the olden times the Ark of the Covenant moved from place to place till David, in the days of Israel's national unity and prosperity, found a permanent resting place for it on Mount Zion, "beautiful for situation," so the Divinity Hall moved from place to place till the church in her unity and prosperity provided a beautiful and, we trust, a permanent home for it in Pine Hill. The present Principal and Professor of Theology is Rev. Clarence Mackinnon, D. D., a native of Pictou County.

The Presbyterian College, Halifax, is the child of the several branches of the Presbyterian Church of the Maritime Provinces, once separated but now happily united. It had its origin in. the humble theological school in Pictou nearly a century ago, and since its beginning, has sent out over four hundred ministers, who have gone to almost every part of the land. The good old fathers of the church who founded and maintained this school of learning have left us a splendid educational heritage, and we owe them the debt of a grateful remembrance.

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Pictonians at Home and Abroad, 1914

 

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