CollingwoodToday has partnered with Sheffield Park Black History museum for Black History Month. This is the first of four weekly columns featuring local and Canadian Black History thanks to research provided by Sheffield Park museum.
A church in Collingwood stands not only as a place for people to worship, but also as an important part of the area’s Black history.
Heritage Community Church was but a dream in the minds of the community in the late 1800s.
In 1870, black and white neighbours sowed into that dream by collecting money in clay jugs to be used to one day build a church. At the time, there were cases of Black individuals not being allowed inside churches with white congregations, and many Black people felt uncomfortable even if they were allowed because of racism they experienced in both Canada and the US.
As recently as 1996, someone or some people sprayed racist graffiti on the exterior of the church.
Police dismissed the incident as mischief. The church left the graffiti where it was for 30 days, in public view in order to bring awareness and get the community involved.
At the end of the 30 days, the church held a community “celebration of healing” with people offering expressions of encouragement and solidarity. A testament of the church’s mandate to reach out to the community and to be a safe space for people of any race to worship and find fellowship.
Black families were among the first settlers of what would become known as Collingwood.
The first Black church in Collingwood was built in the late 1800s and known as Little Chapel, but it burned down in 1898. The second was built around 1900 and was known locally as the “coloured church” though the congregation included a mix of races. That building was torn down in 1976 to make way for the modern building that stands today.
The church was part of the British Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada and shared a circuit minister with Owen Sound.
Lay preachers helped fill the pulpit including Harry Bell, Elmer Kenwell, Chris McNichol, Mr. Corrigan, Albert Walmsley and Milt Hollingshead. Local ministers also preached at the local church’s pulpit including Rev. Cecil Brown, Rev. John Smith, and Pastor George Peck.
In 1994, the church incorporated as Heritage Community Church in Collingwood.
Since then, the building has been renovated for accessibility standards to include a new foyer, an accessible washroom and a chair lift.
When gatherings are permitted, the church hosts annual events such as a turkey supper, Community Choir Good Friday Cantata, and a Christmas food box initiative.
The church also organizes projects like Heat the Street Feet, Get Out of the Cold, and the Christmas Samaritan Shoe Box.
The church operates today, as it always has, under the mandate: “honour God, follow Jesus Christ, and love our neighbours.”