The Story of Little Britain

A Brief History

lease explore the tabs to the left to experience Little Britain’s rich history as the oldest United Church of Canada in Manitoba!

The Old Stone Church History Book

The Old Stone Church
Click to download

hanks to early record-keeping and the painstaking research and efforts of Viola Schneider and later Gwen Fox, we have an interesting and comprehensive history book of the church up to 1974 entitled The Old Stone Church-The History of Little Britain United Church. In 2002, a supplement in honour of our 150th anniversary was written to update this book.

Origins of 'Little Britain'

Red River Valley 1858

ittle Britain began in the 1820’s, when six former Hudson’s Bay Company servants and their families, all related by blood or marriage, settled on narrow river lots in the area between Lower Fort Garry and Lockport.

Names of four of the six patriarchs are known: William Smith; John McDonald; James Swain and Donald Gunn. Settled by mostly English and Scottish/Orcadians, the area became known as “Little Britain” and became part of the newly-established Parish of St. Andrews in the mid-1840’s.

Presbyterian Reverend John Black Arrives

Reverend John Black

ittle Britain was home to many staunch Presbyterians, but they had no minister. They traveled far to worship at St. John’s Anglican Church in Winnipeg. They studied catechism in the Gunn home, which served as the community church, school, library and meeting place.

Finally, in the spring of 1852, Presbyterian Reverend John Black rode fourteen miles to the Little Britain community on horseback to hold the first worship service that evening at Gunn’s house.

Rev. Black’s arrival from Eastern Canada to the Red River Settlement fulfilled an almost forty-year-old promise by Lord Selkirk to bring the settlers a Presbyterian minister.

Land Grant from the Hudson's Bay Company

n 1863, the congregation was granted a piece of land by the Hudson’s Bay Company, about 3/4 mile south of the main gate of Lower Fort Garry (our present home) on which to build. They immediately prepared a burial ground.

Like other river lots, the land extended two miles back from the river. In 1902, the eighteen acres on the other side of Lord Selkirk Highway (now Highway 9) was sold for less than $200, to help pay for the green manse.

The 'Meeting House'

Memorial Cairn
Click to read

 log church or “meeting house” with a thatched roof was immediately constructed on Donald Gunn’s land. It served 14 families and had benches to accommodate 200 people, and was larger than our present-day church. It was also used as the local school.

The congregation grew, and in the 1860’s the Meeting House was fitted with new pews instead of benches, a pulpit and a front porch.

In 1933 a memorial cairn, built of fieldstones and limestone from Donald Gunn’s house, was built to mark the location of the meeting house.

The Manse

Old Stone Manse
Built in 1869, circa 1938.

manse was built first. It was “to be built of stone 30 x 22 feet in the inside, one storey and a half in height above the foundation which is to be sunk 4 feet underground” (Minutes, October 15, 1866).

The manse had four bedrooms upstairs and, on the ground floor, a large room to seat 40 people, a small library and a kitchen.

Clergy lived here until about 1900, when it was thought that the excessively damp cellar had contributed to the death, by typhoid fever, of Rev. Madill’s two-year old son. The manse continued to be used as a hall until 1950, when it was condemned as unsafe.

The “green” manse was built in 1900, on lot 115 on River Road. It was only used for about twelve years, as it was deemed too far from the church.


New Manse (1916)

Another manse was built beside the hall in 1916. Rev. Don McKay and family were the last to live in it, in the late 1980’s.

It was rented out in later years, and finally, due to a crumbling foundation, was sold for $500 and moved off the lot in 2003. There is no manse at this time.

The Cemetery

Duncan McRae’s gravestone
rumoured in his family
to have been carved by him

he first recorded burial is of Murdock McDonald in 1869. Fencing around the cemetery was always desired and seemed a perennial issue in the early days. Fencing was done in 1878, 1882, and 1891. In 1878 the charge for grave digging was $2 in winter and $1.50 in the summer.

The cemetery continued to be enlarged over time. In 1928, Chris Johnstone became secretary-treasurer of the cemetery and he greatly improved the standard of upkeep, and updated the map.

Judy Rekrut is now the cemetery administrator. The newest addition to the cemetery is a columbarium, built in summer of 2009. If you would like to know more, please visit the Little Britain Church Cemetery page.

The Stone Church

n late 1872, construction began on the stone church, overseen by noted local stonemason, Duncan McRae (1813-1898). An earlier start was impossible due to sickness, grasshopper infestation, and political unrest. The grasshoppers were so bad at times they would cover the sides of large buildings and the roadways were slippery with them. Also about this time , some of the men from Little Britain went to fight in the Red River Rebellion.


Financing for the new church was slow to come, and was raised through personal subscriptions, concerts, soirees, lectures and a $1,000 loan “at as slow a rate of interest as possible”(Minutes, January 19, 1874).


The first plans for the church were drawn up in 1865, but were considered too large and were scaled down. Stones were quarried that winter. Some of Lord Wolsely‘s soldiers from Lower Fort Garry helped to raise the walls, as well as many notable people: Hon. Robert Gunn; Captain Kennedy; Dr. David Young; A.L. Young; P.R. Young; Roderick McPherson; Hon. D.A. Smith (later Lord Strathcona), Hon. Alfred Boyd; Hon. Alexander Morris, and Dr. John Schultz. Several of these men went on to hold office as Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba.


The Presbyterian Church of Little Britain before 1920
Painting by Gwen Fox 1971

The church was built facing the Red River, which was still a major means of transportation via boats or the ferry.

There was also a well-used Red River Cart trail running south from Lower Fort Garry along the river bank.

In 1874, the church was completed and named the Presbyterian Church of Little Britain.The pews, pulpit, and other furnishings were moved from the meeting house and are still in use today.


The church windows were made by John McLeod, a man who was 6′-10″ tall and died in 1932 at the age of ninety-nine. Three wood stoves provided heat until 1949, and coal oil lamps provided light until 1914, when they were replaced by electricity at a cost of $73.40. The interior walls were plastered and kept white-washed.


Bell Tower of Little Britain Church

Bell Tower

Rev. G. Faryon designed the belfry, which was built in 1920 for a cost of $535, of which $60 was for the bell. The bell, tower and a memorial tablet were dedicated to those who died in the first World War.

Joining the United Church of Canada

n 1925, Little Britain was one of many Presbyterian churches who chose to join with Congregationalists, Methodists, and Union Churches to establish The United Church of Canada. Little Britain United Church is born.

The Hall

The Old Hall (1960)

he stone manse was used as a hall until it was demolished in 1950, when a new, wooden framed hall was erected on the same site.

In 1960, this hall was enlarged and improved with running water and indoor plumbing.

This hall became run-down and the costs of bringing it up to code were prohibitive, so a new hall was built on the same site in 2004.

This fully-modern, 4800 square-foot hall has a limestone facade which echoes the historic style of the church. It holds 140 people and is fully accessible for persons with disabilities.


Restored interior of church

successful appeal for funds during 75th Anniversary celebrations in 1949 resulted in restorations to the exterior and interior of the church.

On February 17, 1989, Little Britain United Church was declared a provincial historic site and a major restoration was undertaken.

Starting in the summer of 1989 pews were removed, new pew ends constructed, stained and reinstalled using square nails authentic to 1874. Walls were scraped down, cracks repaired, primed and repainted. Wainscoting was manufactured.

Past Ministers
  • 1852-62 The Reverend John Black
  • 1862-65 The Reverend James Nisbet
  • 1869-71 The Reverend John McNabb (or McNab)
  • 1872-74 The Reverend Alexander Frazer
  • 1875-80; 1882-85; 1892 The Reverend Alexander Matheson
  • 1881 The Reverend Alexander Campbell
  • 1887-90 The Reverend C. Bryden
  • 1889 Mr. Wallace
  • 1891 Mr. Weir
  • 1894 Messrs. Gillies and Borthwick
  • 1895-96 Mr. Tait, Student Minister
  • 1895 Messrs. Tait, Borthwick, Florence and Moore
  • 1897 Mr. John Russell, Missionary
  • 1898 Mr. W.L. Lowry, Student Minister; Mr. Peacock
  • 1899 Mr. Chas. E. Eaton, Missionary
  • 1899-1902 The Reverend J.C Madill
  • 1903-04 The Reverend William Graham
  • 1904-07 The Reverend J.C. Carswell
  • 1908-09 The Reverend Edward Lee
  • 1911-12 Pulpit supply
  • 1912-13 The Reverend J.F. Stewart, Student Minister
  • 1914 The Reverend George Gunn
  • 1915 The Reverend L. Berry
  • 1916-23 The Reverend G. Faryon
  • 1923-29 The Reverend J. Knox Clark
  • 1929-48 The Reverend J.A. McConnell
  • 1949-50 Mr. A. Parsons, Student Minister
  • 1951-1953 The Reverend D.E. Bennett, Student Minister
  • 1954-59 The Reverend Dr. T.B. Pearson
  • 1960 Mr. Lachlan McLean
  • 1961-63 The Reverend Dr. P.N. Murray
  • 1964 The Reverend R. McPherson
  • 1965-66 The Reverend “Bud” M. Bewell
  • 1967-70 The Reverend John McLeod
  • 1971-78 The Reverend Bernard Lee
  • 1979 The Reverend Robert L. Burton
  • 1985 Sunday Supply
  • 1986 The Reverend Ron McIntosh
  • 1988 The Reverend Don McKay
  • 1992 The Reverend Bob Haverluck 1
  • 1993 The Reverend Christine Bridgett
  • 2005-2012 The Reverend K. Virginia Coleman
  • 2013-2018 The Reverend Shelly Manley-Tannis
  • 2018-present Beth McLean D.M.