London local Church history PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pastor Alex   
Sunday, 24 April 2011 16:06

In this historical sketch you will learn about key moments of our city’s history connecting city’s landmarks and historical events of our church. The research of congregational history was done by pastor Alex Golovenko as part of Doctor of Ministry project on church growth and development in the Southwestern Ontario.


London is located in the hub of the South-Western Ontario, at an equal distance in a center of a triangle between Windsor on the south west, Niagara on the south east, and Owen Sound on the North side. It is strategically located as an administrative seat for this region. It’s location on the major route Toronto – Detroit, along the highway 401 also contributes to the growth and influence of the city.

Back in 1793 Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe selected the site as the future capital of Upper Canada.   But the dream was still-born, and the village was founded only in 1826,[1] as a part of the military Settlement, overseen by Colonel Thomas Talbot.

In 1844 when the Millerite Adventist movement experienced the Great Disappointment, and visions were leading to further discoveries of Biblical prophecies, London was just a small village of about 2,000 people centered around a garrison of British troops stationed on the river Thames. On April 13, 1845, a large fire destroyed much of London’s wooden buildings, razing the village. But the location was so important that the very next year, 1846, a Gothic revival style St. Paul's Cathedral was erected as the seat of the Diocese of Huron of the Anglican Church of Canada, still serving the city as the oldest church.[2]

In 1849 a locomotive established a record of 78 miles an hour on the Great Western Railway, introducing the new era of transportation, and the major newspaper was established, the Free Press.

Circa 1851 Adventist pioneer Joseph Bates together with Hiram Edson came through Southwestern Ontario with Evangelistic meetings visiting some 663 Second Adventists (according to the census). That year the first Sabbath keeping Adventists were baptized in London, Peter Gibson, and his wife Elizabeth.[3] He died July 23, 1854 without seeing his wish of an Adventist minister visiting the area again. Mrs.Estacy Young, of Delaware on HWY 2 west London was also baptized that year.

In just another 10 years this village became a city, reaching 10,600 population at a census in 1854, and receiving the status of the city July 1, 1855.[4] The boom and speculation on the land close to the railways was so great that it exceeded the boom of 1929, before the Great Depression. One wealthy merchant bought a plot of land in 1854, by Wellington and Dundas, paid cash, built on it, paid taxes on it, and 50 years later it still would not sell for the same amount.[5]

At that time the city was dominated by the Anglican Church as it was a British colony. The Anglican Church opened the Huron College on May 5, 1863 by Bishop Benjamin Cronyn.[6] It became a precursor for the founding the university of Western Ontario by Bishop Isaac Hellmuth in 1878,[7] and the city becoming a major educational centre.

In 1867 Canada became a country, and Ontario a province.[8] In 1871 the City Council took another important step which would shape the image of the city for the future – the city embarked on a large scale tree planting campaign to replace trees which have been lost through development, and committed to be the “Forest City.” It is known by this epithet today. In 1874 the London Life Insurance Company was founded making London the Insurance capital of Canada, bringing financial wealth to the city.[9]

In 1876 on June 4th the first Adventist Church in Southwestern Ontario was organized at Wyoming, Lambton County, due the work of John Fulton. He continued with preaching winning 3 families in Mt.Brydges and a family at Kenwood, near London.

London at the time was becoming a centre for religious liberty. In 1877, while other Protestant cities in Ontario, especially Toronto, remained under the sway of the Orange Order, a sectarian organization with goals of exclusion of Roman Catholics as members, London abandoned sectarianism when Catholic and Protestant Irish in London formed the Irish Benevolent Society, which was open to both Catholics and Protestants and forbade the discussion of politics.[10] In 1885 the St. Peter's Cathedral Basilica was built, the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of London.

The city was also becoming a multicultural place. London's first Chinese laundry man, Wahelee Angnee, commences business November 10, 1878. The next year the London Telephone Company established, bought by Bell in 1881, becoming the largest monopolizing phone company in Canada. The city secular scene was busied with excursions, recreation, theatres and fun. May 24, 1881, the ferry SS Victoria capsized in the Thames River, drowning approximately 200 passengers, the worst disaster in London's history. On July 12, 1883, the first of the two most devastating floods in London's history killed 17 people, damaged many structures.   In 1885 Londoners voted to hold the annual Western Fair at Queen's Park, the site where church camp-meetings would be held in 1900s. The first Seventh-day Adventist Campmeeting was held in Chatham Ontario in 1887.

In 1892 colporteur Fraser was selling Adventist literature in London and neighbouring towns. In 1893 the first Adventist church building was erected at Albuna in Essex County, with A.T.Jones present for the official opening, with Michigan President I.H.Evans presiding. Charles Steward of London joined the congregation as a member, soon transferring the membership back to London, when the first Seventh-day Adventist church in London was organized in 1898 by elder J.F.Ballenger. Together two of them financed the Health Food Factory opened by Kellogg’s under name “The Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company.” T.H.Robinson was owner and manager of the enterprise. He also operated a major city mission “Home for the Friendless.” The beginnings of Church in the city had great vision for practical influence in social and health development of the city. That was the year the city’s first public hospital was opened, the Victoria Hospital at the South Street.

The next year 1899 the Adventist church in London became the headquarters of Ontario Conference, organized June 15, 1899 at 235 Piccadilly Street, electing F.D.Starr as the first president. An Elementary School was also opened the same year. [11] The school was taught by Marguerite Artress, classes were conducted above the Health Food Factory. Next year Miss Agnes Steward began to teach.

On April 21, 1901 the Ontario Conference with headquarters in London was recognized by the 34th session of the General Conference, on presentation of F.D.Starr. That was the year the Grand Theatre opened in London.

The members purchased their first church building in 1902, at the corner of Oxford and Colborne Streets. Elder Walter Collie dedicated this building on November 02, 1902.  That year elders Eugene Leland and William Ward Simpson pitched a tent in the town of Exeter, giving a series of illustrated lectures and sermons. As a result a company of excellent people accepted the message and a church was organized.

In 1904 the Sunday labour laws caused stir in the city, prohibiting even street cars use on Sunday. Ministers of Sunday churches had to answer to questions, coming from flyers distributed by Adventists. The London church had 41 members (population 43, 154) and they were active in distributing literature on religious freedom. On June 16-26 Ontario Campmeeting was held at the Queen's Park (Western Fair grounds) which had electric lights. London was most convenient place as all the railroads entered and connected in the city. The church even got special discounts with the railroad agents! That year also saw trouble as the food factory burned down.

In 1905 the food factory was rebuilt under management of J.J.Robinson, and continued producing Granola, Granose Flakes or Biscuits, Caramel Cereal, and Life Chips, and in 1906 Mr. Powell and Mr. Vanostrand of Toronto, proprietors of the Battle Creek Health Food Company of London, sold their factory to a joint stock company of London.

In 1907 Isaac Sanborn was preaching and baptizing people in London and Exeter. Sunday Laws were at its last as the Rational Sunday League petitioned in London to be reasonable and allow transportation on Sundays.

In 1908 John Thomas Errington, a newly ordained minister, born in Glanworth (near London) in 1853, converted by W.W.Simpson arrived from the States and began teaching in London. Later on that year a new building was completed on Rectory Street (at York), right across the street from Rectory Street Public School. This building was dedicated on October 11. The Conference president elder Eugene Leland preached a sermon entitled “the Eastern Question” causing a stir by the announcement that the Second Coming of Christ is at hand, and will occur when the Turkish Government is overthrown.   Hopes of soon second coming were high. The Church School was reopened, meeting in the church basement, under the tutelage of Miss Stevenson.

The London Church was the center for all Conference sessions and meetings. In 1911 the first Workers' Institute was held here beginning Feb.15 and lasting four weeks. Elder M.C.Kirkendall, the newly elected Conference President, was teaching Bible Doctrines. Elder W. Guthrie teaching prophecies and history. Brother C. D. Terwillegar was teaching canvassing and Miss Viola Kirkendall was teaching practical work in selling our Magazines. The total expense amounted to $119.35 of which the groceries and coal bills were the greater part. The paper sales amounted to $102.01, and the donations amounted to $9.42 making a total of $111.43; leaving a net expense of only $7.92. from 9 to 12 A. M. selling of magazines, then having three classes in the afternoon of one hour each, with time between taken up with giving explanations on the previous lesson. From twelve to fifteen were in constant attendance at meals, but about twice that number were many times in attendance at the classes. The London church raised a donation of $7.17 to help forward the cause. That year Wm. H. Boyce and his wife arrived to London from Petrolia to do canvassing work and to lead the congregation. BY the end of the year 850 people in London were subscribing to the Signs.

In 1912 the newly elected president M.N. Campbell relocated the Conference headquarters to Oshawa, on campus of the Buena Vista Academy (renamed to Kingsway College in 1963). The School in London closed again. But in 1916 the Church School reopened for the third time by Miss Abbie Culbert, a first time teacher, who went on to open schools in Hamilton and Windsor, continuing for two decades as a teacher in Ontario, moving to Berrien Springs in 1936.

In 1923 elder John Thomas Errington returned to London to retire, supporting the church work until his death in 1939.

In 1924 W.K.Kellogg bought-out the cereal factory, and expanded by moving Toronto plant to London. The only Adventist link that continued was Allan McConnell, whose services were indispensable.

In 1927 elder R.A.Hubley comes to lead the congregation in London. In 1928 the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ontario received the Corporate status and rights to hold ownership of buildings and property under leadership of president M.V.Campbell. With a renewed energy pastor Hubley led to restart the Church School for the fourth time, and this initiative was sustained for the next 19 years, until 1947. First teacher was Miss McElroy, then Murdena McConnell-Lemon & Greta Hubley-Davis taught in 1929 as enrolment increased. Edna Trout taught in 1930. Frances Kennedy in 1931. Mildred Mosher in 1932.

In 1930 pastor Hubley, after working together with evangelist Oscar Cardey to evangelize Toronto, held successful evangelistic meetings in London and St.Thomas baptizing among others large Elliott family at the Egerton Street bridge.

In 1933 as the Great Depression was causing major changes in economy, the Ontario Conference merged with Quebec, the church laid off pastors and had to rely on local elders to carry on the leadership. That year Charles Browning Stewart, the founding member of the London church passes to rest at age 91, at his home near London on Nov. 17.

The church continued in unity, caring for children more than ever, maintaining the school through depression challenges. Viola (Dredge) Lemon (1935), Ruth Nisbett (1936, 1939), Merdena McConnell-Lemon (1937), Dr. Robert Steele (1938), L. Oxford (1941-1943), Lulu Van Buskirk (1944-1947) took turns teaching in London.

In 1937 the second major flood occurred on April 26, 1937, water rising 15 ft’ in a few hours, which destroyed more than 1000 homes and caused millions of dollars in damages, particularly in West London.

In 1939 the London International Airport was opened, the 12th busiest passenger airport in Canada, attracting more businesses, more people, and more diversity to the city. Even as the Second World War was challenging Europe, London was entering into the new stage of prosperous development. The Conference with the membership of 1,782 and annual tithe $48,383 began to hire pastors again. In 1940 London receive pastor Joseph A. Toop. In 1942 pastor Houser entered the field here.

In 1952 London pioneered the establishment of cable television in Canada, being the first city with 15 homes linked. That year pastor Richard Laing led the church to open the first Dorcas Society, later renamed as Community Services. The city population reached 101, 855 in the 1955 census, and the church membership being only 64. This was the era of major influx of Caribbean and East European immigrants, forever changing the face of the city, and of the local Adventist Church. The first Adventist family from Caribbean were Beckles from Barbados who joined the congregation in 1956. The church under leadership of pastor Arthur Spenst was embarking on understanding how to work with cultural diversity.

In the next few years the city was expanding in all directions, accelerating the suburban growth, annexing communities of Byron, Masonville, Westmount, Oakridge, Whitehills, Pond Mills and White Oaks, doubling the population in a decade.[12] The Church also grew, mostly through immigration and transfer of families coming to join the economic boom. Many still warmly remember pastor Andrew Ferrier, who started the MV (Missionary Volunteers) program in London, and led the church to extend the ministry to Exeter.

The Church made a move to a new location. The Rectory street building was sold to the Western Fair grounds and demolished. The congregation purchased a building from the Chalmers Presbyterian Church, right in the centre of the city at the corner of Waterloo and Grey in 1964. The first wedding in the new Church building was that of Tom & Mary Smibert. The same year the Preparatory Classes (known today as “Adventurers”) were started by Viola Reeve & Mary Smibert, attracting 21 children. Assistant teachers were Bonnie Goulet, Billy Dowdell and Debbie Skwarchuk.

In 1966 the church asked for a pastor-evangelist and elder Laughton Lowe came to the city. In 1968 pastor Rudy Skoretz was instrumental in opening the Pathfinders Club, led by Mrs.Skoretz, Steve Nischuk & Ken Magoon. That year the School opened for the fifth time with Steve Nischuk as the teacher.

The significant impact on the growth and dynamics in the city contributed the building of the University Hospital in 1969.[13] With rapid economic growth came problems – the city became known as the “Speed City” for illegal drugs. The economic growth, geographical expansion of suburbs, and the cultural hype of “bigger is better” of the 1970s adversely influences the church, as parents sent their kids to the public schools and withdraw support from Christian education. Teacher’s $650 monthly salary wasn’t coming in, enrolment was down, parents complained about the distance to bring kids to school, and would rather invest money in purchases of bigger and better things. The Church School closed in 1972.[14] The Pathfinders Club was seen as an alternative to the Christian education, and was a mandatory for church kids, yet the lack of parental support led to club’s closure in 1976.

As society was changing the church was also beginning to understand the need for expansion. Under leadership of pastor Brian Jurianz a company was planted in the neighbouring city, Woodstock in 1970, becoming a year later the Woodstock Seventh-day Adventist Church.[15]  

By mid 1970s the city population reaches 250,000, becoming the eighth largest city in Canada. At the same time the city begins to address the quality of life. London’s days of “light-speed” development were over. The mushrooming of houses and industries in the periphery of suburbs slowed down. The London Free press no longer ran special development supplements about number of factories built per month. The Church began to focus on the need for Evangelism. Pastor Frederick Pearse and his wife Beatrice came in 1975 facilitating public evangelism.

In 1979 pastor Laren Kurtz involved London congregation to start the school in St.Thomas with children carpooled there from London increasing enrolment to 21 and donating blackboards and other materials from London. Mrs. Marguerite Brown was the first teacher. The St.Thomas School continued for over 30 years, closing in 2010.

Pastor Robert Toms arrived in 1980 to take care of London-Exeter-St.Thomas three churches district.  The church started to grapple with multiculturalism, social relations, community understanding.  

The year 1983 brought changes and challenges as pastor Lewis Szerecz began his ministry. North American Adventist church was struggling with Desmond Ford’s denial of the Sanctuary doctrine and doubts in the validity of our origins as the Remnant church in 1844. Local churches were looking at role of each individual in ministry, affirming the belief in the priesthood of all believers. The church developed the “Revival and Reformation” annual plan for Evangelism, doing outreach programs, such as “Five-day Stop Smoking” at the Victoria Hospital. The youth program “New Generation” was active.

Small Groups idea was first shared with the church in London as a soul-winning tool. An idea originated to plant a second church in the city at the North end, closer to the Western university and Fanshawe College. Not everyone welcomed this, as it was perceived more like a split and loosing people, than an investment or a plant. The group of enthusiasts started the company in 1984 against all odds. Today the North London Church is a vibrant congregation with its own building at 800 Fleet Street, hosting the Church School since 2007.

In 1984 London welcomed another pastor-evangelist, Henry Feyerabend, who would to become the director of It Is Written Canada, eventually mentoring Shawn Boonstra, the present Speaker/Director of It Is Written, and Bill Santos, current Canadian It Is Written speaker. Pastor Feyerabend had a grandiose vision for the church, established the TV ministry in London, setting up a multipurpose complex where the church would serve numerous needs of the community. In 1986 the Grey street church was sold and the new complex was built on the Charterhouse crescent, in the industrial East end of the city. The main part of the ministry complex was the ARTS studio, bringing a new dimension to the public evangelism, adding an associate pastors to assist with production and follow up of interests. Mid-80s were hot years for evangelism. Amazing Facts Evangelistic Crusade with Dan Collins took place in 1985. And Lyle Pollett conducted another Evangelistic program in 1986. A team of seven vice-presidents was created to organize and improve evangelism. Pastor Michael Lay came to lead the church. Under pastor Feyerabend’s leadership a new Portuguese group was organized at the London Church, taking the multiculturalism to a new dimension of ethnic ministry. During this time the Church elementary School was re-opened, and students came back from the St.Thomas School.

Most of the activity in those days was backed by the main London Church, as the North London company was working toward solidifying commitment and becoming a church, officially organized on April 23, 1988, at the Faith Tabernacle, east of Clarke & Huron.[16] By 1989 pastor Feyerabend left London, closing the ARTS studio, moving to Toronto to work with It Is Written ministry. The members rented for a number of years the London Free Methodist Church on Commissioners Road.

In 1990 a major recession hit Ontario. Economy was uncertain, the London Church sold its Charterhouse facility to the Moose Lodge, and both churches were “on the street,” renting facilities from other established congregations. The commitment to continue the School was so great that a house was purchased on the Pond Mills Road for the school use. Mrs. Pat Cove came to teach, just graduating with Masters Degree in Elementary Education. During this time there were strong proponents to merge both churches together and to grow in size as one church in London. At this time two churches did not even want to share the same pastor. The North London Church shared a pastor with Woodstock, and the London (main) church shared the district with St. Thomas.  Arrival of pastor Nilton Amorim in March of 1991to pastor the North London would prove advantageous to both congregations.

By 1992-1993 the new economic surge was bringing a new life to the city, new hopes for growth. The city completed the One London Place, an office tower as the tallest building in the city. It is 113.4 meters tall, and at the time was the third largest building in Ontario, outside of Toronto.[17] The city annexed nearly the entire Westminster, south of the city, including Lambeth, almost doubling in area in 1993, causing major administrative restructuring.

By May of 1993 both churches Adventist in London came to work and serve together, and Nilton Amorim began to minister to both churches. Under his leadership both churches purchased properties. In 1995 the North began to worship on Gainsborough 1001 on June 10.   Pastor Amorim put together a very comprehensive financial plan for the London church and diligently visited all the members to explain this plan and obtain financial pledges. The search began for some land on which to erect a building and, on January 31, 1994, a deposit was made on this property, with the balance paid on May 25, 1994. By August of that year, the architect completed preliminary and working drawings, property taxes were paid, the building permit was received, and a Letter of Credit was obtained from our bank.
In January of 1995, the Building Committee was organized and met weekly. Contracts and sub-contracts were drawn up and signed and construction of the building began in the spring of that year. The building was done under the supervision of a church member Gerald Goulet, who served as building contractor. Members gave of their free time to construct this church. Several members Valdemar Ferreira, Langton Gay, and Arnley Jordan stand out in particular as individuals who worked many, many hours on the building. The main London Church celebrated the first worship service in the new building at Pond Mills and Commissioners (the present location) on September 16.

This was also a new era for renewed church growth. The NET evangelism was coming on the scene. In 1996 the Ontario Conference Maranatha Lay Institute of Evangelism (first opened in 1982 by elder Conference Personal Ministries director Rick Bachus) focused the training on Evangelism, preparing for the NET96 in the fall. Pastor Richard Roschman arrived to pastor London district in August 1996. 34 people requested baptism at the end of NET 96. Economical changes also affected the church school. Mortgage obligations made it difficult to support the school financially and the school closed in 1997.

The church was eager for growth and work. Major outreach events took place at UWO for students and youth in 1998-1999. Pastor Roshcman celebrated tenth anniversary of the North London Church “burning” the mortgage for the Gainsborough property. The young North Church made wise investments in land and property, and by 2000 the congregation was ready for another move, purchasing a 300- seat sanctuary with a large fellowship hall and the parsonage apartment from the Anglican Church, at 800 Fleet Street, where it presently meets.

In 2000 Sam Mawutor, a Bible worker colporteuring in the city was appointed as an interim pastor for London district. In 2002 the mortgage was paid off for the London Church. On October 12, 2003 the church celebrated the Dedication service of 805 Shelborne facilities. Due to the health reasons pastor Mawutor left in 2003.

The church continued actively in attending the Conference Maranatha training annually. That spring a couple from the London encountered the CHIP program with Hans Diehl, bringing ideas back and starting the first CHIP program in the spring. This program today is one of the most effective and active outreach in the city, serving over 300 alumni, being recognized on the local A-channel TV program, and leading the health evangelism.

In 2004 churches were served by another interim pastor coming from retirement to facilitate leadership. Pastor George Ivkov commuted from 2 hours away, east of Toronto, to maintain and manage the district.

2005 began with arrival of pastor Alex Golovenko, straight from the Andrews Seminary, installed on January 1st in both churches. Pastor’s family lived for three years in the parsonage at the North London Church, taking pastoral availability and accessibility to the new level. The NCD tool was introduced to both churches for evaluation purposes, working toward balanced ministry of inreach, outreach and spiritual upreach. Cultural Diversity was affirmed as various cultures present their programs at the London Church, hosting people from more than fifty nations. In 2005 the church established media broadcast on the internet, providing sermons and information online. Church leaders attended the SEEDS church planting training at Andrews.

In 2006 the local Forest City Pathfinders Club was reorganized with Paula Huie leading the effort. Emphasis on Evangelism training began. The long term plan and Vision for planting churches in every ward of the city was introduced.

In 2007 Theresa Ferreira developed monthly community ministry “Open House” growing to serve survival needs for over 100 people. The Elementary School was reopened at the North London Church (LACA) with Mrs. Marilyn Strachan as principal teacher, and Miss Paula Huie as an elementary teacher.   The new 2008 year was celebrated with installation of the History Mural of the Adventist Church world-wide, produced by Christopher Bassaragh. That year the CHIP outreach introduced “What’s the Connection” evangelistic program, establishing spiritual link with community.

The emphasis on the teamwork for the District led to Regional camp-meeting held in Chatham May 31, 2008 rallying all eight churches of Windsor, Sarnia, Chatham, Leamington, St.Thomas, Woodstock and London to work together. Pastor Alex started the school of Leadership training lay members for the work of soul-winning with curriculum of 4 classes: Adventism, Spirituality, Mission and Ministry.

The working together of churches led to a major public evangelistic effort at the Western Fair grounds by pastor Alex in April of 2009, and a camp-meeting tent celebration in Sarnia in May. Increase of Adventist membership in London through baptisms, and a few years of massive influx of Spanish immigrants to London, moved the Conference leadership to invest in this field by sending the second pastor to the city.

Pastor Rudy Alvir arrived to London in August 2009, taking the responsibility for the North London church, University students group, and the new church plant. The London church commissioned 20 members of Hispanic ethnic background to start the work for new Spanish speaking arrivals, laying hands on leaders in prayer in November 2009.

Currently our church is preparing for more missional work, making the Three Angels Message visible, loud, and ever-present in the city of London.


[2] Miller, O. (1992). London 200. An Illustrated History. 45-50.

[3] Campbell, F.A. (Ed.). (1999) 100 Years of Adventism in Ontario. London. Birthplace of the Ontario Conference. p.163.

[5] Miller, (1992). p.64-65.

[11] Campbell (1999). p.163.

[13] Miller (1992). p.218

[14] Details about local church history are taken from the Church Board minutes kept in the archive of the London (main) Seventh-day Adventist church.

[15] Campbell (1999). p.163.


[16] All the historic details about the North Church are taken from the Church Board minutes kept in the archive of the North London Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 May 2011 01:15