The construction of St. Alban’s UEL Memorial Church was the result of the dream and unflagging efforts of Reverend Richard Forneri. The Anglican congregation of Adolphustown had built St. Paul’s Church in 1822 and though their numbers were never large they played an important role in the community.
Reverend Forneri arrived in Adolphustown in 1883 and was not impressed with the 60-year-old St. Paul’s Church. He was also appalled at the state of the cemetery in which United Empire Loyalists were buried, feeling strongly these people who first settled Upper Canada deserved a permanent Memorial recognizing their contribution to founding the province of Ontario.
Reverend Forneri’s enthusiasm towards his self-appointed task allowed him to gain the full support of his parishioners but such a church as he had in mind was beyond the financial reach of just 22 families. To acquire the rest of the funds needed Reverend Forneri travelled extensively around the province and beyond to interest possible benefactors in his project. Many of the contributors were not Anglican but the descendants of UEL settlers. A local businessman, J.J. Watson, donated the land on which the Church was built.
On the centennial of the landing of the first United Empire Loyalists in Adolphustown, Reverend Forneri was ready to begin the construction of his Church. On June 17th, 1884 the cornerstone of St. Alban’s was laid by the Honourable John Beverly Robinson, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. The first service was held in 1890 and St. Alban’s Church played an important religious and social role in the Adolphustown community for almost 130 years.
When Rev. Forneri proposed building a new Anglican Church dedicated to the memory of the United Empire Loyalists, his enthusiasm garnered the full support of his small twenty-two family congregation. The size of the congregation increased and diminished over time but within the Adolphustown area St. Alban’s Church continued it’s secular role as a social centre for the Community.
Early Church records report on the making and selling of ice cream and by the 1920s Ice Cream Socials were popular. As were the Saturday night dances held in the 1930s through the summer months. St. Alban’s also hosted local theatre groups and choirs whose performances were open to the community. In the 1970s mention is made of baseball teams from Adolphustown, Bath, Collin’s Bay and Kingston returning to St. Alban’s for an evening Service and social gathering. Being the ‘70s several walkathons were also sponsored by the congregation.
As well as hosting these events, annual Fowl Suppers, Pancake Suppers, Strawberry Teas and Pie Socials were held. According to one neighbour, even line dancing was a popular offering at one point. Of course, being a church, St. Alban’s was the setting for a number of weddings and funerals. In recent years, due to an aging and diminishing congregation these events became fewer. It is our hope St. Alban’s Centre will once again serve as a social gathering place for the local community and our visitors.
The cornerstone for St. Alban’s the Martyr UEL Memorial Church was laid in 1884 on the Centennial of the landing of the first Loyalists in Adolphus Reach. In a letter to a prospective donor Rev. Forneri wrote,
"beginning at the Chancel a band of coloured English tiles will run along the wall just above the wainscoting and in this band will be inserted polished tablets bearing the names of prominent Loyalists of Canada. There they will not, like their tombstones, crumble under the action of the weather. There they will be read with reverence by succeeding generations. Thus names which are historical will be lastingly preserved".
Besides “authoring” the construction of St. Alban’s UEL Memorial Church Rev. Forneri advocated establishing a fund to keep the story of the Loyalists alive by hosting a yearly lecture featuring a well-informed speaker. The fund no longer exists if it ever did, but the parishioners of St. Alban’s carried out his vision and a UEL Memorial Service featuring a prominent speaker was held at the Church each June on the Sunday closest to the June 16 landing date. The first UEL Memorial Service was held in 1934, the 150th Anniversary of the Landing of the Loyalists in Adolphustown. We hope to continue this tradition once COVID-19 restrictions are removed.
The parishioners of St. Alban’s have taken pride in their UEL association and lovingly preserved the 64 encaustic memorial tiles installed in the frieze encircling the interior of the Church. As well they treasured several other items gifted to the Church in it‘s role as a Memorial to the Loyalist refugees who helped found our nation.
“Benefiting from the short-lived, sixty year revival of this ancient art form, St. Alban’s, Adolphustown, is blessed with a rare and magnificent frieze of Minton memorial tiles, bearing inscriptions honouring Canada’s Loyalist settlers.”
Photo: Sean Hearon
In 1959 St. Alban’s was presented with replicas of the Queen’s Rangers Colours carried during the American Revolution by the regiment. During an impressive service Major F.R. Brascombe addressed the Rector stating we:
“…request that they be deposited here for safekeeping as a token of our gratitude to Almighty God by Whom alone victory is secured….we also desire to provide a memorial to the men, women and children who voluntarily relinquished the comfort and ease of an established life in settled communities and followed, under Colours such as these the dictates of their conscience even to these very shores and here began new lives and new communities…”
Photo: John McNeill
Other gifts with UEL ties are the Paschal candle, holder and plaque commemorating the life of Gena Branscombe, a local Picton woman, who was once a well known composer of classical music.
Though she lived her adult life in America, Gena Branscombe was proud of her UEL heritage and her family chose St. Alban’s in which to hold a local memorial service and presentation in her honour.
The mysteries with artifacts are usually about when they were made and by whom. This is not the case with the old bell on display inside St. Alban's. It says right on it: Made in 1690 by John Packer in Bristol. The mystery is how the bell ended up inside a church in Adolphustown and when
did it crack?
The bell was recently brought inside for safekeeping after being on display for years in a small shelter outside the church.
Why was a bell, forged in Bristol in 1690, installed in St. George's Cathedral, Kingston in the 1790s? Why was it gifted to St. Paul’s Church, St. Alban's predecessor, built in 1822 in Adolphustown, where it gradually slipped into obscurity? By 1896 a reference to the bell indicates it was "no more than a relic, for it is cracked and cannot be used." Yet research indicates the bell was in use as late as 1890 in the new St. Alban’s Church.
The mystery of the old bell remains.
What is certain is the old bell is now safe and proudly on display inside St. Alban's. We plan to have the bell undergo professional conservation. While its history is still murky, the future of the bell is clear—it is an important part of the history of
Photo: John McNeill