From the first days of settlement, the Methodist church was central in the lives of the Rock Chapel community. The congregation was one of the earliest to be established at the Head-of-the-Lake and although there was no church building for worship until 1822, services were held in the open when the weather was fine, and adjourned to the barns of Daniel Cummins or Isaac Smith when it was not. A small parcel of land was purchased from Daniel Morden Jr. by the Trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church and a wooden barn-like structure was erected on a rocky ledge at the escarpment edge – hence the name ‘Chapel on the Rock’ or Rock Chapel, which came to be adopted.
The settlement reached its zenith during the last half of the 19th century, when it boasted a post office, two general stores, a blacksmith and implement shop, a wagon and buggy works, a butcher’s shop and a sawmill. During the 1860s and 1870s, the village went by the strange nickname of ‘Monkey Town’ after a travelling salesman met a group of residents, including William Rymal, George Kniewasser, John Borer Sr. and John Borer Jr., Jarvis and Harmon House and Benjamin Shephard, all of whom were only about five feet tall. The salesman asked, “What do you call this place, Monkey Town?” and for many years the name stuck.
After the First World War, a large parcel of land in the Rock Chapel area was purchased by the provincial Department of Highways as a potential quarry site but development never took place. In 1942, the 185 acres of property was donated to the newly-formed Royal Botanical Gardens to be used as a wildlife sanctuary. For many years during the month of March, the RBG staff tapped the sugar maples of the area and operated a maple shanty. Sadly, the popular activity ceased during the 1990s due to excessive pedestrian traffic, vandalism and a decline in the production of sap.
Today, Rock Chapel remains primarily an agricultural settlement. Although there has been commercial development at the eastern extremity near Clappison’s Corners, several families continue to operate their original farms, some now in the ownership of the fifth and sixth generation.
The RBG Sanctuary continues to be popular with outdoor lovers who enjoy hiking the section of the Bruce Trail that follows the crest of the Escarpment or walking through the old abandoned farmlands.
Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at email@example.com.
This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 22 September 2006.