If there is one church that surprised me in this project, it is Palermo United Church, not because it is still active, but of the various churches in this project, this one is the oldest. If you have never heard of or even seen this church, entirely wholly understandable, as it is a bit hidden, set a bit east of the major intersection of Bronte and Dundas.
The village known as Palermo was first settled in 1806 a mainly agricultural settlement on Dundas Road. The earliest recorded visits by Methodist saddlebag preachers came in 1808. The settlement soon became a regular stop on the Ancaster Circuit. But these visits were irregular, and it wasn’t until Rev. William Case started visiting, holding regular Sabbath services at either the Hagger or Hopkin farms. This traditional is a common means for Methodist services across rural Ontario. But as these services became more organised, a permanent structure was required. In 1818 a section of Lot 30, Concession 1, was donated to the Methodist Church to construct a chapel and establish a cemetery. Here the Palermo congregation completed a simple log structure in 1824. Noted Methodist minister Rev Anson Green noted how well attended the services at Palermo were and decided to place the centre of the new Nelson circuit and rented a small home for use by the assigned circuit rider. While Canadian Methodists were drifting further away from their American cousins since the War of 1812, it was in 1836 that Canadian Churches split; some formed a local branch of Wesleyan Methodists, while others connected with the British Episcopal Methodist Church. The Episcopal Methodists would construct their wooden frame chapel right next to the original log chapel after losing a court battle with the Wesleyans. The two branches worshipped side by side until both realised that a larger, more permanent structure would benefit both. Jointly purchasing a new lot across Dundas Road and slightly west, a simple brick Gothic Revival Chapel was completed in 1867. Like most Methodist chapels, it had little ornamentation and a simple bell tower to call people to worship. Eventually, both congregations were reunited in 1884 when the Methodist Church was established, unifying all branches of the Methodist faith under one banner. Through the 20th Century, most of the plain windows were replaced with stained glass memorial windows dedicated to families within the church and the war dead from the Great War. Palermo would join the United Church of Canada in 1925 and keep the name Palermo United Church. Electric lights would replace gas lights in 1940, but the most significant change came in the 1980s. The bell tower was removed, and a large church hall, offices, kitchen and classrooms were added. Despite the area’s changing face, Palermo remains a small but vibrant congregation that serves the growing population at Oakville’s western border. The church and its stained glass remain untouched from its original construction and are one of the few surviving buildings in the former village. The cemetery remains but has been under municipal management since the 1990s.
The Palermo Church proved that it wasn’t too difficult to photograph. Despite being located on a busy six-lane stretch of Dundas Street, a wide and safe median in the middle of the lanes allowed me to set up the camera without risking getting hit by traffic. I composed the image to get a view of the sanctuary from an angle to get a sense of the small size of the original sanctuary and went with my 125mm lens to get a bit more context of the surrounding area.
If you wish to worship with this congregation, they will be happy to welcome you! Please check out the congregational website for details on attending services worship either in-person on online streaming!