To the right you’ll see an old photograph of the original St. Peter’s here in Eastern Passage. If you visit our cemetery (across the street from our present building), you’ll see a black memorial stone at the top of the hill near Caldwell Rd. This stone was placed on what remains of the footings of the original St. Peter’s before it burned down in 1960. Most of the contents of the original church were saved and are in the present day building (red brick, brown metal roof). Our parish began in 1832. Every summer we have a Candlelight Memorial Service to celebrate our anniversary.

We also have a sweet little church in Cow Bay, Christ Church, or ‘The Little Church by the Sea’ as we like to call it. It now overlooks Rainbow Haven and the surf park.

So let’s go way back. (The following has been copied from ‘The Sacred and the Profane’ written in 1978 by Rev. E.C. Ellis, Rector of St. Peter’s.)

“The farms south of Fort Clarence in the Eastern Passage, down as far as Hartlen’s Point, were just that: homesteads and farm buildings often set within groves of trees. But even from the first there was a small village at South East Passage, about a mile west of Devil’s Island. Here lay a good anchorage protected by the islands and a stone beach pushed up by the outgoing tides, which extended out into the ocean for about a 1/4 mile. Between Devil’s Island and the southern tips of the islands lay the ‘gap’ which gave open access to the sea. From early times, south of Quigley’s was known as ‘Sout East Passage’ and north of this point, ‘Eastern Passage’. “

“Eastern Passage was one of the first settlements in Halifax County” wrote Harry Hewitt in 1901, the schoolmaster. This of course was to be expected, considering that the South East Passage wharf was only 7 miles from the wharves of Halifax and having in mind the great volume of water traffic in Halifax Harbour at that time, it would have been a simple matter for almost anyone in those days to have visited ‘The Passage’ by merely crossing over from Halifax to the northern tip of McNabs Island by boat, and then sailing down the protected waters of Eastern Passage. Our community was definitely settled in the 1760s and 1770s. By all accounts, we had the first Anglican clergyman in Halifax as a property owner and a parishioner in our parish … Rev. William Tutty (his land grant dated 1750). St. Peter’s was built and opened in 1832 and St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic was opened in 1850. The census in 1817 showed 289 souls in Eastern Passage, and the census of 1828 showed 234. In 1956, the Census reported 682 persons in Eastern Passage and 543 in South East Passage. In 2011 the population was recorded at 11,740.

It is believed that prior to 1817 (when Christ Church, Dartmouth was founded), that missionaries of St. Paul’s Church, Halifax may have tended to the spiritual needs of our residents. Trade, it is said, always follows the missionaries and in this case it seems that trade and religion travelled together. The registers of St. Paul’s Church, Halifax, contain abundant entries concerning the people of Eastern Passage and Cow Bay. Careful notes on all persons baptized, married or buried were entered into the church’s journals and registers. There are even some records of Eastern Passage couples going by boat to be married in St. Paul’s and a number of entries record that persons from McNabs Island went for the same purpose. 

In 1832, St. Peter’s was the only church in the community, with the Roman Catholics being established in 1850 and the Presbyterians of Cow Bay in 1873. We read in Rev. Charles Ingles’ (first minister of Christ Church, Dartmouth and Missionary) journal, “On the road down to Eastern Passage for Divine Service a very considerable congregation collected to receive me.” 1821. Most likely, the Divine Service was held at that time in the new school building recently opened at South East Passage in November 1821. From 1827 until 1832, possibly the combined schoolhouse/Meeting Hall (also at South East Passage) would have been a more suitable place for Divine Service as other than these two places, there was no other location in which to meet.

From Rev. Ingles’ 1821 report: “I have ventured to make some variation in my routine duty by devoting that time on a Sunday evening to a settlement called Eastern Passage, which I have before given to Dartmouth. I was induced to do this by observing that the attendance upon Divine Service in the evening was very thin at Dartmouth, and a very considerable congregation has been collected at Cole Harbour and the Eastern Passage, and at Preston.” He ministered to ‘5 points’ aside from Dartmouth’s Christ Church, before retiring: Preston, Lawrencetown, Cole Harbour, Porters Lake and Eastern Passage. 

From the 1830 Missionary Report: “Immediately after your Lordship’s visit to the Eastern Passage on Sun. June 20, 1830, a subscription was opened for obtaining a sum towards erecting a church. 75 pounds sterling have been thus raised; and the frame of the building is to be brought out during the next week. The people enter with much spirit upon the undertaking, and will, I am confident, be prompt and earnest in its execution.”

From the 1832 Missionary Report: “At the Eastern Passage, the outside of the new church will be very shortly finished; and when the whole is completed, it will be second to none of the country churches in the Diocese, either in beauty or arrangement. It is to be built in the Gothic style. To Mr. Major of Cow Bay, every praise is due for his zeal and labour in forwarding the building and in urging the people to every exertion.”

The church was far enough advanced by mid-summer 1832 to hold services in. The first service, it is believed, actually took place on Friday, June 29th (St. Peter’s Day) and it is said that this is why the new church was named as such. The building was erected at the S/W junction of the Cow Bay Rd. and Caldwell Rd., facing towards the sea, on an elevation of 100 ft above sea-level, approximately one mile N/W of the settlement of South East Passage, and inland one-half mile from the sea.

Rev. Mather Byles Desbrisay of Christ Church founded the original library in Dartmouth and was the man who inspired and encouraged the people of Eastern Passage to build their church in 1832. The main body of the first Church was about 50ft by 24ft in dimensions, although it had been altered and enlarged several times since it was first built in 1832. The interior plan of the church in 1960 was no doubt radically different from its original layout. Harry Hewitt, the schoolmaster of South East Passage in around 1898 wrote, “at the back (north) of the Church, there was a balcony, and under this was the entrance to the Church, on one side of which there was the vestry and on the other, stairs leading up to the balcony. There was no chancel at the front (south) but rather a straight end wall. In the middle of this, and right against it, was the Lord’s Table. To the right of it, in the southwest corner of the building was a three-decker pulpit; that is, a pulpit having 3 levels, one on top of the other. The parish clerk occupied the lowest level. On the second level the minister took the service. He preached from the third or topmost level since from here he could keep an eye on everyone, including the young people in the balcony. The pews for the parishioners were arranged along both side walls, facing front (south). And an aisle ran down the centre of the church from the rear to the front. It was usual in the early days for the men to sit on the right, and the women on the left. 

In 1877 Rev. W.L. Currie added a porch to the church over the entrance and in the same year, a font which Christ Church, Dartmouth had given us the year before and it was placed at the front of the church. This was unusual since the normal place for the font was at the back of the church near the entrance. Rev. T.C. Mellor had the building extended by 6ft in length in 1887 by adding an arched chancel at the front. The Lord’s Table was moved back into the new sanctuary and it is believed that the old three-decker pulpit disappeared at this time. He also added a new vestry to the church, which was built as an addition to the building on the east side of the church.

During Rev. R.M. Leight’s rectorship (1891-92) St. Peter’s acquired its first organ, a pump organ. In 1902 when the Rev. E. Roy was rector, St. Peter’s received another stone font, this time in memory of George Donaldson. What happened to the font of 1877 is not clear. Christ Church, Cow Bay was built in 1892 and it is thought by some that their present font may be the 1877 font of St. Peter’s which in turn it inherited from Christ Church, Dartmouth.

During Rev. D. Edwards rectorship (1906-25), the three chancel chairs, now in the front of St. Peter’s, were given in memory of the Rev. Roy. In 1907, a belfry and bell were added to the church, the base of the tower forming the entrance to the building. In the same year, a hand-carved, oak lectern (currently in St. Peter’s) was presented to the church. In 1936 St. Peter’s was wired for electric lighting.

In 1945 the building was raised and a basement-hall was built under it, thus replacing the original rock-wall foundation. In 1955 the old coal furnace was taken out and an oil furnace was installed.  The bell tower was capped by a small steeple, which from its apex to the ground, was about 38 feet in height. The building had four large gothic-shaped windows on the east and west sides; and a triple window over the altar to the south, and a large window similar to those at the sides, on each side of the belfry tower on the north end of the building. Over the entrance to the sanctuary, painted on the wall overhead were the words

“Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness”

In 1960, there was a devastating fire on August 19. Six generations of Anglicans had been brought up in that little church, the first in Eastern Passage and one of the oldest in Halifax County. Parishioners wept as the flames made their way up into the roof and belfry. The bell that had rung so happily for marriages, and that had tolled so sadly for funerals, fell with a resounding crash and melted in the fire. Fortunately, a number of items of church furniture was rescued by brave souls who hazarded the smoke and the flames. The font, lectern, sanctuary chairs, altar rails, altar, pulpit, some pews and processional cross were saved. And with this inheritance from the past, the new (current) St. Peter’s Church arose from the ashes and resumed its witness to the community once more.