First settled in 1825, Burnstown became a bustling stopping place for shanty men on timber drives down the mighty Madawaska River and the farmers from the townships bringing grain crops to be ground at the stone grist mill and obtain sawn lumber from the sawmill. By the mid-1840s, the village had a schoolhouse, post office, several taverns, blacksmith shop, two general stores, a brewery and distillery and a cheese factory.
In the early years, circuit preachers tended to the pioneer settlers who met for worship services in barns in the summer and houses in winter. Residents built the “Canaan Church,” a plain small structure located halfway between Renfrew and Burnstown. A roadside cairn is now the only reminder of the original church.
The congregation started in 1849 as a Free Church of Canada, an off-shoot of the Presbyterian Church. The Burnstown community erected a large log church on the current site near the bridge over the river. Later, the church was clad with wooden siding that was painted white. In 1875 the two Presbyterian factions rejoined and Burnstown’s church became known as St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.
With a new millennium approaching, the Burnstown congregation decided to construct a new edifice in 1899 because “the members of the congregation had been so prospered in things of this world, that they could afford and [they] should build a temple of worship that would be more indicative of the growth and talents of the community,” according to church history book, Burnstown United Church 1849-1999: 150 Years as a Congregation, by Irene Robillard.
This redbrick church with its steeple, which became a landmark for travelers from any direction, was designed by M. C. Edey, a distinguished architect known for the Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne Park and the Daly Building in downtown Ottawa. Most of the building materials were purchased locally around Renfrew and Arnprior such as bricks, quarry stone or oak panels. The log church was moved across the road to become a curing house for the cheese factory, and was used until the 1920s.
Our church has maintained its charm and authenticity which was described well in the Renfrew Mercury of February 1900 that “For a country church, it is much beyond the average. But the exterior gives no comparative idea of the brightness and cosiness of the interior. Nothing brighter and more home-like in the way of a church could well be imagined.”
The sanctuary upstairs features high walls wainscoted in wood paneling and a ceiling of tongue-and-groove oak. Pews which seat 200 people are arranged in an open fan in front of the pulpit. An adjoining room, which can seat 100, could be opened up with the raising of vertical oak wall panels. When the former schoolhouse, built across the road in the same 1899 era, finally closed in 1960, its bell was installed in our church spire. The schoolhouse is now the entertainment venue for Neat Coffee Shop.
Even today, one can agree with the 1900 newspaper report that the Burnstown church gives “a cheery appearance that makes this place of worship one where praise and rejoicing seem to fit in naturally.”
In the 1920s, the church union of Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian United churches led to the formation of the United Church of Canada — we were named the St. Andrew‘s United Church.
The 1999 book on the congregation’s history is available for sale by contacting us.