Church unearths its history

To celebrate 100 years, Timothy Eaton Memorial opens time capsule

Like a wine aging to perfection, a time capsule can be a tempting thing to delve into prematurely. Luckily for the current congregation at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, generations past have let theirs ripen to perfection.

On April 18, the Forest Hill church celebrated its 100th anniversary on with the unveiling of a century-old window into the past.

The time capsule, a bright copper box sealed with lead, had been hidden within the masonry of the church’s cornerstone — only archival data indicated that it was there.

Getting the box out was a serious task, said the Reverend Dr. Andrew Stirling, senior minister at the church.

“We had to remove the actual cornerstone before we could excavate the box. We had to have a real engineering assessment,” he said.
Of course, the effort turned out to be well worth it.

Dozens of people filled the atrium between services at the unveiling to get a peak at the contents of the box, which were displayed in purpose-built glass cases prepared by church archivist Janet Mason and Sally Beattie.

The trove included stamps, coins and photos. The photos were primarily of Timothy Eaton, his family and prominent church leaders.
There were also several printed items including sermons, services and newspapers, all in immaculate condition from being preserved in the virtually airtight copper box.

“It was quite remarkable the pristine condition everything was in,” said Stirling.

Stirling said that the newspapers were among the most interesting items and offered a powerful glimpse into that distant world in the past.

“There fascinating things about the prices of houses and commodities. Mansions for $23,000,” Stirling remarked.

One passage, written by a Miss Idell Rogers of Cobourg on the front page of a preserved copy of the August 1913 edition of the Canadian Epworth Era newspaper, read as follows, “The human race at present is getting pretty ‘warm’ over the discovery of aerial navigation. In some respects it has been solved, but not to that extent as to make it a safe and desirable way for general travel.”

The capsule unveiling was well attended by people of all ages but it was the younger people who were most impressed, said Stirling.

“The children were in awe,” he said. “Seeing something being unveiled that was 100 years old was an amazing experience.”

Stirling said the unveiling also affected onlookers on an emotional level.

“To be able to get a sense of not only the differences with the past but a sense of the continuity with the past. To feel, in a sense, the love that those people had in building that church and the love that we have for this church today and its ministry. I think a lot of people were surprised how touched we were to be looking into their world and it was almost like they were looking into ours.”

At the ceremony the reverend led the crowd in thanking God for the box and the thoughtfulness of the people who had placed it there 100 years ago.

The church plans to continue that spirit of thoughtfulness for future generations. At the end of this year they will place a new copper box back into the cornerstone of the church and seal it. That box will contain some of the relics from the founding years of the church and also some new items including a copy of the 2010 Olympic torch and an iPod.

In an interesting contrast to the previous time capsule, Stirling said that rather than placing photos and information from church leaders and prominent community figured in the box, they will place letters and items created and chosen by the children of the community, reflecting a shift in focus.

“We’re going to be putting in comments from young people as to why they come to church now in 2010,” said Stirling.

“It’s much more youth-oriented what we’re doing today.”

About this article:

By: Christopher Reynolds
Posted: May 5 2010 1:29 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto