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Archeology on the Hill: Unearthing a Time Capsule at Christ Church, Holland Landing (1843)

The church at Holland Landing has been a community landmark since it was built in 1843. It is particularly hard to miss, situated as it is on top of a hill with a commanding view of Holland Landing, surrounded on three sides by a cemetery and located near Peter Street and School Street. Although the parish of Holland Landing was founded in 1840, the church was not built until several years later, when enough money was raised by subscription to pay for the building at a cost of over 600 pounds. The half-acre of land on which the church sits was donated by Chief Justice John Beverly Robinson. The designer was John G. Howard, a prominent Toronto architect, who designed a single story Gothic church, which was built of red brick with English bond; these bricks were locally made, at a brick yard on Elerby Street in Holland Landing.

Figure 1: Exterior of Christ Church Cathedral. Photo taken in 1936. Photo Credit: Toronto Public Library.

In 1994, Gordon Fraser, who was the archivist for Christ Church at the time, found an article in a religious newspaper known as "The Church" talked about the laying of the cornerstone of the church in 1843. It discussed a time capsule that was placed in the cavity of the corners and its contents related for the benefit of the public. So, two years later, Mr. Fraser approached the wardens and current minister to see if they were willing to let him excavate where he knew the cornerstone was located. After obtaining their permission to proceed with the project, a Cornerstone Committee was formed in February 1996. This committee consisted of representatives from Christ Church, the East Gwillimbury Public Library, the East Gwillimbury Historical Society, the East Gwillimbury 200 Years Yonge Committee, and select students and teachers from Dr. J.M. Denison Secondary School.

On April 20th, 1996, at 8 A.M., an archeological dig commenced at the north-east corner of the church. The participants were fortunate enough to have the services of a professional archeologist, Ms. Janie Ravenhurst, to help guide the dig, as well as a master stone mason to help them dig underneath the original foundation. Since they needed to go beneath the grade level of the church, and due to the complex construction of the buttress and the north wall, they did not find the time capsule until about 5 PM that evening.

Figure 2: Pencil drawing showing the location of the time capsule at Christ Church.

They eventually found the time capsule with many items placed inside a glass container. Here is a list of the items that were found in the time capsule:

a) an engraved silver medallion to celebrate the cornerstone dedication.

b) 4 pence coin from 1838.

c) 6 pence from 1839.

d) 1 shilling from 1840.

e) A copper coin from 1841.

f) A folded clerical collar.

g) 6 pence coin from 1834.

h) 1 shilling coin from 1836.

i) Bank token for 1 penny from 1842.

j) 4 pence coin from 1836.

k) Two copper coins from 1831.

l) A bank token for a half-penny from 1842.

These artifacts were then displayed at the East Gwillimbury Public Library, then at J.M.

Denison, and finally at the East Gwillimbury Civic Centre.

Placed in with these coins were several pieces of paper, likely with written messages on them but have degraded with the passage of time. These items are currently in storage until such time as technology advances that we can read what is written on them.

Does anyone have any memories of this exceptional find at Christ Church? If so, let us know about it in the comments!

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