A journey into the history of MacKay’s congregation

By Manor Park Chronicle

Curiosity did it–plus a chat with a historian friend–which put Alan Bowker on the road to writing a book about the young (and middle-aged) men from MacKay United Church who signed up to join the Canadian Forces fighting in Europe in the First World War.

Alan is a member of the MacKay United Church congregation. He’s a retired diplomat who represented Canada in overseas postings. And he was interested in learning more about the members of the congregation whose names are on the memorial plaques hanging on the walls of MacKay’s sanctuary.

Back in 2014, following a Sunday service, Alan chatted with a friend, historian Tim Cook, who is also a member of MacKay’s congregation and the published author of several books detailing Canada’s military history. Instead of just reading out the names of the dead on Remembrance Sunday, Alan asked, is there some way they could be brought to life as real people?

Tim told him about online access to the attestation papers of the McKay men who had fallen in the First World War. Armed with this information, Alan’s journey into the past began.

Service files, the circumstances-of-death register, and Commonwealth Graves information were all there. The following year, Alan and his wife Carolyn travelled to Europe and visited the burial sites of all the 19 MacKay soldiers.

But that wasn’t enough. Alan wanted to know more about these men’s lives prior to joining up. Using old city directories, fire insurance plans, newspaper accounts, and Ancestry.ca, he found out where they and their families lived in the ‘Burgh and what they did to earn a living.

He found old photographs. He has even traced some descendants who were happy to share reminiscences with him.

Every year since embarking on this project, Alan has related a story about one or more of the fallen as part of the Remembrance Sunday service. His research has brought the men and their families to life. And a book based on his investigation is in the offing, with publication hopefully this year (2023).

But Alan and Tim are not the only authors in MacKay’s congregation. Sharon Cook is the co-author with Margaret Carson of The Castleton Massacre–a true story of a mass murder which occurred in the Ontario community of Castleton in the early 1960s, where a United Church Minister killed every female member of his family but one. The book was listed in the Canadian non-fiction section of the Globe & Mail 100 best books in 2022.

Major projects rescheduled

In other MacKay news, post-COVID-19 supply chain difficulties and availability of skilled workers have pushed two major projects forward into 2023. Nevertheless, plans to install automatic doors at the Dufferin Rd. entrance to the Memorial Hall to accommodate persons in wheelchairs are moving forward. And for the installation of a false wall at the rear of the sanctuary to hang the memorial plaques from St. Paul’s Eastern United Church, a heritage carpenter has been retained.

This article was written by Eleanor Dunn, communications officer for MacKay United Church.