The Glengarry News - Glengarry Special - - Discover Glengarry Year-round -

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.

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