The Odelltown Church in Lacolle, which was built between 1823 and 1825, will be the site of a three-day celebration to mark its 200th anniversary on June 16-18.
Recognized by both the federal and the provincial governments as a heritage site, the stone church is located in the old hamlet of Odelltown which was named for Joseph Odell, the head of one of the first families to settle in the area. The location, just a few kilometres from the U.S. border, is historically significant as a battlefield: first during a battle between British and Americans during the War of 1812, and again as the site of the Battle of Odelltown during the Rebellions of 1837-1838. During this confrontation known as the final battle of the Rebellions, a group of nearly 600 Patriotes descended upon Odelltown; some 200 Loyalist volunteers, warned of their arrival, took refuge in the church. The siege lasted several hours until the Loyalists were joined by reinforcements and pushed back the Patriotes.
Heavily damaged by the fighting, the church was repaired in 1845, when the stone exterior was covered in rough plaster. Restoration work took place again between 1973 and 1975, when the plaster on the façade was removed to expose the original stonework. The church was equipped with stables around 1945 so churchgoers could shelter their horses during services; L-shaped in layout, the stables are among the last of their kind in Quebec.
The church, which is not equipped with running water or electricity, was officially closed in 1954; however, a group of dedicated volunteer trustees continue to ensure the building is maintained and that a service takes place once per year. The church is also rented out for weddings and other gatherings.
One of the volunteers is Eric Boyce, whose family has a long history with the church. His grandmother played the original pump organ during the building’s centennial celebrations in 1923. His grandparents used to tie their horses in the stables, he says, noting it sometimes seems the government places more value on that exceptionally preserved wooden structure than on the church itself.
Now, 100 years later, Boyce and his wife, Colleen, are helping to organize a series of bicentennial activities including a benefit concert featuring the Chorale MGV choir at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 16; this is followed by an open house featuring a historian and a barbecue on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The festivities will wrap up with a religious service at 11 a.m. on June 18 with a buffet lunch afterwards.
As this is a special year, monthly church services will take place at 11 a.m. on the last Sundays of July, August, and September. Those attending are invited to bring their lunches and enjoy a picnic on the grounds following the services.
“It just has sentimental value,” says Colleen Boyce of the church. “People don’t realize the significance of the site,” she notes, referring not only to its important place in history but to its unifying role within the community as well. “We are trying our best to keep on as best we can,” she says, gesturing to the church where a busy group of volunteers prepares for the first service of the year.
“We have to start getting younger people involved, but we can’t find them,” adds Eric Boyce, noting the volunteers are all getting older. The pair admit they are concerned that the bicentennial activities may be the last hurrah for the church. They hope the community will come out to enjoy the majestic building, its history, and that this may inspire some to become more invested in its future as well.