Quaker families were among the first settlers in the area now called Coldstream. Between 1834 and 1843, these included the Quaker families of John and Margaret Harris, Benjamin and Sarah Cutler, John and Sarah Marsh, and Daniel and Susan Zavitz. The Kester family and the Muma family came in 1854 and 1863 respectively.
In the beginning informal meetings for worship were held in family homes. In 1849 the first formal meeting of the Religious Society of Friends called an Indulged Meeting was held, setting up a structure for the development of the Coldstream Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.
The First Coldstream Meetinghouse
In 1850 land was donated to erect a frame building which would serve as a meetinghouse. By 1859 the frame meetinghouse was inadequate to accommodate the growing families and it was replaced by the current brick structure. A burying ground was also established behind this building where the graves of many Coldstream Quakers can be found.
Other families that joined the developing Quaker community were the Shotwells, Hamachers, Sitters, Willsons, Browns, and Bycrafts.
Quakers Helped Meet the Needs of Settlers
The Quaker pioneers did not limit their energies to the practice of their religion or to the clearing of land and the establishment of successful farms. They also developed businesses that met the needs of local settlers. Benjamin Cutler built a combination grist and saw-mill on the Sydenham River on the Coldstream Road. A quarter of a mile downstream, in what now is Coldstream, John Marsh built another grist and saw-mill, a furniture factory and a woollen mill. There was no rivalry between the two mills because the settlers of the area were using the products from both mills as fast as they were turned out. Later a general store was built and run by John Marsh’s son Jacob and his wife Louisa. The Marsh Store is still standing as a privately-owned historic building in Coldstream.
Good Relationships with First Nations Peoples
The Quaker settlers established a good relationship with First Nations people who often camped along the Sydenham River while they were cutting hickory and ash trees for baskets and tool handles. On cold days they would often come into the homes of the hospitable Quaker families to warm themselves by their fires. Of these homes, John Marsh’s home was often a favoured place of refuge.
Importance of Education
Friends were diligent about education. Before any libraries existed, Friends formed reading groups, and personal books were shared with other families. In 1875 they set up the Olio, a literary and debating society, which served the wider community for 25 years. The Coldstream Public Library, established in1887, grew out of the Olio Society.
A First Day School was started in 1880 and was the first Sunday School in the area. From 1886 to 1899 the Young Friends’ Review was published by Coldstream Young Friends. It carried news and editorials of interest to Quakers over a large area of Canada and the United States.
Friends filled the necessary roles of a budding community acting as the first postmaster, school teachers, carriage makers, shoe and harness makers, black smithies, weigh scale operators, and doing watch and jewelry repairs. The Quaker Phone Company, established in the Marsh store, was one of the early phone companies.
Charles A. Zavitz, son of Daniel and Susan Zavitz, was director of Plant Breeding and Field Experiments at the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, and gained world renown as a plant breeder. Under his leadership, developments were achieved in many of the grain crops commonly grown now in Ontario.
The meetinghouse, built in 1859, remains in good condition and continues to house Meeting for Worship for our present Quaker community.