(With files from James Bowler – YourTV Muskoka)

As Holy Trinity United Church celebrates 150 years in Huntsville, a former reverend provides some context to its place in the community.

Derek Shelly retired in 2018 after 15 years at the pulpit. He loves the history of the institution, its many moves and many key people who have made it what it is.

Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison meeting with congregants. (Supplied by James Bowler YourTV Muskoka)

“The first service was held June the 6th, 150 years ago in Captain John Hunt’s cabin,” reveals Shelly. “It wasn’t interdenominational, it was just Christian folks gathering.”

The physical place the church calls home has changed a few times over the years, he says.

“It has been located in various places but at this current location (33 Main Street East) for the last 100 or so years,” Shelly explains.

The congregation nearly lost the church to a fire in 1948.

“It really gutted the interior of the building,” he says. “The outside was maintained and the new ceiling covers up the charred timber. If you go up above the ceiling you can still see and smell the timbers.”

He says more important than the building is the people that make Holy Trinity the special church that it is.

“Within the people, it’s the women’s groups, the council is made up of women. It used to be an old boy’s club as most churches were.”

He recalls in 1976 when one of the churches he worked at elected their first woman to the council as an elder.

Shelly says the change has been notable during his time as a reverend.

“It’s really incredible how much the church has changed and become more open,” he says. “Certainly Trinity is very inclusive with people from all walks of life.”

He expands on that noting he has always liked the word inclusion.

“Trinity is certainly a massively inclusive congregation,” he points out. “I have always appreciated them (congregants) for that.”

He says the building of churches went part and parcel with the growth of Huntsville in the early part of the 20th century.

Holy Trinity United Church sign (Supplied by James Bowler YourTV Muskoka)

“It began things,” he says of the building of Holy Trinity. “And then five years later the Madill Church was built, it’s still there, a log cabin church.”

Shelly explains the early history of the development of Huntsville.

“The town is divided by the river and at one point half the town was considered dry,” he says. “The other half was considered not dry. Which meant the consumption and sale of alcohol was available on one side of the river and not the other.”

Shelly tells the story of a temperance league building a fountain in front of the church for horses to drink from in 1903. It’s dedication, from mostly non-drinkers, attracted over 1,500 people, a massive percentage of the population at that time.

Shelly says thinking back to his arrival in 2003, he has enjoyed his time in Huntsville.

“It was a marvellous experience being a part of a congregation that knew what they wanted and they were willing to work toward that,” he says.

The celebration of the Holy Trinity Church 150th Anniversary will be celebrated all year long with a variety of special events.