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Chalmers United Church: "Born on the Trolley Car"

From Chalmers United Church Golden Anniversary Booklet ­ 1958

Walkerville early 1900's: a rapidly growing community ­ increasing from about 1,000 to 3,000 in the first decade of this century. The establishment of the Ford Motor Company  in 1904, together with other motor firms and diverse Walker business interests combined to bring about a remarkable population surge. The town was already served by two Protestant churches, Lincoln Road Methodist and St. Mary's Anglican.

chalmers.jpgThe large number of Scottish Presbyterians had to commute to St. Andrew's Church in Windsor by means of trolley car, which year by year was becoming less adequate to transport the increasing numbers. Automobiles were not yet the possession of the ordinary family. The church was born on the trolley car; the chief subject of discussion upon returning from church at St. Andrew's was the inconvenience of the situation and the possibility of farming a local church.

Steps were taken to establish a branch Sunday school in Walkerville in November, 1907. Meetings were held in Forester's Hall on Chilver near Wyandotte under the superintendence of Mr. David Johnstone. The move justified itself by an increase of membership from a start of twenty to an attendance of ninety within three months.

In August, 1907, the building committee was organized consisting of Gordon M. McGregor (President of Ford Motor Company) Chairman, and Messrs. F. H. Cooper, W. M. Grant, R.H. Revell, J.E. Dobie and C.K. Hall. They acted promptly and were able to report that the present site (North West corner of Windermere Rd. at Niagara) could be purchased for $800 (paid $1,100- Vendor Chandler Merrill Walker, a nephew of Hiram Walker- deed signed by C. M. Walker and Augusta Scott Walker). At the same meeting, it was decided that architects Williams Brothers and J. M. Watts be requested to submit plans for a building to cost between $10,000 and $15,000.

By February, revisions in the plans and estimates were submitted. The total contract prices were finally $11,357 for the church and $3,117 for the hall. Carpenter work was performed by V. Williamson for $3,310, plumbing by Walkerville Hardware for $144, Art Glass by Luxfer Prism for $599. These amounts seem extremely low in our present estimation of the cost of such a building but we must remember that in those days earnings ran in the hundreds of dollars (a year) rather than in the thousands with materials in a similar range. It was not until 1914 that Ford's instituted their $4 a day wage, which was even then hailed as almost revolutionary.

The official opening of the church took place on November 12, 1908, with Dr. G. M. Milligan preaching at both services. The Walkerville paper noted that the day was "bright and warm which made the event all the more auspicious and at both services the church was filled" and "the choir of ten male and ten female voices rendered most appropriately and pleasingly the song services".

Rev. Peter Taylor became our first minister and commenced his ministry here early in March, 1909. The First Presbyterian Church of Walkerville's congregation was made up of first and second generation Scottish, English and Irish immigrants. With the union of the Congregationalist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches in 1925, it became known as the "First Presbyterian United Church" and on our 15th Anniversary in 1933, we became "Chalmers United Church." Some 250 members left the church in 1925 to continue to attend the Presbyterian Church (St. Andrews) in Windsor.

Editor's Note: Chalmers will be celebrating its 92nd birthday this year. The church is currently without a minister (guest lecturers are filling the void until a new minister is located) so there is concern for its future. Chalmers continues to serve the needs of the community in other ways; the Breakfast Club has been re-established to ensure children from King Edward School are going to school fed. For the last several Christmases, the church has been instrumental in the "Light Up Walkerville" charitable campaign. Supporters of the church hope that Chalmers will not go the way of the trolley but will remain a viable part of the Walkerville community for many years to come.

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