By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement
Rev. Robert Thornton was born in Scotland in 1806. He was an ordained minister of the United Secession Church of Scotland and was sent to preach in Canada in 1833 – he married Margaret Thompson in this year.
After a 7 week journey from Scotland to New York, the Thornton’s boarded a ship that they thought would bring them to Toronto but instead, went to Cobourg – it was from here that Rev. Thornton left on foot to go to Toronto to find a new home – when he reached Whitby, he came upon a settlement of Scottish settlers who asked him to become their minister, Rev. Thornton agreed and thus became the first Presbyterian minister in the area.
The first meeting place of the Presbyterians was west of Union Cemetery on Moore’s Hill (at the corner of Garrard and Hwy #2). In 1837, four years after Thornton arrived in Whitby, the Presbyterians built their own church on the site which is now Union Cemetery – there are indications that the church was large and could seat up to 600 worshippers.
Rev. Thornton also had a keen interest in Education and he organized several schools Toronto and Cobourg and served as the local Superintendent of Education as well as Inspector of Schools.
Rev. Thornton supported Temperance, the abolishment of the sale of whiskey, which was a contentious issue of the times – he saw cheap whiskey as a hindrance to the progress of society, and if the immigrant farmers were to succeed then he would have to practice Temperance – he was credited with organizing the first Temperance demonstration, a march from Oshawa to Whitby.
Rev. Thornton died on February 11, 1875 in his 69th year – on the day of his interment in Union Cemetery, places of business closed and there was a lengthy procession to the cemetery.
Today, Rev. Robert Thornton is remembered by a cairn placed on the site of the log cabin church on Moore’s Hill – the stone memorial at the corner of Garrard and Hwy #2 in Whitby was erected in 1937 to commemorate the centennial of the first Presbyterian services held in the area.
Thornton Road today is adjacent to Rev. Thornton’s land.
Information for this post from Historical Oshawa Information Sheets, Dr. Robert Thornton