Rockingham Church 20th anniversary announcement

The Friends of the Rockingham Church are sorry to announce the cancellation of the 20th Anniversary Celebration planned for August, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions in effect on public gatherings. We are very disappointed but of course the most important thing is that everyone stays safe.

Also, with regret, we have closed the church to visitors for the immediate future. The province has issued guidelines for the reopening of museums and attractions that we are not able to meet — we don’t have staff or enough volunteer power to be on site ensuring safety and sanitary requirements are met. The grounds and cemetery are still accessible. (Above John S.J. Watson the founder of Rockingham. Photo supplied)

Now we are looking ahead to next year and a big 21st Anniversary Celebration! We sincerely hope that life will be more “normal” again and that we also can celebrate that.

However, we still wanted to mark this year in some way and Barry Conway, our scheduled speaker and presenter for this year’s Celebration, has come up with a terrific plan. Barry is a long-time journalist and broadcaster who returned to his native Barry’s Bay a few years ago. Among other activities, his interests in local history, culture, and broadcasting inspired him to found the Opeongo Readers’ Theatre in 2018. Over the last three years, the Readers’ Theatre has given many live spoken-word performances of classic literature and the documented history and culture of the Upper Ottawa Valley — all recorded by Barry and available as podcasts.

In honour of the Church’s 20th anniversary and Rockingham’s history, Barry is proposing to put together a show about John S.J. Watson, Rockingham’s founder. Drawing from newspaper clippings and histories, the show will explore some of the many misconceptions about Watson’s heritage and arrival in Rockingham, as well as his contributions as Warden of Renfrew County to the area’s development. Barry plans to produce the podcast by early to mid-August.

You can find this — and all the other shows — by Googling “The Opeongo Line podcast” which should take you right to the site. A second way is through Podtail:   We will also post the link on our website,   If you send us your email address, we can send you a reminder when the show is available. It’s easy — you can e-mail us at  We promise not to circulate it, or plague you with e-mails from us.

Although we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of our success in restoring the church, the whole story actually started 25 years ago. Two recent issues of The Eganville Leader have reprinted items under “Reflections of a Century – 25 Years Ago.” The first, headlined Group Hopes It Can Save Historic Church (June 20, 1995) begins, “A small group of people gathered in the historic Rockingham Church last week… to try and save the 130-year-old building from a fate of destruction.” The second, from June 27, 1995, titled Historic Rockingham Church Gets a Three-Month Reprieve, recounts that “a group of local people have struck a deal with the Anglican Diocese in Ottawa and the wooden church will stand, with insurance, for the next three months….”

And so it all began. We weren’t sure then what we were taking on or if we could do it, but with perseverance, luck, and the help of many friends — you! — we succeeded. Little were we thinking that we too would become history!

Should you be kind enough to make a donation to the church, please make sure you include your full name with middle initial for the charitable tax receipt. The Canada Revenue Agency requires this for valid receipts.

We look forward to seeing you next year!


The Friends of the Rockingham Church Committee: Glenn Allen, President; Gordon Benner, Vice-President; Joyce Chyrski, Secretary; Peggy Bridgland, Treasurer; Members: Ann Hamilton, Dale Hamilton, David Kelley, Rob Van Vliet, Beth Kennedy, Paul Jorgensen, David Trafford, Annaliese Jamnik, Ed Battiston

Mailing address: Friends of the Rockingham Church Inc., Box 271, Combermere, Ontario  K0J 1L0


  1. Peggy Bridgland

    I am grateful that Bern took the time to detail the various efforts that were made over the years to keep the church standing. Having the names and the details she provides is an important part of the record.
    I’d like to assure her that The Friends of the Rockingham Church do recognize that without those early efforts of others there would not, as she notes, have been a structure left to restore by 1995, when our group formed. Those earlier repair projects are mentioned in the historical brochure available at the church, and also any time one of us is called upon to speak about the history of repairing the church. Barney himself spoke about MADE’s role at our 10th anniversary celebration. It will be helpful now to have more specific things to say.

    It was the two items reprinted in June issues of The Eganville Reader, along with our 20th Anniversary, that prompted my memories of those anxious days in the spring of 1995 when the church was under threat of demolition. The Friends of the Rockingham Church formed at that time to prevent that fate, then went on raise money and carry out the extensive repairs once again needed. That was the source of the comment “And so it all began” — that’s where it began for The Friends. We recognize and appreciate those that came before that time. I’ll just note that when my husband and I moved to Rockingham in the 1970s, we too were among those pressed into Barney’s Sunday afternoon work bees.

    And I’d also like to say thatThe Friends of the Rockingham Church is not an exclusive group. If you now or have ever supported the church and the efforts to keep it going you’re a Friend. We know there are many out there, and we always welcome more!

    • Bernadine Roslyn

      Thanks, Peggy. I’m glad the earlier work is acknowledged in your brochure. I guess I usually see press coverage where it isn’t mentioned. Thanks to The current for giving me an opportunity to bring some of that information forward.

  2. Bernadine Roslyn

    Actually, the story starts much earlier than that. MADE (I think it stands for Madawaska Association for Developmental Ecology) a group headed by Barney McCaffrey, repaired and re-shingled the north road-facing side of the roof in the early 70’s. Then in 1977 MADE obtained an Opportunities for Youth grant and five young people were hired to work on the church – I was one of them, and we had a very capable (but very young) ‘foreman’ in the person of John Lapenskie. We were supervised by Eric Bussel (I may have his name wrong), a carpenter and wood-worker.
    We spent that summer replacing a huge amount of rotten wood, including parts of the sills on the south and west sides and parts of joists and the floor. We completely re-shingled the bush-facing side of the roof and replaced the exterior siding on that side, as well. I particularly remember repairing a broken rafter. We disassembled rotted window frames and interior trim and Eric fabricated replacement parts where they were needed; and we repaired broken window panes and painted the windows and trim. We had removed much of the inside paneling on the south wall, and a few boards were so thin from rot that we couldn’t re-use them. We replaced them with new lumber and were delighted that we were able to colour-match the water stains on the existing paneling so you couldn’t tell which boards were new.
    I am sure that without that work, there would not have been a structure left to restore almost 25 years later. It saddens me that MADE and its contribution to the preservation of the church are not recognized by the Friends.

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