The Baptist Church
By Brian Roulston
The term “Baptist” is a name given to Christians who were baptized after they have made a public profession of faith as adults.
The earliest Baptists in Ontario moved into the area following the American Revolution in 1812. Some of them were United Empire Loyalists while others were American Baptists. In 1842, a census revealed that there were 19,623 Baptists in Upper (Ontario) and Lower (Quebec) Canada.
The first Baptist churches in Ontario were Caldwell’s Manor in Eastern Township 1794 and Beamsville First Baptist Church in either 1776 or 1807. This is according to the book “The Baptist Heritage” written by H. Leon McBeth. Apparently there are no conclusive records to show that Beamsville Church existed in 1776, although if there is documentation out there to prove it, this church could very well be the oldest Baptist church in Canada.
Today, being a Pastor is a full time calling to preach, teach, counsel, train and coordinate ministries as well as plant churches and perhaps organize missions overseas. Prior to 1881 there was no place to formally train pastors.
McMaster University was founded originally as a Baptist institution in 1881. It joined together the two older institutions of Woodstock College and Toronto Baptist College. Initially, it trained many of the pastors in the area at the time. A new 500 student university campus was established in Hamilton in 1930, unfortunately, by 1951 it became evident that Baptist resources alone would not be enough to keep the university going financially. The facility then became non-denominational.
The James St. Baptist church became Hamilton’s mother church in 1843. Four missionary churches were created under her; Wentworth Street Baptist Church 1890,Trinity Baptist Church 1883, Herkimer Street Baptist Church (Stanley Ave Baptist Church) 1889 and in the North End, Northern Baptist Church in 1887 which was often referred to as the Ferguson Baptist Church because of its location at Ferguson Ave. and Ferrie St.
Northern Baptist Church would soon be considered too small. Hamilton’s population flourished as a result of the arrival of The Great Western railroad and hydro electric power which powered the new factories that brought in new workers. The mission church was perceived to be both too far east and north to be considered practical. This brings us to the church we know today as Hughson Street Baptist Church. Originally, the building was built by Anglicans as a school between 1860-1870. It was constructed from blocks of Eramosa Dolomite and Whirlpool sandstone, a popular type of stone that was quarried along the base of the escarpment between Hamilton and Dundas during the latter part of the 1800’s. These quarries of Eramosa have long been exhausted, back filled and are now covered with homes and businesses. There was a short time after serving as school and before being a church that it was a residence for sailors docking in Hamilton.
Pastor Bracken led Northern Baptist Church through the purchase of the old school for $2,100 ($47,000 today) and organized the remodeling. The “NEW” Hughson Street Baptist Church even bought back the original frame building from the new owners of the old mission on Ferguson Ave. It was re-assembled as an addition onto the old school. February 21, 1909 was move-in day for Hughson St. Baptist Church.
More recently Hughson Street Baptist Church faced closure in the early 1990’s because of its aging congregation. At the time many of its followers were around 80 years old. The church needed to engage younger people in order to carry on the work of the church. A Pastor named Pete Wright joined the church and he reached many of the North End’s youth through sports such as soccer and basketball. Pastor Dwayne Cline joined the church not long after and he learned well from Pete Wright by carrying on with the sports. A Kids Club was established for students from Kindergarten through grade 5. They played games, socialized, heard and read bible stories and of course played sports. Parishioners got involved in tutoring and some local businesses donated non-perishable foods. All of this had a positive effect on what was once the third poorest neighborhood in Canada. The parish went from just 35 followers during Sunday services to over 180. Today many of the church events and services are scattered between the church, Bennetto School and the current temporary Sunday services location at CityKidz Ministry Center on Burlington St. City Kidz will be used until a brand new church facility at 500 James St is ready to receive followers in the summer. The church is thriving, still offering weekday programs for the youth and children of the neighbourhood, Coffee’s On drop-in for neighbours, Christmas Hampers with it’s Toy Shop, and the foundational Sunday church services and other activities.
The project at 500 James will also provide affordable, supportive housing with 45 apartment units in partnership with Indwell Housing. Indwell is well-known in Hamilton as an provider of this kind of housing. Watch for the opening of all this sometime after July this year. When the new church opens it’s present staff, Dwayne Cline, Paul Havercroft, Macio Silva, Derek Hisson, Diana Crosby, Deanna Spoelstra, Jamie Iles and Jenna Smith will be eagerly waiting to see you on James Street.