Macpherson Street

Thomas Macpherson, church builder

15 Norman St. Manse See Norman Street

On June 1, 1849, Rev. Thomas Macpherson, his wife, Sarah, and their four children boarded a sailing ship for Canada. In what was to be a turning point in their lives, and the life of the Presbyterian Church, Macpherson had been named a "missionary to North America" by the colonial committee of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The Macphersons settled in Stratford, where he built two churches, St Andrew’s (see St. Andrew Street) and Knox (see Ontario Street).

Born in County Antrim, Ireland, in 1810, Thomas Macpherson came by a taste for learning and hard work at an early age. At 14, he was given charge of the local school he attended, enabling him to finance his literary and theological studies at the Royal Belfast Institution. He graduated in 1836 and was called to First Bellaghy Church, County Derry. During his 13 years there, he had his first experiences in church construction and financing, gaining knowledge that would serve him well in the colony to which he was assigned.

Shortly after the Macpherson family landed in Quebec, Thomas accepted an invitation to be pastor to a few families in Stratford who had left the Auld Kirk and adhered to the principles of the Free Church. Far from the busy tourist destination it is today, it was a Stratford that comprised about 30 houses. The congregation met in a log schoolhouse, but the new minister had a brick church in mind. You night picture the good reverend removing his suit coat (but not his clerical collar), rolling up his sleeves, rubbing his hands and settling down to work.

Macpherson contacted the Canada Company of London, England, a major developer of the Stratford area, and obtained a free building site on St. Andrew’s Street and a contribution of 100 pounds. He then travelled to Philadelphia on a fundraising mission. There, he obtained additional financial support from acquaintances and friends of the cause.

He also met a young man named Thomas Orr (see Waterloo Street). A cousin of Orr’s wife, Fanny, had a farm in Downie Township, and had tried to persuade the family to move to the young, growing community. Rev Macpherson suggested Thomas visit Stratford, and he did. Obviously impressed with the town's opportunities and potential, and its proximity to Fanny's relatives, Thomas moved his family here in 1857. The Orrs went on to make a significant contribution to the city. (See Cobourg Street and Lakeside Drive).

Apparently, Macpherson's vigilance on the St. Andrew Street building site could sometimes be irritating, on one occasion he was left "mortified" -- when the contents of a mortarboard "accidentally" found its way onto his black suit. He didn't return to the building site that day. The church was opened in 1851, with seating for 300. A gallery for 100 was added a few years later. (see St. Andrew Street)

Macpherson's athleticism may not have saved him from the mortar, but it did help in his early years in Stratford, when he was asked to preach in nearby communities. More than once, the pastor found the designated meeting place lay not beyond the proverbial river, but beyond small lakes of muck and mire. He had to use a jumping pole to cross some ot it.

The next two decades were years of considerable growth in Stratford which, coupled with the union of the United Presbyterian Church with the Free Synod of the Presbyterian Church of Canada, soon led to the need for a new site and a larger church building. For the third time in his ministry, Macpherson was in the forefront of the construction of a Presbyterian church.

In one of the few instances in which Macpherson's opinion did not prevail, the new church was named Knox (see Ontario Street), and not St. Paul's, as he had suggested. It opened in 1873, complete with a 63-metre steeple that United States president, William Howard Taft, called "the most graceful and pleasing" he had seen in all his travels. Sadly, it was struck by lightning in 1913, and the church was destroyed in the consequent fire. Another Knox Church was builkt on the same site.

Thomas Macpherson was a minister of the old school. His sermons, like the man, were models of godly piety. He was respected and honoured by his fellow ministers and was elected moderator of the Canada Presbyterian Church in 1874. After he retired in 1877, he continued to have an active role in the life of the church. When he died in 1891, he did so with the same faith and steadfastness he carried throughout his life. "I am happy," he said, "happy to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better."

On Oct. 17, 1999, the congregation of Knox Church, Stratford, Ont., celebrated the anniversary of his arrival with the unveiling of a bronze plaque recognizing his significant contribution to Presbyterianism. That plaque also stands as a tribute to a hard-working man of strong moral character, someone who saw what had to be done and did it. Source: Free Library and Historical Plaque Properties