A part of Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches
Down behind the Church, with only the driving shed and a lane between, is the Rectory. It is a little brick house with odd angles. (On the) little grass lawn… you may see Rural-Dean Drone… sitting in the chequered light of the plum trees that is neither sun nor shadow.
When author Stephen Leacock wrote this passage in his novel, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, his “Rural- Dean Drone” was Canon Richard Greene, the occupant of the St. James’ Anglican Church Rectory at 57 Neywash Street from 1888 until 1911. The brick dwelling is not the original rectory.
In 1832-3, a Georgian style dwelling was built by the government for Ojibwa chief, William Yellowhead. Five years later when Yellowhead and his band moved to Rama Township, his dwelling became available for other uses. From about 1840 until 1874, it served as the rectory for St. James’.
The list of occupants of Yellowhead’s house since 1840 is a record of the early incumbents of St. James’ parish. The Reverend John McIntyre was born in Scotland in 1907. He served in Orillia from 1841 to 1849 for The Society for Converting and Civilising the Indians and Propagating the Gospel Among the Destitute Settlers in Upper Canada (SPG). McIntyre’s successor, the Reverend George Bourn was ordained in Toronto and stayed in Orillia until his death in 1853 at age thirty-three, resulting from injuries sustained n a riding accident. He had earlier suffered the loss of his spouse and infant daughter. An auction of his possessions was announced in the Barrie Herald of September 7, 1853.
Mr. T. H. Portas… has received instructions from the executors of the late Rev. G. Bourn to sell by auction, at the Parsonage, in the village of Orillia on Wed next, the 14th day of Sept. at 11 o’clock precisely, the whole of the Household Furniture: Glass, Engravings, &c. Compromising Dining, Drawing & Bedroom furniture, stoves, beds, bedding &c. and the usual routine of kitchen requisites. Also, horse, cutter, buggy, harness &c. Terms Cash.
Bourn was succeeded by the Reverend Thomas Bolton Read, who remained until 1857. He was the incumbent when a stone church was built on the site of the present St. James’, Lots 6 and 7, south side, Coldwater Street.
Read was succeeded in 1862 by the Reverend Alexander Stewart who served the Church for twenty-six years. In 1874, he had this brick rectory built. Yellowhead’s house straddled the division line between Lots 7 and 8, south side, Neywash, wit the bulk resting on Lot 7. The new rectory was constructed close enough that Yellowhead’s had to be moved off the property.
Architecturally, the rectory is a mix of styles but primarily reflects the balance of the three-bay Georgian form with a classical centre door case. Built in 1874, it incorporates many of the then popular features including segmental-shaped openings, decorative bargeboard, and roof finials. Red brick is contrasted with buff or grey brick voussoirs over each opening, corner quoins, and a belt course. Originally, a one storey verandah supported by turned posts and brackets stretched across the length of the front façade. Canon Greene and other incumbents could enter the verandah through the pair of casement or French-style doors.
In 188, the rectory was designated as a building of architectural and historical and historical significance under the Ontario Heritage Act. Leacock’s immortalization of Canon Greene as Rural-Dean Drone is also cited in the Reasons for Designation. All of Lot 7 and the west forty-five feet of Lot 8 were owned by St. James’ until 1994 when the parcel was sold to Robert J. Carson Funeral Directors Ltd. A new rectory has since been purchased.