Zion History

Click HERE to see a list of all Pastors who served Zion

Click HERE to see a letter from 1863 written to Aunt & Uncle Keffer from Pennsylvania, near Gettysburg

This small but active congregation has been in the same location for over 200 years and was the site of the establishment of the Eastern Canada Synod (ECS) of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) in 1861. ECS is now a division of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCiC). The original wooden structure was replaced in 1860 by the current brick building. The cemetery behind the church dates from the early 1800s and is still in use today. The oldest known burial was recorded in 1817, although it is thought that there were others which took place earlier.

Our history goes back well over two hundred years. In the 1790's, German settlers arrived in Vaughan township from Somerset County in Southwest Pennsylvania. The Jacob and Michael Keffer, and Jacob Fischer families received deeds to lands and established homesteads. They were faithful people who established a Lutheran congregation in 1806 with Jacob Keffer as its lay leader who taught catechism classes. On August 10, 1811, Jacob Keffer gave a plot of land to the Lutheran congregation. The congregation's first baptism was recorded at Zion on January 23, 1808.

The Keffer Memorial

The young congregations of Vaughan and Markham, were without a full-time Pastor for some time. In January 1819, three brothers - John, Jacob and Valentine Fischer returned to Pennsylvania on behalf of the congregations in Markham and Vaughan. They were authorized to extend a call to the Rev. J.D. Petersen, and offer a salary of $130. per year. Pastor Petersen arrived in Vaughan on March 1, and plans for a church building began. The cornerstone of the substantial log building, was laid July 22, 1819, and the first communion service was held October 3. The log structure served the congregation for the next 40 years. In the following years, churches were built in Buttonville and Unionville and were served by Pastor Petersen until 1829.
With no Lutheran Pastor available to accept a call, the three congregations appealed for help to the Rev. John Strachan, Rector of York, and later Bishop of the Church of England. He sent them a German speaking Church of England minister, the Rev. Philip Mayerhoffer. They agreed that if within the next ten years, a Lutheran pastor could not be found, the three congregations would become Anglican. Mayerhoffer served until 1833, when Rev. Jacob Huettner, a Lutheran pastor, came to serve. The Vaughan and Markham church buildings served both Lutheran and Anglican congregations until 1938, when Rev. Mayerhoffer and his followers were locked out. As a result of the split, Michael Keffer donated land for an Anglican Church. This was the start of St. Stephen's congregation in Maple.

Without the leadership of a full time pastor, Zion was in danger of disappearing. In 1849, Adam Keffer, Jacob's son, walked to Klecknerville, Pennsylvania, where Synod was in session, to plead for a pastor. The Mission Committee was touched by his pleas and appointed the Rev. G. Bassler to visit these churches for up to six weeks. Pastor Bassler stayed for a month, and returned to the committee, reporting that "conditions were sad in the extreme," and hoped that a pastor would soon be found to serve Vaughan and Markham. It was 1850, and no pastor had arrived. Adam Keffer, at age 60, returned on foot to appear before the Synod in Pittsburgh. His effort was not in vain. Rev. C.F. Diehl accepted the call. He introduced the practice of conducting the services in both English and German.

Pastor Diehl resigned in September 1853 and was succeeded on January 11, 1854 by the Rev. Jeremiah Fishburn who stayed for 25 years. He acquired the reputation of a church builder. Under his direction churches were built in Buttonville (1854), Kleinburg (1855), Toronto-Bond St. (1857), Zion's present building (1860), Unionville (1862), Williamsburg (1865), and Morrisburg (1876). The Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Canada, succeeding the Canada Conference of the Pittsburgh Synod, was organized in this church in July 18-22, 1861. Pastor Fishburn served as Synodical President for 11 years, and remained with Zion until 1879.

In 1962, some of Zion's members assisted in the organization of St. Paul's, Richmond Hill. Members of Zion supported the establishment of Christ the King in Thornhill. For about 25 years prior to 1959, Zion was a two-church parish, partnered with Bethseda in Unionville. In 1959, Zion once again became a separate parish. We remain a small congregation, but what we lack in size, we make up in spirit and service.