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The village of Crieff, first known as Fraserville, was named for the family on whose farm the village began to grow. This was lot 26, front concession 1 of Puslinch, at the intersection of side road 25 and concession 1. The property was first settled by Alexander Fraser and his wife Mary, who emigrated from Loch Broom to this property, with his mother, Mrs. Murdock Fraser.
The Munro brothers, Murdock and Kenneth, were early settlers on the farm opposite Frasers and also operated a blacksmith shop across the concession. Across the side road, on the north west corner was the Stewart family. The McDonald family settled the south west corner.
Crieff School was located west of the village on lot 23. While it was an intricate part of the community, its history is also available.
In 1854, the West Puslinch Presbyterian Church moved east from its lot 15 location, and built a sanctuary to seat 400 people, on land donated by Alexander Fraser, Sr. Their minister was the Gaelic speaking Rev. Andrew Maclean, from Scotland. In 1862, Allan Stewart sold 4 acres to the congregation, and a manse was built, with Wm. Stratton Sr. being contractor. Allan Stewart also opened a store at the Crieff corner of this property. The first post office opened in that store, operated by his brother Hugh. 1863‑07‑01, until he left for Michigan in 1867. John McLean was postmaster in 1868, followed by Alex Fraser until 1872. James Riddick 1849-1937 and wife Janet Charters (1849-1909 were the second owners of lot 25 Front conc 1. They lived between the manse and the house on the corner next owned by the McKay family. The Riddick daughters married Scott brothers from the Gore, Mary Ann 1884-1970 m. John Scott and Janet Riddick married Matthew Scott.
The Frasers sold or granted lots for other buildings on the east corner. Opening on the side road, was a home for their daughter Christina and husband Alexander McIntosh. Close to the road, by their laneway, was the blacksmith shop of Christopher Moffat, later occupied by Wm. Patterson. William McDonald, the shoemaker, built the stone house adjacent.
The Kerracher hotel, which was licensed in 1862, occupied the corner position. While the local section of Credit Valley Railway was being built about 1877-78, the workmen boarded at the Kerracher hotel. A local raconteur said there would be 100 men around the Crieff corner in the evenings at that time.
About 1874, The Sons of Temperance No 369, Puslinch Star Division brought the former frame Crieff School to the Stewart farm across the side road from the hotel. (Hugh McDiarmid was W. Patriarch, and John McPherson Secretary; with 70 members)
East of the church was Becker’s store. On one occasion a smoking customer was buying gunpowder from Henry Becker. As Becker measured it into a bag, a spark from the customer’s pipe ignited it. The resulting explosion caused both beards to be singed. There is a note in township council minutes that Henry Becker, Crieff storekeeper, was exempted for his taxes in 1872 because his premises were destroyed by fire on July 26. He probably replaced it by the stone house which still exists. The Becker name continued at Crieff until after 1880.
Lewis Gregor from Morriston built his “ark” or “aerie” in the low spot on the south west corner and he operated the post office from it,1873-1878. Mail came in tri-weekly via Galt, and Puslinch. The McDonald family then took over from Gregor. James, son of the pioneer John McDonald, began 1881-1896 followed by his three sons, Duncan, Kenneth and Daniel who operated the post office for the next decade. Then J.A. Hollinger took over in the fall of 1906, operating from his home in the former manse, until rural mail delivery began about 1913; then Hollinger became the mailman.
By 1871, the village population was 50. It was during that decade that Crieff had its greatest prominence. About 1882, the hotel caught fire and the flames carried across to the Temperance Hall which also burned. As country shops bowed to competition from larger centres, these also closed. The advent of rural mail delivery closed the post office which was the last social village gathering place.
When the popular Gaelic speaking Rev. Andrew Maclean died in April, 1873, he was buried in Crieff cemetery on the west side of the church. When his widow died in 1916, their sons, John Bayne and Hugh took the body back to Crieff for burial. They were shocked at the neglected appearance of the cemetery. While considering a suitable memorial for their parents, J.B. Maclean decided to undertake the complete renovation of the church yard, and make arrangements for its permanent upkeep. In 1924 there was a service of Thanksgiving to celebrate the landscape improvements wrought by Olmstead Bros of New York. The next year, the congregation gave Maclean the deed for the empty manse as a measure of their appreciation. He refurbished the building as a summer residence, and gradually expanded the acreage to include three farms, and the two homes on the Crieff corner. A demonstration Ayrshire dairy farm, and a small museum in the house on the north west corner were two ambitious plans which brought many visitors to the village. World War II, and Maclean’s death in 1950 brought closure to both. His will, however, bequeathed the entire property, except for the Manse and its acreage, to Presbyterian Church in Canada. Beginning in 1975, Crieff Hills Community opened, centred on the former Crieff School, west of the village. His brother Hugh’s son inherited the Manse, and soon sold it to the Danish Community of Canada, which has developed the property, with apartments and duplex retirement living accommodation, a crematorium cemetery, and Danish restaurant facility.
Summary of Knox Presbyterian Church Crieff 1840-1990 written by Ann Jackson. The book contained two parts, the history, summarized below, and a section on the families of the congregation. It is now out of print.
The West Puslinch Congregation was founded in February, 1840 because the Gaelic speaking Scottish pioneers of the Killean area, and their neighbours to the south in the Clyde area, felt that they were "destitute of the means of religious instruction". They were too remote from the Puslinch Presbyterian Church which had just been organized on the Brock Road where Crown Cemetery is now located. Settlement was still sparse, and they could not afford a full-time minister; therefore they negotiated an agreement whereby the Puslinch Presbyterians would worship two weeks in the east church, and every third Sunday at the west church which they built on lot 15 in the first concession. For this privilege, the Scottish Presbyterians of West Puslinch and Clyde paid 33 pounds sterling to the Puslinch Congregation annually, and Rev. William Meldrum served parishioners in both east and west Puslinch.
Neil McPhatter, an elder of the Puslinch Congregation, was the prime motivator of this arrangement, and he was supported by Gillies McBean who was considered the leader of the Beverly township Presbyterians. Mr. McBean also became an elder of the Puslinch Church. The February 22 meeting was held at the home of "little" John Thomson on lot 10, first concession. Archibald McMaster of Killean and Simon Fraser of Beverly also witnessed the agreement.
This arrangement continued for fourteen years. By that time, settlement was complete, and a crisis occurred necessitating the Puslinch Presbyterian Church to move to a new location. Building one large central church was briefly considered, but the more practical solution of separating into two independent congregations was the final decision.
The West Puslinch Presbyterians agonized over their future. Realizing that they needed the support of parishioners in the Crieff area, (then known as Fraserville), to support an independent congregation, they opted to move the sanctuary to the crossroads that became Crieff. In 1854, they optimistically built a frame church that would seat 400 people.
To find a minister for their congregation, the west Puslinch Presbyterians sought the assistance of Rev. John Bayne of Galt. On their behalf he enticed Rev. Andrew Maclean, a recently graduated minister from Scotland, to come to Crieff. The Gaelic speaking Reverend Andrew began his ministry in 1857; minister and parishioners had a happy relationship. The congregation built a manse on the brow of the hill west of the church for his use. It was ready for the minister and his bride in 1861. Two sons, John Bayne and Hugh, were born to them.
In 1854, there were about 140 families connected with the West Puslinch church. About 70 of these were from Argylshire, Scotland, and the remainder with few exceptions were from Perthshire, Rossshire and Invernessshire. An observer about this time reported that of 120 persons present in church on a certain occasion, only 20 were unable to speak Gaelic. Services were conducted in Gaelic, but consideration was shown as a service in English followed the main service.
The untimely death of Rev. Maclean in 1873 stunned the congregation. They called Rev. Neil McDiarmid in 1875, but he stayed only briefly as their minister. Rev. Ewen MacAuley began his ministry in 1880. The congregation was also affected by the population shift of that period. Many families moved north, to Huron and Bruce Counties, seeking more land, and by 1880 the migration to Michigan and western Canada had begun.
As the older generation passed away, there was less use of the Gaelic language, and the decision was made to reverse the order and hold the English Service first, followed by a Gaelic service. By 1890, Gaelic was only used at the Communion Service. The last service in which Gaelic was used was in 1908.
The big frame church had always been difficult to heat, and by 1882 it was larger than necessary. Consequently it was torn down, and much of the lumber was used to rebuilt the smaller brick sanctuary which still stands. From this time the congregation was designated "Knox, Crieff".
Despite the solid appearance of the new sanctuary, the congregation's financial situation was anything but stable. When it became apparent that they might have to accept mission status, Rev. MacAuley resigned in 1888. Duff's Church was also experiencing difficulties of a similar nature, so it seemed natural for the two congregations to unite under the pastoral care of one minister. This was accomplished in 1890.
Rev. William Robertson was inducted into the joint charge in 1890. Under his care, the Crieff congregation accepted the new reality and took steps to move into the next century with confidence. A congregational meeting appointed new managers. The vestry was built at the back of the church, with parishioners hauling the brick from Doon with sleighs in the winter. Evangelical Services were organized in both 1896 and 1898. In 1899, a three week Jubilee celebration of 60 years of Presbyterianism in Puslinch was organized by the joint congregations of Knox Crieff and Duff's. About 1905, lawn socials began, and this garden party or strawberry social was a common social event into the 1930's.
When the Rev. Andrew Maclean's widow passed away in 1916, her sons brought her body back for burial in Crieff Cemetery, where her husband had been interred in 1873. When the elder son, John Bayne, now a successful publisher, returned to consider a proper memorial for his parents, he was somewhat perturbed by the neglected state of the church property. Rev. Stuart Woods, inducted to the joint charge in 1919, was a keen horticulturist; probably at his urging a meeting was called for November 8, 1920 to discuss improvement to the church grounds and cemetery. Col. J.B. Maclean and his brother Hugh attended the meeting, and became involved in the planning process. In this way the Colonel's influence on the church, cemetery, and adjoining farms was established; that influence was to continue over the remainder of his lifetime, and into the present through the terms of his will.
First the horse-sheds, which were located in the south-west corner of the cemetery, were moved across the corner to the south side of the road. Colonel Maclean undertook to have the grounds landscaped, and the imposing stone wall built around two sides. Of course the congregation provided volunteer labour.
On two occasions the congregation arranged celebrations to honour Colonel Maclean for his generosity to the Crieff community. On Thanksgiving Day, 1924, when the stone fence was completed, about 400 people gathered to honour the Maclean brothers, to observe the laying of the cornerstone, and to enjoy a dinner and entertainment. In 1934, the congregation placed a plaque in the wall, commemorating the work commissioned by the Colonel, and again many guests were hosted.
In 1912, the congregation began to consider a plan of action for the manse. No minister had occupied it for many years; the rental fee did not cover necessary repairs. In 1925, they decided to present Colonel Maclean with the deed to the manse property, where he had been born. Floyd Chalmers, biographer of Col. Maclean, maintains that this gift touched the Colonel deeply. He immediately took steps to renovate the building and to landscape the property. In succeeding years, he acquired the rest of the farm on which the manse was located, and the two farms west of it, as well as houses which adjoined the church property. At the Colonel's instigation, a model farm was developed with a dairy herd of Ayrshire cattle. In addition, a museum of local history was opened in the house across side road 25, from the church.
Visitors came to Crieff to visit the museum, the attractive church grounds, the modern dairy barn and the flower gardens developed by the Colonel's gardeners.
The project had reached its zenith about 1940. Colonel Maclean died in 1950, leaving his Crieff property, except for the manse, and a bequest of capital funds, to the Presbyterian Church of Canada. Since 1975 the Crieff Hills Community has been developed as a result of this bequest.
In June, 1940, the Crieff congregation celebrated its 100th Anniversary, with Sunday worship services; on Monday there was a Garden Party with sports events, and an evening entertainment which featured the Crieff young people acting out a series of skits, written by their minister, Rev. J.L. Burgess. The skits recalled the beginnings of the West Puslinch congregation in 1840. Former members and friends of the congregation returned for this occasion, as they did for every anniversary. During these events, and all pews, and chairs in the aisles were filled.
In 1958, the Sunday School room was enlarged, and a kitchen and washroom facilities added. By 1977, it was again necessary to enlarge the Sunday School rooms, to accommodate the large Sunday School enrolment.
From the time of union into a joint charge with Duff's in 1890, worship service at Crieff was at 2:30 Sunday afternoon, with Sunday School preceding it at 1:30 p.m. In 1977, the hour of worship was changed to 9:45 a.m., with Sunday School following at 11:00 a.m. In 1989, the hour of Sunday School was changed to coincide with the worship service, with the children attending worship until the Children's Hymn has been sung. In 2001, Knox Crieff and Duff’s ended their joint status and Crieff continues with a part-time minister.
As our community changes, Knox Crieff adjusts, while attempting to retain the values we have inherited from past generations. "Time is a three-fold present; the present as we experience it, the past as a present me."
Membership in the society is open to anyone interested in the history of Puslinch Township giving you access to the archives, assistance with your research from committed voluteers, a newsletter and occasional events of historic interest.
29 Brock Road South
Puslinch Historical Society
c/o Puslinch Library
R.R. #3, 29 Brock Road South
Guelph (Aberfoyle), Ontario N1H 6H9