I held the minute book of Rev. Dr. John Keir’s church in my hands today. Very reverently. Which is fitting for a record of a man of faith who had such a huge influence on his community, the Island and the Maritimes.
Let me back up a bit. I’m researching the history of the community of Malpeque Bay. Rev. Dr. Keir served over 50 years as minister of Princetown Presbyterian Church, from 1808 to 1858. I’m holding in my hands the minute book of his congregation during his pastorate. This is old. This is exciting. I hadn’t expected to find any records from his time here.
So why is Rev. Dr. Keir so special?
John Keir came as a Presbyterian missionary to British North America in 1808 and accepted the call of a settlement of Scottish Presbyterians on the eastern shore of Malpeque Bay. They had started settling there nearly 40 years previous, in 1770. Rev. Keir was the first Presbyterian minister ordained on PEI and he soon became a leader of the Presbyterian Church on the Island and in Nova Scotia. He was a professor of theology from 1844 to 1858 and awarded an honourary doctorate in divinity in 1852.
But he was more than a religious leader.
Rev. Dr. Keir was largely responsible for the health and prosperity of his community in the early 1800’s. An advocate for education, he set up a library for his parishioners and established the “Princetown Literary and Scientific Society,” the first on the Island. He was instrumental in founding the first school in Princetown, Fanning School, in 1822, and campaigned the colonial government in the 1830’s to have lands that were set aside for the use of the Church of England appropriated for the support of education in general on the Island. He was even president of the Princetown Agricultural Society.
He cared not only about the spiritual wellbeing of his congregation but about the material wellbeing of his community as well. If Rev. Dr. Keir had not accepted the call to Princetown, would Malpeque have become such a thriving community?
So I pray you’ll understand if I have a few goosebumps. I’m holding history in my hands.