THE MUSKOKAN - There are numerous reasons tourists flock to Muskoka each year.
The church has been in regular use since its completion in 1885
However, while sprinting for the lakes, one consistently overlooked attraction is the many beautiful and historic churches that stand in the region’s smaller communities.
Each year, Canadians will spend thousands of dollars and hours of flight time travelling to Europe to see buildings like the Notre Dame Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in England. Muskoka churches may not have the grandeur or prestige that some of Europe’s religious buildings have, but they do have a charm and considerable history that is special on its own.
One such church is the Fraserburg United Church. Located roughly 14 kilometres east of Bracebridge along Fraserburg Road, the church is remarkably similar to the way it was when it was built over a century ago.
In its early days, Fraserburg was primarily a lumbering community. Even before the church was built, the people of Fraserburg took religious services seriously.
Dianne Cheetham, elder and trustee with the Fraserburg United Church, said before the church went up in 1885, the community held regular church services out of their homes.
“They had a successful community out here and along came Norman Bethune’s father, Malcolm,” said Cheetham. “He came down by horse and buggy on Saturday. He stayed over just down here at the main intersection in Fraserburg. They would feed him meals and then two o’clock the next afternoon they would have their service in their homes.”
Malcolm Bethune is most famous for being the father of Norman Bethune, who has been called the most famous Canadian in the world. Norman Bethune was a doctor and humanitarian who died while working as a combat surgeon with Mao Zedong’s army in 1939. He is revered as a hero in China and his story is taught in that country’s elementary schools.
Before all that could happen though, his father was leading the charge for the little town of Fraserburg to come together to construct a permanent house of worship.
“They gave him all the glory for what he did,” said Cheetham. “He awakened a community and set them on the right path to building such a monument to hard living. There was just lumber and a box factory here in town.”
According to a ledger from the time of construction, the total cost for the church’s building materials came to $189. That included a chimney for the wood stove and the flooring which remains in the building today. The pews, built by a local undertaker for $25.60, are still lining the sanctuary in front of the altar.
The church has been in regular use for everything from Sunday service to weddings since its completion in 1885. In fact, church records indicate it was closed for only one year in its entire 127-year history.
Despite the strong connection to community history, Fraserburg United has continued to move forward as the times have changed. Today, they have Sunday service every week and make the venue available for special occasions.
“This is the first time, to my knowledge, that there has been a service here every week,” said Cheetham. “There might have previously been, but I’ve looked up a lot of records and we can’t find out if they did have a service every week. It seems to just be every other.”
Fraserburg United is also available as a wedding venue for just $100 and in recent years, several couples have opted to tie the knot at the historic venue.
The best way to get more information on the Fraserburg United Church is to stop by the church and speak with the members. They hold a Sunday service at 9:30 a.m. every week.