The Stiles Church in Burnside

The Stiles Church in Burnside – 1897-1970

By Alice (Fisher) Graham

In one of the most beautiful, hilly and more remote areas of the Stewiacke Valley stands a landmark “The Church By the Side of the Road”, which for seventy-three years fulfilled the spiritual needs of the people of Burnside.

Prior to 1897 the Burnside folk attended church in Springside, travelling by horseback or horse and carriage, the fartherest, a distance of nine miles. At that time the Rev D. Stiles Fraser was pastor at Springside with supervision over Burnside, where he frequently held Prayer meetings to supplement the regular church services at Springside. At one of these meetings, on the instigation of Mr Fraser, plans were made for the erection of a church at Burnside.

Many days of manual labor were freely donated as the men cut logs from their woodlots and hewed the timbers for the church. These acts revealed the Christian zeal, perseverance and industry of those pioneer people.

Under the guidance of Mr Alex Mackay and Mr James Johnson the enormous, but very rewarding task was completed, and the Dedication Service of Stiles Church was held on October 31, 1897. (This date was taken from the diary of William Deyarmond.)

The pulpit was designed and built by Rev D. Stiles Fraser for whom the church was named.First church organ 1917

For a number of years before an organ was installed, the singing was led by someone who had a “musical ear”. The first organ was dedicated in 1917, and played by Miss Nettie MacKenzie, school teacher at Burnside at the time; followed by Miss Lois Mackay, Nellie (Graham) Brooks, Alice (Fisher) Graham and in time of need, various Springside organists.

No accurate knowledge of early Elders in Stiles Church is available, but those who served after 1926 were James A. Graham, Alfred Johnson, David D. Graham and Homer Johnson.

An active Sunday School functioned for the entire life of the church, as well as the Women’s Missionary Society and later the United Church Women which is still active. Records of the early W.M.S. were sent to the Archives of Nova Scotia.

The 50th Anniversary of Stiles Church, under the guidance of Rev Calder Fraser, was celebrated in 1947 by installing electrical wiring in loving memory of Cecil Crockett who paid the supreme sacrifice in World War II. Mr Fraser was assisted at that service by the Rev Mr J.A. McKean and Rev Mr Sproule.

After the extensive repairs and re-decorating in 1958, special services were held. The afternoon service was addressed by the Rev Stanley MacQueen, Truro, and music was provided by the Springside Choir. The evening speaker was Rev E.J.D. Fraser with music by the John Fisher Choir. Choir chairs were dedicated by the Pastor, Rev L.P. Archibald. The plaque accompanying the chairs bore the following inscription:


“To the glory of God and cherished memory of the men and women who laid the stones, hewed the beams, and fitted the timbers of Stiles Church.”


The choir chairs were donated by their descendants.


Pastors who served between 1897 and 1970
Rev. D. Stiles Fraser
Rev W.P. Archibald
Rev James A. McKean
Rev H.H. Blanchard
Rev H.S. Raynor
Rev David Marshall
Rev W.A. Ross
Rev James Parker
Rev Calder Fraser
Rev Parker Matheson
Rev Leith Archibald
Rev Charles Burrill
Rev Thomas Evans
Rev George Murray
Rev E.D. Murray
Mr Harvey Harris (student)
Rev Roy White


The first marriage in Stiles Church was that of Andrew Dickie of Eastville, and Jessie Graham of Burnside. It took place in March 1898. For sixty-two years no marriages were performed in the church, then on December 17, 1960, Reginald Graham of Burnside and Dawn Cumisky of Saskatchewan, were married there. Other marriages that followed were Ralph Berry, Five Islands to Vivian Cock, Truro; Lewis Dean, Dean to Dorothy MacKay, Burnside; Roseville Zinck, Halifax to Edna MacKay, Burnside; and Francis Fleck, Upper Musquodoboit to Barbara Tree, Burnside.

In the life of a church, as well as any other institution, there are bound to be lighter moments. I recall the Sunday that four sets of proud parents had arranged for the baptism of their beautiful babies at the regular 3 p,m, church service. After a long restless wait by both parents and babies, for the minister to arrive, fears were expressed by all present that perhaps the Reverend had careened over one of the dangerous Burnside Road banks. However, a phone call revealed that he was safe at the Manse and had forgotten to review his afternoon schedule. One set of irate parents never got around to arranging another baptismal date until they added two more babies to their fold. This being too many for a public performance, they had a private service in their home.

Stiles Church was officially closed by Truro Presbytery during the latter part of Rev Roy White’s pastorate and the business part was completed by the next Springside minister, Rev David Whiston.

It may be of interest to record that Truro Presbytery granted Burnside ownership of the organ, choir chairs, communion table, and Honor Rolls which are now in Burnside Community Hall. The pulpit was given to Springside Hall where it has been frequently used. The pulpit chairs, collection plates and memorial plaques are in Springside Church. The pulpit Bible was given to Rev Calder Fraser.

Stiles Church was put up to tender by the congregation and the building was purchased by Rev and Mrs David Whiston, who are converting it into a dwelling house for their future retirement. They have named their residence . “Holy Smoke”.

The following poem expresses the sentiments of the Burnsiders left to mourn the closing of their little church.


We look upon the silent church
With memories of another day,
For years it served the community
Where Christians knelt to pray.
The children learned great lessons there
Within the Sunday School
Which made them better people
Who obeyed the Golden Rule.
But they told us this was “Progress”
Searching for a better way
That keeping this church was out-moded
Like old Dobbin in our day
Now perhaps there may be logic
In this modern , restless search
But we still regret the closing
Of Stiles United Church.


Note: This account is included in Stories of the Stewiacke Valley, which were collected and printed during the Stewiacke Valley Bicentennial celebrations in 1980.