St. Paul’s Anglican Mission House Rectory Story

The Mission House building, to the best of our knowledge, was built circa 1885 as the rectory for the Combermere Anglican Parish priests. There were six congregations in Whitney, Madawaska, Barry’s Bay, Combermere, Bell’s Rapids and Centreview. In the summer months for a short period, there were church services in Algonquin Park for the tourists.

An addition was added to the building on the south side between 1953 and 1956 when Rev. Stephen Kenward occupied the rectory. Downstairs the room was used as a study for some priests and upstairs a master bedroom. A poured concrete basement allowed larger space for storage as the basement under the original building was only partially dug.

The rectory was used from 1885 to 1996 when Rev. Jim Roberts vacated the premises and the Combermere Parish purchased a home in Barry’s Bay to be used as the “new” rectory. In total, 29 priests occupied this rectory for over 111 years. The first priest, Rev. A. W. MacKay may not have lived in it.

The building remained dormant from 1996 until 1998. At one point there was talk by the Parish of Combermere & Anglican Diocese of Ottawa of demolishing the building and replacing it with a parking lot for the church members. The Township of Radcliffe had the building declared a heritage site and was determined to preserve, renovate and turn it into a museum and gallery. It took several years of discussions, presentations and negotiations with the Diocese and the Township of Radcliffe (now Madawaska Valley) to complete the transaction. There was considerable volunteer time by many individuals spent on interior renovation and a new roof was completed with money raised by ourselves before we received the Trillium Grant of $33,300 that provided plumbing, electric wiring, heating, drywall, carpeting and other major changes. Additional donations of about $15,000 from interested individuals and businesses made the building the way it is today completing interior work and purchasing items for the opening. The name “Mission House” came from Rev. Leon Adams during his term from 1944-1947.

Museum Gallery May 20 2005
Museum & Gallery May 20 2005

The building is on land once leased by the Diocese of Ottawa for $1.00 a year, which is only a “token payment” as the township does not collect property tax from the Diocese. The building was owned by the Township with a ten year lease signed in 2002 by the Township of Madawaska Valley. The Heritage Committee was formed following an open meeting held at Combermere Community Centre September 29, 1998, and with members added over the years, have taken on the managing of the business affairs of the Museum & Gallery.

David Kelley, a local resident with experience as a project manager and senior executive, was asked to be project manager in 2004 to turn the building into a museum and gallery. He developed an overall plan and vision for this building and presented it to the heritage committee. Once accepted by the members, he proceeded to turn the plan into reality. The first floor was to be outfitted with heritage stories, photographs and artifacts while the second floor would contain oil and watercolour paintings created by local artists. If the artists wanted to sell their art, the gallery would sell them on a consignment basis. The heritage part of the museum was to be about the lives and times of the early settlers that lived on or near the Peterson Colonization Road between Brudenell and Purdy including Craigmont. All artifacts displayed would be owned by these settlers or their descendants.

The museum & gallery had it’s official opening on May 21, 2004 with David Kelley as it’s Curator. This museum and gallery stayed with this split floor concept for the first couple years but visitors wanted more space to be dedicated to heritage. For the next few years less and less art were displayed. In the 2011 season both floors were almost dedicated to heritage with only about 8 art pieces on display with no consignment.

Visitors come from over 25 countries around the world, all 10 provinces and over 14 USA states. Approximately 500 to 1,000 visitors come to the museum annually.

Since 2004, the Combermere Heritage Committee has made significant changes to its’ structure. A couple of years later the name was changed to Combermere Heritage Society to more actively reflect a working entity. In 2005, a constitution was developed and in June 2011, the Combermere Heritage Society became incorporated as a not-for-profit organization.

The museum and gallery operated for the summer months (July &August) and was always open by appointment for other times throughout the year. Twelve volunteers and society members were scheduled to take their turn as guides to help visitors and provide tours if necessary.

The society is self-reliant financially and are sponsors of the February Timberfest winter activity in Barry’s Bay as well as the Heritage Hockey Cup weekend at the end of March each year. Many local as well as distant individuals and corporations have been very gracious with donations over the years since 2003.

On the second floor the museum, has a research centre and genealogy room where visitor can obtain information on the history of over 33,000 local individuals and their family trees. This resource centre has a wide variety of history books, documents and photographs of the Combermere area. The museum has high-speed internet capability to search for additional history information.

In June 2022, the museum was unfortunately closed due to the effects of the pandemic and lack of human resources needed to effectively run the operation.  There were several significant renovations that were going to be needed for accessibility and repair, and funds were limited to continue.

In early 2023, the Museum went live with a brand new website that now offers many of the local stories and tales that we once housed in the museum, and includes a virtual tour of the Museum as it was before it was dismantled.

The building is now privately owned, along with the other 2 buildings on the property (the former church and church hall) and public access is no longer permitted.