CRADLE OF CATHOLICISM IN ONTARIO
Through Glengarry, on the King’s Highway, also known as Dundas Street, runs the great stagecoach road of the Canadas joining Toronto with Montreal in the age of Napoleon. St. Raphael's Church, now a monumental ruin, has been designated a national historic site - “the cradle of Catholicism in Ontario.”
In 1786, two years after the first settlement of Eastern Ontario by the Loyalists from New York’s Mohawk Valley, Father Alexander MacDonell (known as Scotus) led his parishioners from Knoydart, Scotland, here to Glengarry where Mass was held in the log cabin fondly remembered as “the blue chapel.”
After the arrival in 1804 of the second priest of the same name, later to become known as the Big Bishop and the first bishop of Upper Canada, the building of St. Raphael’s Church was begun in the winter of 1815 following Wellington’s victory at Waterloo.
Until the 1840s St. Raphael’s served the largest Catholic parish in Ontario, numbering 6,000, and it was from here that Bishop Macdonell administered his see, which at that time included all of Ontario.
One August night in 1970 a fire which was seen for miles away destroyed the magnificent thousand-seat interior. The sad event is remembered in the well-known song “The Burning of St. Raphael’s,” by The Brigadoons.
On the parish grounds are the bishop’s 1808 stone residence as well as Iona College (1818), the first institution of higher learning in the province. To this day, learning and worship continue at this historic precinct in the form of Iona Academy and the new church adjoining the Ruins which serves the remaining 125 families.