Language View

A Brief History of the Church of Christ in Quebec

by Mike Mazzalongo   •   16 min

In the most recent edition of the church directory, “Churches of Christ around the World,” edited by Mac Lynn, the author states that…”The focus for evangelism should be in Quebec.” This opinion is reinforced by the fact that in documenting the history of the church in Canada, brother Lynn makes no mention of the work done in Quebec. The reader of his directory might conclude that no church exists in French Canada but this is not so. Although small, the church in Quebec has a presence dating back to the 1800’s and this article will attempt to give a brief history of the people and their efforts to bring New Testament Christianity to the province of Quebec.

The First Church of Christ

The very first assembly of New Testament Christians in the province of Quebec was established in Montreal. As early as 1893, the “Montreal Daily Witness” contained, in its December 1st edition, the notice of a meeting of Christians to consider organization at the home of a certain Brother Patterson. At the turn of the century, the magazine Christian (June 1902) noted that Mr. “W.R. McEwen (of West Gore, Nova Scotia) had reported that a group, numbering 21, had begun to meet during the Fall of 1901 to observe the Lord’s Table, and that a Sunday School had been formed with thirty-five members.” “On February 10, 1903, the congregation voted unanimously to organize as a church.” On the same day, they declared,

We, the undersigned, immersed believers in Christ as the divine Son of God, being desirous of establishing a church in the city of Montreal whose aim will be to exalt Christ above party and His word above all human creeds – and to build up a church of Christ without denominational name or other barriers to Christian union – do hereby band ourselves, taking the word of God as the all-sufficient rule of faith and practice, the said church to be known as the church of Christ and the individual members as Disciples of Christ, or by any other scriptural name whereby our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is honored. We pray the blessing of God upon this work which we now undertake in His name.

In 1906, Dr. Philip Pratley, an engineer from Liverpool (picture below), England, arrived in Montreal to work for the Dominion Bridge Co. He was later to build the famous Jacques Cartier Bridge in 1930 and his son Hugh, also an engineer and a member of the church, eventually built the Champlain Bridge, Montreal’s other major bridge to the south shore.

Brother Pratley had been a member of the church in England and sought out the local church upon his arrival.

In 1907 there was a split in the church due to a disagreement over where a new meeting place should be located. As a result, in the spring of 1908, Dr. Pratley took responsibility for the teaching and preaching for one of these groups.

This assembly met in the eastern part of Montreal and prospered until the beginning of the First World War

Hugh Pratley remembers being told that WWI (1914-1918) devastated their assembly as most members returned to England or the U.S. during the war and did not return. It was estimated that only 10% of the original church remained after the war. This did not deter the group however. By 1927, Pratley and others had moved once again, this time to the Legion Hall (Veterans WWI, pictured on right) on Verdun Avenue in south central Montreal in an effort to rebuild the church. Soon they had a congregation of about 30 members and attendance for their Sunday School outreach program of over 100 children from the poor neighborhoods of working-class Verdun. They continued to meet here until the church was disbanded in 1959.

Hugh Pratley described the development of the church in the following way:

“My mother was born in the Midlands but the family moved to the south coast in Dorset soon after she was born and emigrated to Canada in 1906 when she was only 16. Her father was active in the Church of Christ in England and quickly found the congregation in Montreal, where he soon became a member and then an elder.
“My father was born in the North of England where his father was already active in his local church to the point of preaching from time to time. My father came to Canada almost a year before my mother and was already active in the Montreal church. This is how they met. They had brought with them the name “Church of Christ” and that was the name always used by that church right up to 1959. The practice was to use the piano during Sunday School but not during worship, not out of conviction, but primarily so that summer visitors, of whom there were many, could worship comfortably whether they came from Churches of Christ or Christian Churches in the U.S.A., or Canada. I still have the sign that used to hang on the wall of the Legion Hall, which reads “Church of Christ meets here every Lord’s Day.”

During this time and nearly to the time of his death in 1958, Philip Pratley did most of the preaching succeeded by his son Hugh. Others who attended at that time included Philip Goatcher and his family; the McKerlie family; Hilda Robinson; the Simpson family; Jack Thompson (who did some preaching); as well many others. These faithful few established and maintained the first “restoration” church in the predominantly Catholic bastion of Quebec.

The First American Missionary

It is interesting to note that the first official church of Christ in French Quebec was incorporated on May 25th, 1957 as an “English” congregation. Its development was as follows.

In 1954, Dr. Charles Branch and his family settled in Montreal from Tennessee in order to complete his residency in neurosurgery under Dr. Wilder Penfield at the prestigious Montreal Neurological Institute. He joined the small group worshipping in Verdun with the Pratley family.

In the fall of 1956, American missionaries Alvin and Ellen Jennings arrived from a recent mission effort in the western province of Saskatchewan with the view of establishing a congregation in Quebec’s largest city, Montreal. They met briefly with the group in Verdun but eventually set out to form a new congregation under the name, “The Church of Christ in Montreal.”

They met for the first time on September 23rd, 1956 in a rented hall at the YMCA building located at 5550 Park Avenue and had 16 people present for worship and collected the princely sum of $42.14 for their first offering. Charles Branch, Roger Olson, along with brother Jennings, signed the first charter granted the church in the spring of the following year.

In the fall of 1957, the young church embarked on a bold plan to offer public preaching in the heart of downtown Montreal’s Dominion Square. Full page ads in the local paper, flyers, and banners were prepared for the occasion. Several preachers participated including Jennings himself, Jimmy Jividen from Texas, Winston Atkinson also from Texas, Canadian preachers Roy Merritt and Bethel Bailey, as well as American brothers Floyd Davis and Farrell Till who spoke in French.


Jimmy Jividen, Dominion Square, 1957

Jimmy Jividen, Dominion Square, 1957

Crowds swelled to 300 people as many curious passerbies took in the scene. Several persons were converted as a result including the Baddeley and Soderkvist families. The young church soon added other families to their number (Hicks, Weber, Patterson) and had other ministers such as Stephen Bilak help out with the preaching.

In 1958 the first property owned by the church was purchased at 103 Graham Blvd in the Town of Mount-Royal for $16,000. The hope was to convert it into a meeting place/office but the church was refused a permit for this usage by the city. By 1959, the congregation had a regular attendance of 35 and average offering of $70 per week.

The end of the 50’s decade saw significant changes for the churches in Montreal as the old Verdun congregation shut its doors for good and the Jennings family left Montreal for a new work in Burlington, Vermont. The next decade, however, would prove to be one of the most productive periods in the history of the church in Quebec.

The 1960s saw the arrival of two more ministers in Montreal. Jerry Davidson and Maurice Hall continued the “park” preaching pioneered by Alvin Jennings and ultimately converted the Kolesnikow family. The patriarch, Ivan Kolesnikow was to become one of the first Russian preachers to broadcast the gospel behind the “Iron Curtain” through shortwave radio. He would record sermons and lessons in his Montreal studio and ship the tapes to the U.S.A. for transfer and rebroadcast across Russia.

During this time, the house on Graham Blvd was sold and a property was purchased in the predominantly English speaking part of Montreal called Lachine. Several others including S.F. Timmerman and Owen Aikins began their work in Lachine at this time. By 1964, the old farmhouse that stood on the property in Lachine was torn down and through the fundraising efforts of Dr. Charles Branch, the construction of a new meeting Lachine Church of Christ place was begun and completed in 1965. The Lachine Church of Christ was to become not only the center for English outreach in Montreal for the next thirty years, but also a launching place for new French mission work.

French Evangelism in Quebec

Until 1965, most of the work in Montreal was done in English. With the arrival of American Missionary S.F. Timmerman and his wife, Maxine, who had worked in Belgium, the French mission began in earnest.

After several campaigns and outreach efforts in French, the Davidson’s and Timmerman’s joined forces and established a French speaking congregation in the Lachine church building. On November 11th, 1966, the new congregation was awarded its official charter by the Province and it was signed by Timmerman, Davidson and brother Ray Fillion.

In 1969 an old Salvation Army meeting place was purchased not far from the Lachine building and there were two congregations of the church meeting in Lachine, one English with Ray Miller who came in to take over the English work from brother Davidson, and one French speaking with Timmerman and Davidson working together.

The two congregations continued serving side by side with successive workers coming and leaving. At the English congregation, brother Miller was succeeded by Harold Mobley (1971-1973), who in turn was replaced by Norris Shelton (1973-1975) and James Meador (1975-1979). Jerry Davidson left the French work in 1972 and was replaced by Donald Taylor who had, like S.F. Timmerman, worked in Belgium before coming to Canada.

During this period there was an effort to expand the English work out to the predominantly English “West Island” part of Montreal. Dennis Dilley began a work in 1972 in the Pierrefonds area and had some success in baptizing several people but the work eventually faded and he moved away in 1973.

During this time a new front in French missions was being established in Quebec City, the provincial capital, by Owen Aikins who had spent a short time in Montreal before heading north. In 1966, a building was erected in Ste-Foy, a suburb of Quebec City. In 1970, Ken Page and Jerrell Rowden joined brother Aikins in the work. By 1972, both Page and Aikin had left and brother Rowden continued the printing ministry that had been set up there. The Quebec City congregation became an important center for the production of French printed materials distributed in French speaking countries throughout the world and also participated in the training of native preachers (Jean Grenier; Yvon Beaudoin) who would in the future establish and minister to congregations in Northern Quebec..

In 1976, the French congregation, that had been meeting in the Salvation Army building in Lachine, sold that property and moved to a rented location on St.Catherine street in the heart of downtown Montreal. During this period, brother Timmerman was joined by another American missionary who had previously served in French West Africa, Bill Bonner and his wife Leslie. The Bonners would eventually work with several French congregations in Montreal.

Multicultural Evangelism

Because Montreal is such a multicultural city, efforts were made to evangelize other language groups in addition to the French and English speaking populations. In 1971, Ivan Kolesnikow, the Russian radio preacher, joined forces with a newly arrived Polish dissident, Henry Ciszek, who had been imprisoned in Poland for his faith. Together they established a small Russian congregation that met mostly in private homes. During that time, Harold Mobley who worked in Lachine but had spent time in Italy started an Italian work in the northern part of Montreal. An Italian preacher, Silvio Caddeo and his wife Luciana were brought to Montreal from Italy to head up this effort in 1973 and a property was rented to house this assembly in the northern part of Montreal.

In 1976, a Chinese Baptist preacher, Samuel Ma, was converted and began a work among the Chinese community in Montreal’s Chinatown district. He was joined by John Chan, who took over the work from brother Ma and was later assisted by David Hung.

Twenty years after the arrival of the Jennings family, there were six congregations in Quebec; Lachine (English); Downtown (French); Charland Street (Italian); Montreal (Russian); Montreal-Chinatown (Chinese); Quebec City (French). The following years would be marked by more growth but these efforts would be led by a new generation of native born Quebec preachers.

Native Preachers

On November 4th, 1979, the Lachine congregation held a special service and through the laying on of hands and prayer, commended the first native Quebecer, Michael Mazzalongo, into the service of ministry. He and his wife Lise would become the first persons born and converted in Quebec to serve in full-time ministry for a church of Christ in the Province. Mazzalongo would preach for the Lachine church until 1982 when he would leave for further study and training at Oklahoma Christian University (then College) in Oklahoma City.

During his absence, the work in Lachine was carried on by American missionaries Jerry and Kathy Cox who had originally come to Montreal in order to assist S.F. Timmerman in the congregation on St. Catherine Street.

On February 14, 1982, the downtown congregation that he had established voted to merge with the congregation led by Silvio Caddeo in northern Montreal. The Charland Street church had begun as an Italian mission but gradually transformed into a French speaking congregation and proposed a merge with Timmerman’s group.

The motion to merge was carried by 18 votes to one lone vote in opposition. It was noted in the minutes of the meeting that,

“…the downtown congregation agrees to purchase the building at 2510 Charland St. for the sum of $40,000. This price and the combined offering of the two assemblies will help the merged congregations become more financially viable…” Bill Bonner, Secretary. (Meeting minutes- 2nd Church of Christ. Montreal Dist.)

Soon after the merge was complete, S.F. and Maxine Timmerman left Montreal for a work in Ontario after 17 years of ministry in Quebec, and Silvio Caddeo along with Bill Bonner carried on with the church on Charland St. The Charland Street congregation St. church was the first congregation in Quebec to appoint elders. After 30 years of mission work, Silvio Caddeo retired from local ministry devoting himself to missionary travel in the Ukraine and Europe and writing. In 2003 his position was taken by Frederick Féruzi, an African preacher who had been trained in French by brethren in Switzerland.

Another feature of the Montreal North mission was the ministry towards handicapped immigrants carried out by Luciana Soave-Caddeo (Silvio’s wife). Sister Caddeo received many civic awards, including the Life-Style Canada Award for her work in the community.

The Mazzalongos returned to Montreal in 1984 and the following year, they established a French speaking congregation in the Lachine building, just as brother Timmerman had done years before. They were soon joined by Bill and Leslie Bonner from the Charland St. church who came to help with this new effort. The small congregation produced a television program entitled, “Télé-Bible” which was broadcast throughout the Province in French.

This was a time of great cooperation as all the congregations in Montreal worked together for seminars, retreats, and gospel meetings. On December 2, 1985, the French congregation in Lachine received its charter from the provincial government. In February of 1987, having outgrown its rented quarters in Lachine, the French brethren moved into a new meeting place purchased in Verdun not three blocks from the Legion Hall where the church had originally met from 1927 until 1959. Eventually, the Verdun congregation became the first fully bilingual congregation in Quebec, offering all services and ministry in the two official languages (English/French).

Just as the Lachine congregation had been a central place for English outreach and the training of preachers and missionaries (Michael Toby, Christopher Blackwell, Andy Bacic), the Verdun church began to cultivate French brothers for ministry. Several French Canadian preachers came from, or were partially trained in the Verdun church. Roger Saumur (Verdun), Sylvain Arseneault (Laval), Luc Fortin (Sherbrooke), Jean Grenier (Jonquière), Albert Charette (Sherbrooke), Paul Gauthier (Longueuil), were either converted or received some of their training in the Verdun congregation. The seventies and eighties were a golden period for the growth of the church throughout Quebec and the development of native born preachers who helped establish several congregations outside the Montreal metroplex as they brought the gospel to more rural areas. The following decade, however, would be one of challenge and change.

The Nineties

On April 10th, 1994, the Verdun building was set on fire by vandals. The entire three story structure, save for the exterior brick walls, burned to the ground. This event seemed to mirror the many struggles faced by the church throughout the Province during that period.

The nineties marked a drastic loss of workers as missionaries Cox, Bonner and Rowden (in Quebec City) left to go on to other works. In Quebec City, Yvon Beaudoin, another native preacher, stepped in to replace brother Rowden to preach for the Quebec City congregation as well as minister to a few small house churches in that region. Another departure was that of brother Mazzalongo who left Montreal in 1989 to preach in St.Catharines, Ontario, and then in 1990 moved to the U.S. in order to serve as Dean of Students at Oklahoma Christian University. He would remain in the U.S. until 2003 when the departure of English evangelist, Christopher Blackwell, would call him back to serve the Verdun congregation once again.

Verdun church fire, April 10th, 1994

In the meantime, new workers arrived to minister at Lachine as well as an effort to officially establish an ICOC (International Church of Christ) congregation in Montreal. The Boston movement had been active in the city since 1985 having begun with Darrell Johnson and Glen Dupont, but their first permanent church was planted by the Toronto church in 1992 with Kelly Petrie as evangelist. He was followed by Dominique DeMougin in 1994, Michael Luzine in 1997, and Danny Brisebois in 2001. The ICOC meets in rented quarters to this day (2005) and has a predominantly French speaking group of about 125.

Meanwhile, the Lachine English congregation that had been the base for outreach throughout the city would go through drastic change. There was a succession of ministers (Ike Etienne 1989-90; Ralph Wharton 1990-1992; Ron Brown 1992-1999; James Bell 2000-2002; Leonard Amanatey 2003-2005+), and during this period, the congregation sold its building and preacher’s house to try and establish a multilingual congregation in central Montreal. This effort failed and after several moves, the majority of the congregation found itself meeting back at the old Salvation Army building once owned by S.F. Timmerman’s original French work in Lachine, while smaller groups spun off in an attempt to form new congregations (i.e. Spanish).

It was at this time (1996) that another native preacher, Sylvain Arseneault, who had been converted and discipled at the Verdun congregation, returned to Montreal after finishing his formal training at International Bible College (now “Heritage”) in Alabama. He immediately began a house church on Montreal’s North shore (Laval). The group would eventually purchase a meeting place in the area and meet there until 2005 when declining membership and rising debt would force them to sell their property and revert to meeting in homes and rented halls. Theirs was a sad reminder of the serious obstacles faced by under funded mission work.

In south central Montreal, the Verdun congregation would eventually rebuild its building through the heroic efforts of Roger Saumur, who had been converted and trained in Verdun, and taken over the work after the departure of the Mazzalongos. The reconstruction was completed, and on June 2, 1995, 14 months after the catastrophic fire that completely gutted their meeting place, 71 members gathered to rededicate their new building to God’s work. In addition to this, the Verdun group officially became a bilingual congregation as Christopher Blackwell, a preacher who had grown up in Lachine but had been trained at the British Bible School in England, began an English work at Verdun in 1997.

The Church in Quebec in 2005

The restoration movement has come a long way from its beginnings as a group of English immigrants who met in homes to “break bread” at the end of the 19th century. Today the church is firmly established in several languages. The work is painfully slow, as it is in other parts of Canada, but counts several viable and growing congregations in Montreal and the rest of the Province.

  • 1956 - Lachine (Montreal west) English/Ashanti
  • 1966 - Quebec City (Ste-Foy) French
  • 1973 - Charland Street (Montreal north) French
  • 1982 - Plessisville (eastern Quebec) French*
  • 1985- Verdun (Montreal south/central) French/English
  • 1991 - Sherbrooke (eastern Quebec) French*
  • 1992 - Rosemount (Montreal east) French (ICOC)
  • 1994 - Jonquière (northern Quebec) French
  • 1996 - Laval (Montreal north shore) French*
  • 1999 – Lévis (Quebec City area) French*
  • 2003 -Ahuntsic (Montreal north/central) Spanish
  • 2004 - Longueuil (Montreal south shore) French*
  • 2004 – Baie-Comeau (Northern Quebec) French*

* denotes house churches.

As the work grows and diversifies, the hope is that the restoration movement will build strong New Testament churches on the foundation laid by so many who sacrificed so much before us.

Update July, 2016

Roger Saumur, evangelist for the Ville-Émard Church of Christ, reports that in the eleven years following the original publishing of this history the situation in Montreal, Quebec’s largest city, remains static. The Ville-Émard group continues to meet in the south central part of the city with an attendance of about 60 people.

There have been no new church plantings since 2005 and all of the congregations that were established at that time remain with a few personnel changes as foreign missionaries leave the work and are replaced by other workers. As far as we know, there are no plans for church plants or new mission teams preparing to work in Montreal. Roger does note, however, that the inability of the various ministers and missionaries to work together in a common cause has impeded the growth of the church in this major city of 3 1/2 million souls.

From 2000 to the present (2016) several congregations have been established in central and eastern Quebec. Each of these meet in private homes and remain small with anywhere from 2 to 10 people in each assembly. The following are the locations where these groups meet: La Tuque, Montmorency, La Pocatière, Rimouski, Baie-Comeau, and La Gaspésie. These house churches have been established and ministered to by Yvon Beaudoin and Jean Grenier, two native born evangelists who live in this area.

In May of 2005 an important change took place in the city of Jonquiere, a city where Jean Grenier serves: the church decided to move their meeting place from Jonquiere to brother Grenier’s home in St. Ambroise in the Lac St. Jean-Saguenay region. In the following year they began meeting in an old barn located on his property which was donated to the church by the Grenier family.

The congregation then began to renovate this barn so that it could serve as a combination meeting place, vacation campground and leadership training center for the brotherhood in the province of Quebec.

It took 10 years in order to complete the first phase of this project which was to prepare a suitable meeting place for the church. The work was largely done by Jean Grenier, along with members of the St.Ambroise congregation with additional help provided by people from other assemblies in Quebec and the United States.

As of 2016 the campground, dorms and leadership center remain to be completed.


Bibliography

  1. Butchard, Rueben. History of the Disciples of Christ in Canada Since 1830. Canadian headquarters Publishers, 1949.
  2. Davidson, Jerry. “The Church in French Canada.” Gospel Advocate (April 1964): 267.
  3. French World Missions 10 (October 1992) : 1, 3.
  4. The STAR, Vol. 6.10-12; 7.3-7; 8.4; 7-1957-1959. Star Bible Publications, A. Jennings, Fort Worth, TX.
  5. Arseneault., Sylvain. A Brief History of Mission in Quebec
  6. Lynn, Mac, Churches of Christ Around the World, 2003 Ed.
  7. Pratley, Hugh, Oral History – 2005 5 Thornhill, Montreal, QC H3Y 2E1