North Grenville lost another piece of its history at the end of May when the old Sears building on Water Street in Kemptville was demolished. Although it was most recently the abandoned Sears depot for those buying from the well-known catalogue, that was not the building’s main claim to fame. For seven decades, it had been the home of the Salvation Army in Kemptville, dating from a time when that organisation first arrived in town as a revivalist Christian movement, which hit with all the power and energy of… well a big brass band.
The arrival of the Sally Ann, as it was affectionately known, was itself a lively and colourful event. In January of 1888, the Ottawa Corps of the Army had arranged a week of meetings in Kemptville and had booked the Town Hall on Water Street for the campaign, under the leadership of Adjutant Spooner. The Army was still a very new and energetic element in evangelical Christianity (at a time before that term had acquired its unhappy political overtones), having arrived in Canada in 1882. Its founders, William and Catherine Booth, believed in music, preaching, and the power of the Gospel, and faced complaints from more sedate Christians who objected to the use of popular music hall melodies with new Christian lyrics by responding with phrases like: “Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?”.
The Kemptville campaign in 1888 ran into a problem stemming from another popular campaign of the time – Temperance. The local Methodist congregation was deeply involved in the campaign against alcohol, and, as a result, the Methodist Church building was destroyed by fire in the early days of January, 1888. The Methodists were granted the use of the Town Hall while their church was being repaired.
The fact remained that the newly-arrived Salvation Army had nowhere to meet, nor to lay their heads. Since this gave them something else in common with Jesus, they decided to follow his example further, as one member of the group remarked: “So we had to follow our Leader. Not to be beat, we made friends with the publicans and leased a large billiard room for one year”. The billiard hall was on the corner of Asa and Thomas, across from the Banks Livery Stable premises. In spite of the set-back with the Town Hall, and the late hour by the time the hall was found, Adjutant Spooner did not waste any more time. That very evening, the Army started the work in Kemptville. Spooner recorded the event briefly: “It was then about five o’clock, so we threw off our coats and went to work, and took the counters out, got a stove up, and got some lumber and fixed up some seats; borrowed some lamps, and out we go for a march, had an open air. The whole town was astir; the crowd followed us to the hall and crowded the building. We had a good time, considering, of course, they had never seen the Army before”.
Alice Goodwin, who was in charge in 1888, remembered those early meetings: “We drew large crowds, every night a full hall and packed out on Sundays. Young people were deeply interested, amongst those attending the little soldiers’ meetings was Howard Ferguson.” The meetings were very popular and seating had to be added regularly. The young men and women used to travel out to the “outpost” in Oxford Mills to sell their newspaper, “The War Cry”, which was also popular, since there was no newspaper in Kemptville at the time. They were not without opposition, and endured being pelted with stones by some locals who objected to their presence.
By the end of 1888, a new premises was needed, one that would be permanent and not the property of the billiard hall owner. In October of that year, a member of the new congregation bought a small piece of land, ironically on Water Street, across the road from the Town Hall where they had originally intended to hold their meetings. A local boy, Jack O’Neill, who had been converted in one of the earliest meetings, went on to become a Brigadier in the Sally Ann, and remembered the building of what was to be the Salvation Army Barracks, or Hall, on Water Street:
“James Hagan, from his farm, gave the logs to make the lumber to build the Hall. The Clothier Saw Mill cut the logs into lumber. I, with others, helped to build the Hall, and what splendid results.”
In fact, the Corps remained in the same building from 1888 until 1959, when they moved to the present Church and offices on Oxford Street at Rideau. Aside from a brief period when the Corps closed in 1911 and reopened in 1914, the Salvation Army has remained a constant in the life of North Grenville ever since that first “assault” took place down the streets of Kemptville on January 14, 1888. The demolition of the Hall that was their home for seventy years removes a key element in our shared history. Another one reduced to dust and debris.