Early days of assembly gospel work in London and Western Ontario is chronicled by our brother.
In the early summer of 1875, Mrs. Culver became ill and was not able to do her housework. She wrote a letter to her niece, who lived in Hamilton, asking if she could come and help her through the harvest. When her niece arrived she found a community badly in need of the gospel. On the farm joining the Culvers to the north lived a professed infidel who was holding meetings from house to house trying to prove his doctrine.
Mrs. Culver’s niece wrote to the assembly in Hamilton asking if Donald Munro or John Smith could come and preach the gospel in this place. Since they were indisposed at that time T.D.W. Muir, a young man of twenty years of age and saved less than 12 months, was persuaded to come.
Mr. Muir arrived in the hamlet of Calton, a small logging and farming settlement 7 miles southwest of Straffordville. He began inquiring about a place where he could have some gospel meetings. He soon found that the Grange Hall, 1 miles east of Calton, was available. He called on a few neighbors and announced a meeting for that night. One who heard him said that he would say a few words, then clear his throat while he thought of something else to say. But what he said was definite and it appealed to those who had life although they lacked teaching.
There was plenty of op position. When Mr. Muir’s first meeting was nearly over, a group of young men jumped up, smashed out the lights, upset the seats and rushed out into the darkness. When they saw how unmoved the young preacher seemed by it all, they went across the road from the hall and cut down a long poplar pole. Running with it as a battering ram they drove it through the end of the old hall splintering the pulpit, while the young man was preaching. Pete McQuiggan’s father used to say, “I know all about that, for I helped carry the pole.” Some of these young men were among the first converts.
News of the meetings spread. The whole neighborhood became aroused. People from miles a-round came to hear Muir’s simple way of presenting the gospel.
One night shortly after these meetings had started, it became very dark, and when the time came to go home, it was raining very hard. Mr. Muir was not prepared for this, and was just going to go out the door and make a run through the storm, when he noticed a young man standing at the side of the hall. As Mr. Muir tumed to see what he might want, the young man threw a heavy raincoat at him saying, “Put that on. If you don’t, your religion will all wash away before you get halfway home.” Mr. Muir thanked him, and said afterward, that the Lord seems to have a way of providing for His own.
Another night about this time, Mr. Muir was just about to leave the Hall, when he noticed everyone had gone except one man. Mr. Muir said that he was a little frightened when he saw who this man was. He was a tall, rough, swearing ship’s captain, who had spent most of his life sailing on the Great Lakes. He had bought a farm and lived just mile from the hall. Mr. Muir began to wonder what his purpose was in staying behind. As he neared the door, the man said to him, “Where are you going tonight?” Mr. Muir said, “Well, I am not just sure.” To this the man replied, “Well I am. You are going home with me.”
One afternoon, Mr. Muir dropped in for a visit at Mr. Ozias McQuiggan’s home. While sitting in the living room, he said to Peter McQuiggan’s father, “My burden is more than I can bear I need help and I think I will write a letter to Hamilton.” His letter to Hamilton was brief. “I need help. Send Smith.” Mr. Smith came immediately.
Winter arrived early in 1875. The ponds were covered with ice. Near the end of December the weather turned exceptionally warm “requiring neither coat nor vest.” A hole was cut in the ice of the Halcomb mill pond across the road from the Grange Hall and ten were baptized on Christmas Day. Three more were baptized on January 1,1876.
As a result of this work an assembly of fifteen believers was formed and met at Calton in the home of John Arnold, the sea captain. This is the same area where more than a century later Paul Kember was tirelessly laboring, and in Calton, the same hamlet where he was fatally injured in a car accident in November 1997.
After a few weeks of meetings here with Mr. Smith, Mr. Muir was again alone. He had some meetings in a school, two miles southwest of Straffordville and also in Godby’s cow stable, properly cleaned for the purpose. Years later a young lady from the Michigan “thumb” wrote to Mr. Muir. She had attended those meetings in Godby’s cow stable in Canada. Now she was saved and this correspondence led to a gospel opening in Michigan. A sectarian preacher called a meeting in the school on a Sunday afternoon to refute this new doctrine. When he had finished and made for the door, Mr. Muir came from the back and invited the people to stay a little longer. One who heard him said, “I never heard a man so much in the Spirit in my life.”
Mr. Muir was quick to make use of illustrations in preaching the gospel. While walking near Calton he saw a barn not yet completed. Some one had painted on it, “To be continued.” That night he preached on the rich farmer of Luke 12 who in effect could write, “To be continued” on his barns and buildings. In the meeting, unknown to the preacher, was the young farmer whose unfinished barn he had seen. Will Stratton went home that night convicted and soon found rest in salvation.
The first breaking of bread in Charles Arn’s house near Straffordville was on the first Sunday in January 1876. During the winter of 1880, a gospel meeting was held in Mr. Arn’s house. People sat on beds, on the stairs, wherever possible. At the close, Mr. Muir insisted that something should be done about a hall. He took out a twenty dollar gold piece and said, “This is for a start.” He gave it to the man next to him who examined it, rubbed it, and passed it on to the next brother. Thus it went around the circle and back to Mr. Muir. Finally one man said that he had timber ready for a barn but would not be able to build that year. They could have the timber. One gave the land on which the hall still stands. Mr. Thomas donated singles. Another had a heifer to sell. Salathiel McQuiggan, a ship’s carpenter, did a large share of the carpentry work. He also sold twenty acres of his farm to obtain money. Others helped as they were able.
The Straffordville Gospel Hall opened on July 1,1880, with a one-day conference. Chancy Millard was saved in the afternoon meeting and Moses Stratton four days later. Each of these men lived to be ninety-six and ninety-nine years of age respectively in happy fellowship in that assembly.
Two men were riding on a wagon passing by the hall in those early days. One asked the other, “What do you think of this?” His partner answered, “I think when these men are dead that will be the end of it. It will die out.” By the grace of God, the testimony still continues.
Mr. Smith and Mr. Muir went from here to South Middleton, a few miles east. After eight months of labor in the gospel there, they saw an assembly planted in 1877.
Openings came for Mr. Muir to travel further afield. He spent some time in Little Lakes, Arkona, Forest, and other places. He finally made his home in Detroit until his death on February 7, 1931.