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Chalmers-Wesley United Church originated with the Reformed (Protestant) church members who came to Quebec City as soldiers with the British Army in 1759. The first religious services for Presbyterian and Methodist soldiers were provided by military chaplains and lay preachers, who used the Jesuit Barracks (the former Jesuits’ College, located where City Hall is today) as a place of worship. By the early 1800s, three congregations had developed: the Calvinist Presbyterians, the Wesleyan Methodists and the Puritan Congregationalists.
In 1800 the Congregationalists and Presbyterians petitioned the London Missionary Society for a minister “of evangelical sentiments” and were sent a series of ministers beginning with the Reverend Clark Bentom. Worshippers gathered in a room in the Freemasons’ Hall at the top of Mountain Hill (côte de la Montagne) until 1817, when they built St. John’s Chapel on St. Francis (now Ferland) Street. In 1830, the majority of the members of St. John’s Chapel professed themselves willing to conform to the doctrine, discipline and laws of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland, and applied to the Glasgow Colonial Society for an ordained minister.
The same year, a small group of Congregationalists within St. John’s Chapel decided they were unwilling to “be made subject to the decisions of the Presbyterian Church.” They left St. John’s and in 1840 they opened the Palace Street Congregationalist Church (on côte du Palais). However, with the decline of the shipbuilding industry in Quebec in the later 1800s, the congregation was finally forced to close their church in 1881. The building was eventually acquired by the Salvation Army. A large majority of these Congregationalists joined Chalmers Free Presbyterian church.
In 1844, following the “Great Disruption” within Scotland’s Established Presbyterian Church, the members of St. John’s Chapel decided to break away from the Church of Scotland in Canada and joined the newly formed Free Presbyterian Church of Canada. As the congregation grew, a new church was built on Ste. Ursule Street, near the Citadel. Chalmers Free Presbyterian Church, named for the Reverend Dr. Thomas Chalmers, founder of the Free Presbyterian Church in Scotland, was opened for worship on March 6, 1853.
Methodism was founded in England in the late 1700s by the followers of the Reverend John Wesley. The Methodist Society in Quebec City was formed in 1807. The first Methodist ministers to come to Quebec were “saddlebag preachers” from upstate New York but the War of 1812 brought this arrangement to an abrupt end. After the war, ministers were sent from England by the British Methodist Missionary Society. The Methodists built several churches in Quebec City, the first being the Ste. Anne Street Chapel in 1817 and the last, the 1,200-seat Quebec Methodist Church on St. Stanislas Street in 1849.
Both Chalmers Free Presbyterian Church and the Quebec Methodist (Wesleyan) Church experienced steady growth in the second half of the 19th century. Protestant churches in Quebec City were heavily dependent on the timber trade and the shipbuilding industry for their membership and financial support. By 1890 however these industries were in rapid decline. It soon became clear that the challenges of the 20th century could best be met by union under one banner, not only in Quebec City but across Canada.
Congregationalist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches throughout the country merged in 1925 to form The United Church of Canada. In Quebec City, Chalmers Free Presbyterian and the Quebec Methodist (Wesleyan) Church independently joined the new body. As a result, there were two United Church congregations located in close proximity in the Old Town, each with a large building to maintain. Therefore, in 1931, Chalmers United Church and Wesley United Church decided to join together in the Ste. Ursule Street building, then renamed Chalmers-Wesley United Church. The former Wesleyan Church on St. Stanislas was later sold to the Ville de Québec and the lower level, l’Institut Canadien, is now used as a public library.
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