Orillia, the largest town in that part of Northern Ontario and only 35 miles from Balsom Lake, Kirkfield and Victoria Road, had become an important center like Antioch of old, for Gospel activity. Mr. Alexander Marshall from Scotland and Mr. Richard Irving were prominent in the work. They were both young, vigorous men with one object before them, the salvation of the lost. No difficulties were too great, and no opposition was too strong to dampen the ardor of these enthusiastic evangelists. They pitched a tent in Orillia in June, 1881, and encountered bitter opposition, but the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord. However, the new life so evident in these new-born souls, and the burning zeal of the preachers, disarmed much of the opposition and some have described those times as “days of heaven on earth.”
The young Christians were taught the truth of believers’ baptism, separation from all man-made systems and gathering alone in the Name of the Lord Jesus. As they were very eager to learn the mind of God from the Scriptures, anything they “found written” they were willing to obey at any cost. The result of that first season of labor in the Gospel was that many were baptized and a large assembly was formed. Foxmead, Warminster, Severn Bridge and other towns and rural districts all within a few miles of Orillia were visited, and there the Word of God was preached with fervor. Sinners old and young were broken down as the Gospel of God was proclaimed and there were very few homes in the community that did not know of this visitation of God through some of their members rejoicing in Christ with the result that assemblies were planted in all the places named. All over that territory there is a great change now in its general appearance from those early days, when it was so primitive, a new country being opened up. A brother writing at that time of the existing conditions in the country said, “In midwinter the approaches to Orillia are dreary enough, and suggestive of back woods, bush, tangled forest, stumps, saw mills, and lumber all of which surely tells the tale of a new country broken up by active, restless men seeking earthly homes, yet here, amongst them all, the Lord is getting what He delights to see, namely, sinners to save and saints to shepherd where human wisdom would not look for it; while cities which are centers of so-called refinement, luxury, knowledge, riches and population are becoming more corrupt.”
The description given would indicate that the Gospel preachers were called upon to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ and this they gladly did for His sake. Later on other laborers of like mind were attracted and came along to help in the work of the Lord.
These assemblies that sprang up all around were composed of young converts and much shepherd work and godly instruction were required among them. “All day” meetings were arranged in different places and the saints came together for prayer, praise, and ministry of the Word, and thereby much help and blessing was received and the assemblies were established in the faith.
In Orillia at New Year, 1883, a four-days convention was begun, and the first one proved such a source of spiritual profit, it was decided to make it an annual convention. The first four days of January, 1885, were looked forward to by many young converts, some of whom had never been to a convention since they were born again. The large Shaftsbury Hall was taken for the occasion. The preachers laboring in and around Orillia and who were present to give help in the ministry at the convention were brethren Marshall, Case, Irving, McClure, Douglas, Telfer, Faulkner, Gook and Benner.
The presence of the Lord was very manifest during the meetings, old and young receiving their portion from the Word. A brother who attended that conference and was much helped through the ministry, like Barnabas when he saw the grace of God was glad, wrote of what he witnessed in those days.
“It is only four or five years ago since this part of Canada was penetrated by the preachers of the simple Gospel of God’s grace, and doubtless the Lord has done a most gracious work since then. As in other places the enemy has been deceiving some by imitations of the reality, yet, after making allowances for these drawbacks, there is cause for deep hearty thanksgiving to God that so many children have been born in the family of God, and while some Christians are talking about the work others are doing it. To see team after team at the Hall door after hauling precious loads of God’s saints many miles from the country was to us truly cheering and refreshing; and the manifest appreciation by these dear children of God of their own Father’s Word was a great cause for thankfulness to God. The meetings were well attended and were profitable. Not a few of the Lord’s own dear ones thanked the Lord for blessing received.”
In addition to the ordinary and usual ministry to one another, such gatherings annually, as the Orillia Conference meetings, are very desirable and a source of much blessing. “Iron sharpeneth iron, so doth a man the countenance of his friend” (Prov. 27:17).
This was the first convention in Orillia that Mr. McClure attended and to him it was like “a cup of cold water to a thirsty soul.” While attending the conference Mr. McClure and Mr. Douglas were able to continue their meetings at Balsom Lake, and for quite a few weeks after, and they had the joy of seeing many more led to Christ.
For a whole year brethren McClure and Douglas had labored for the Lord in several places around Victoria Road, and just as we read of the work of God in New Testament days, “much people was added unto the Lord.”