The Rockingham Church, formerly known as St. Leonard’s Anglican Church, was built about 1875, when the hamlet of Rockingham was a thriving community. Essentially abandoned in the 1940s, by the mid-1990s the building had deteriorated significantly. In 1995, the Friends of the Rockingham Church formed to save the building from destruction. Major structural repairs were carried out in 1999 and 2000. In 1999, the Townships of Brudenell, Lyndoch & Raglan designated the church a heritage site under the Ontario Heritage Act.

The village of Rockingham was founded by John S. J. Watson, born in October 30, 1822, in Bangalore, India and raised at Rockingham Castle in the British Midlands. In the 1850s, construction of the Opeongo and Peterson colonization roads was opening up the “Ottawa country.” John Watson emigrated to Canada in 1859 with his wife Mary Martin and a group of skilled settlers. On a land grant of 1,000 acres on the Peterson Road in Brudenell Township, six miles south of the Opeongo, he and his group built a grist mill and a sawmill (the town was first called Watson’s Mills) as well as a general store, post office, blacksmith‘s shop, hotel, tannery, school and finally the church. By 1888, the population of Rockingham was about 60; it swelled to 110 by 1899, then began to dwindle as the once abundant white and red pine were logged off and farmers moved on to more arable land.

In 1882, the Anglican Mission Board granted $400 to the Bishop of Ontario toward the support of a missionary to be stationed at Rockingham. The Rev. A.W. MacKay arrived in early 1882 to take up the position. The Church Warden’s Accounts for the same year record expenses of $391.14 to improve the church with the addition of a porch, communion rail, and organ, most likely to complete it for use as an Anglican mission; at the time it was named St. Leonard’s Church. A stove was added in 1885, and a belfry and bell in 1891.

The people in the photo include John Watson (with white beard), his wife Mary Martin, and Rev. A.W. MacKay (the first clergy).

In 1912, a year before his death, John Watson deeded St. Leonard’s to the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa. The last regular service was held in 1942, and the church had no minister from then until 1944, although Rev. Leon B.G. Adams from St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Combermere, was minister from 1944-47, the church was apparently closed in 1941. The pews, font and bell were removed in 1945-1946, to Quadeville, Barry’s Bay and Killaloe respectively. On May 14, 1967, Bishop Ernest Reed of Ottawa performed the Act of Secularization on the church.

The Friends of Rockingham Church Inc. formed as a not-for-profit organization in 1995 in response to the imminent threat of the demolition by the owner (The Anglican Diocese of Ottawa). A committee was formed by several local residents to raise funds to repair and preserve the church. Various government grants and many corporations and individuals (over 70 in total) donated generously to accomplish the restoration, which was completed in 2000.

ROCKINGHAM HERITAGE WALK, A PROJECT BY THE FRIENDS OF ROCKINGHAM CHURCH INC. – 2014

www.heritagewalk.ca/rockingham