October 1997 marked the 175th anniversary of the opening of the Methodist Chapel on this side of Halifax Harbour. It was built in Upper Lawrencetown on the land donated by John Grammon and his wife Mary Ann Bisset. The deed was witnessed by Rev. William Black, the founder of Methodism in the Maritimes. This chapel was described in an 1827 report as “20 feet by 16 feet, no pews, a small debt provided by subscriptions.” It was used as a “preaching station” until about 1840.
The Gammon and Bissett families participated in the building of a second chapel on Long Hill in Cole Harbour in 1830/1831. Rev. William Croscombe, who was responsible for this chapel, would later lead the team that selected the location of the Methodist Chapel built on Brunswick St. in Halifax. The chapel on Cole Harbour still stands and is known today as the Meeting House.
Second Methodist Chapel or Meeting House at Cole Harbour
In June 1827, John and Abigail Scott sold their farm in Musquodoboit and moved to Cole Harbour. They purchased 400 acres at Cole Harbour from John and Elizabeth Stuart. The deed and mortgage describe the property as “beginning at Smelt Brook at the head of Cole Harbour running thence northwesterly by the highway – to eastern boundary of Lawrence Hartshorne’s land -.” On March 9, 1830, John and Abigail donated “one quarter of an acre of land – on the southern side of the main road – through Cole Harbour – to the Society of people called Methodist at Cole Harbour, late in connexion with Rev. John Wesley deceased – to erect, build, complete, and finish a Chapel or Meeting House.”
The deed was registered on August 2, 1831. It lists the Methodist trustees as George Bisset, John Scott, Benjamin Bisset, farmers; George Gammon, chairmaker; Gasper Roast, shopkeeper; Edmund Stevens; all of Cole Harbour and Cow Bay; and Rev. Wm. Groscombe. George and Benjamin Bisset were the brothers of Mary Ann (Bisset) Gammon. Their father was Jean George Bisset, who settled in Cole Harbour around 1786. George Gammon was a son of John and Mary Ann Gammon, the founders of the 1822 Chapel at Upper Lawrencetown. (George Gammon had married Catherine Ann Beck, also of Cole Harbour, on March 26, 1826. The ceremony was performed by Methodist Minister, William Temple. The Beck family were strong supporters of the Meeting House.) Edmund Stevens was a shipbuilder and carpenter and probably participated in the construction of the Meeting House in 1831.
With the passage of time, descendants of the Bissets and Gammons enlarged the membership role through marriage. Their daughters would marry Becks and Turners, and the Turners married Settles, and the Settles would marry Morashes. Other surnames would come and go and in time the Gammon surname disappeared. However, Bissets, Settles and Morashes were supporting the Meeting House in 1892 when it became part of the United Church of Canada. They were still there when it was closed in 1961 and they helped build the new Cole Harbour United Church on Bisset Road.
Another very early family was that of Alexander Kuhn and Jane Bisset, a grand-daughter of the pioneer Jean George Bissett. They were married at Cole Harbour in 1834 and the baptisms of their children can be found in Methodist records. Their youngest children were baptised while they were living on McNabs Island, where Alexander’s father once lived. They then moved to Cole Harbour where in 1847 and 1849 two more children were baptised. By 1851 the family had moved again, this time to Dartmouth where the Methodist records indicate they baptised three more children. Two of the Kuhn’s daughters married Settles and Morashes from Cole Harbour. They were among the children of Alexander and Jane who donated the land (1883) for the construction of the Woodlawn Methodist Church. John Beck, James Turner, and Robert Settle Jr., all of Cole Harbour, were listed as Trustees for the construction of the Woodlawn Church.
Another early Methodist family with roots in the Meeting House was that of Nathaniel Russell (1809-1887). On May 9, 1835, he was married by a Methodist minister to Agnus Davidson Bissett, another grand-daughter of Jean George Bissett. The marriage records list him as a farmer from Cole Harbour; however, when their daughter was baptised in 1842 he is shown as “Tinman” at Cole Harbour. The Russells moved into Dartmouth where the 1864 Directory lists “Nathaniel Russel, tin and sheet iron worker and stove dealer, Portland and Dundas.” He became an active member of the Dartmouth Methodist Society where he was largely responsible for the chapel services. He and George Starr spearheaded the building of the Methodist Chapel that opened in Dartmouth in 1853. A tablet dedicated to him hangs in Grace United Church, the successor, due largely to his efforts. “He was Circuit Stewart, Sunday School Superintendent, and Class Leader for many years. A public-spirited citizen, an upright business man, a friend of the poor, a promoter of ever good cause.” Nathaniel was also a lay preacher and occasionally preached at the Meeting House in Cole Harbour.
The Kuhns and the Russells are but two examples of families that worshipped at the Meeting House in the early years but moved into Dartmouth or Halifax where they continued to help promote the Methodist movement. Another was Samuel Gammon, a son of John Gammon and Mary Ann Bissett, who moved to Bathurst, New Brunswick, where he worked in the shipbuilding industry and is listed in the earliest records of the Wesleyan Mission at that location.
In 1884, the Methodist Church at Woodlawn was opened; many of the Trustees were farmers from Cole Harbour. The land had been donated by sons and daughters of Alexander Kuhn. The Kuhn family had settled in Cole Harbour in the early 1800s.
The Meeting House at Cole Harbour became the Cole Harbour United Church in 1925. It was used until 1961 when the congregation moved to a new location on Bisset Road.
The Methodist Community at Cole Harbour was never large enough to support its own minister. From the early 1800s to 1865 ministers came out from Halifax. From 1865 to 1892 most of the ministers came from Dartmouth, except between 1877 and 1883 when ministers were stationed either at Cole Harbour or Lawrencetown. From 1892 to 1925, ministers came from Woodlawn. Hence, although the Meeting House in Cole Harbour may have supplied the sparks to start other communities in faith, these communities grew larger than their founder and ended up helping the parent.
The Cole Harbour Rural Heritage Society has been maintaining the Meeting House since 1973. The chapel has not been significantly altered over the years and the Society plans to return it to the 1850 time period. Services are held three times a year.