The Diocese of Alexandria
(mostly about St. Finnan's parish in Alexandria,
St. Alexander's in Lochiel, St. Raphaels' in Saint
Raphael and others)
These excerpts taken from various articles by an unknown author (date unknown)
are published with the permission of the Messenger of the Sacred Heart.
* * *
IT is my purpose to write an account of the many important events in the history of the Church in Glengarry-or, more properly, in the two counties of Glengarry and Stormont, which make up the present Diocese of Alexandria, and to give biographical sketches of those who have presided over the different parishes.
At the outset I must crave the indulgence of my readers, for I confess no great ability to do the research work attendant upon the undertaking, and less experience to embody the whole account and the sketches in a pleasing historical narrative. I undertake the work as a duty-a pleasant duty assuredly, if I succeed in preserving the memory of those "athletes of religion who have won imperishable crowns"-a well repaid duty, if I shall be able to make my readers realize the debt of gratitude they owe to those who have gone.
In the Canadian archives (Series Q, 24-2, p. 279) we find the following letter written by Lord Sidney, the Secretary of State for the Government of King Georges III, to Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton, of Canada. It is dated, Whitehall, 24th June, 1785.
Having laid before the King a memorial of Mr. Roderick MacDonell, stating that, at the solicitation of a considerable number of Scots Highlanders and other British subjects of the Roman Catholic persuasion, who prior to the last war were inhabitants of the back settlements of the Province of New York, and to whom, in consideration of their loyalty and services, lands have lately been assigned in the higher parts of Canada, he is desirous of joining them in order to serve them in the capacity of a clergyman, in the humble hope that, on his arrival at the settlement, he shall be allowed by Government an annual subsistence for the discharge of that duty. I enclose to you the said memorial, and am to signify to you the King's command that you do permit Mr. Macdonell to join the above mentioned settlers and officiate as their clergyman; and with respect to the allowance to be made to him, I shall take an early opportunity of communicating to you His Majesty's pleasure.
I am, etc., "SIDNEY"
Catholics of Glengarry and Stormont, this Mr. Roderick Macdonell, the memorialist who by order of King George III was to be permitted to officiate as clergyman, was a Catholic priest, and the first pastor to administer to the spiritual needs of your forefathers! Catholics of Ontario, if we except the French missionary priests who labored among the Hurons and the few French settlers on the western counties of the Province, this Mr. Roderick Macdonell was your first parish-priest! One hundred and thirty-eight years ago your first pastor came. For whom did he come? Who was he? Where did he reside? How long did he remain? These are questions you will want me to answer.
The first settlers of the counties of Glengarry and Stormont were United Empire Loyalists and disbanded soldiers of regiments which had fought against the Revolutionaries in the American War of Independence. Here it will be necessary to tell why Catholic Highlanders were numbered among the United Empire Loyalists. It is a strange story,it is indeed, a romance in itself. The Catholic clans, notably Glengarry and Clanranald, were faithful to the Stuart cause. The story of their devotion and heroism is familiar to all-how when the cause was hopelessly lost they suffered; how "Disarming Acts" and "Proscribing Acts," "Jurisdiction Acts," and intolerable conditions generally, forced them to leave their Highland glens, all this we know, but we feel unable to trust ourselves to dwell thereon in detail. How sad the song, "Lochaber no more!"
Let us simply state that not long after the "affair of Bonnie Prince Charlie," many of the people of Glengarry and Knoydart, under the leadership of several gentlemen of the clans, called after the properties of their families in Scotland-Macdonell of Albercalder, Leek, Collachie, and Scothouse (Scotus),emigrated to America and settled in the Mohawk Valley in what is now the State of New York. When the American War of Independence broke out, they chose to remain true to the principles of monarchy. This time they upheld the House of Guelph. Again they fought and lost; again they suffered and left their ruined homes, to seek new homes in the unknown North, or as Lord Sidney's letter states, "in the higher parts of Canada."
In others words, these Catholic Highlanders were a fairly large number among the United Empire Loyalists of Ontario, and they settled in the counties of Glengarry and Stormont. `Tis true they received as their reward grants of land. To officers and men of regiments, such as the King's Royal Regiment of
New York, according to rank and length of service-some of them scaled the cliff to the Plains of Abraham with Wolfe in 1759- several hundred acres of land were given and the immediately necessary supplies for three years. However, if one considers that the country was a wilderness, that they had lost all, one understands the extent of the sacrifices they had to make-and all for a principle. The full story may yet be told,-for now, enough to say "these men did all in honour."
Of those who came, not all were Catholic, but the Catholic settlers, as a rule, banded together and formed groups where, later on, missions were opened or parishes were formed-thus St. Andrew's, thus St. Raphael's, thus Alexandria, etc.
A large proportion of the people of Glengarry were for several generations necessarily shut out from intercourse with the rest of the world, the world of the daily newspaper and magazine. For them the art of reading had not killed the art of story-telling. In the early years there were many of whom it could be said, "He tells a story well." Besides, the spoken language of the Scotch settler in Glengarry was undeniably the language, of all others, most suited to tell a tale.
The writer has been fortunate enough to have preserved many of the stories his grandfather used to tell him. It was the old man's delight to take me on his knee, while he sat on the old log bridge, and tell me of times gone by, of strange adventures, of giant men, of haunted hills, of blessings, and of curses. The old man had childlike Faith. He could tell of the protection God gave to those who kept their baptismal vows; of the power of the good priest Maister Ian (Father John); of the struggles of Alaisdor Mor. He was familiar with all the legends, with all the weird happenings which "they of the second-sight" had invented. His were typical stories as told in the early days. In these pages I shall recall some of the things he said, as I remember them. Let me add that I have not applied the science of higher criticism to ascertain the historical accuracy of each. Some edified, all amused, our forefathers of Glengarry; they may interest their descendants. Would that we could still have "the simple life.
Here is the story the old folks told of the priest who gave St. Raphael as Patron Saint to the present parish of that name. Who the priest was will appear later on in the historical narrative; for the present we will call him as they did, "the good priest." He landed at Quebec, alone and among strangers, and with only money enough to pay for one meal and a night's lodging. He retired to his room in the hotel, after deciding to wait for the morning meal in order to be in better condition for the long journey to Glengarry.
About ten o'clock, while the priest was still reading his "holy book," a young man of fine appearance entered the hotel and enquired for the newly arrived clergyman. The landlord informed him that his guests were not to be disturbed, unless for serious reason.
"I must see the Father," the young man replied, "and you are to lead me to his room.~~
Something in the tone and manner of the man made the hotelkeeper comply with the request. The stranger knocked and on being admitted greeted the surprised priest as a friend who knew of his arrival and had come to tell him of his future home and labors. Thinking he was some relative settled in Glengarry who had come to greet him, the priest made the stranger welcome.
Imagine his surprise when the young man said to him.
"Now, Father, you have not had supper. You are hungry. I will order a meal."
The priest did not like to admit he had no money, but he could not refuse to partake of the meal which was forthwith served. The stranger all the while spoke of the places he would pass on his way to Glengarry, the persons he would meet, conditions at the missions, etc. Indeed not only was the priest's itinerary carefully mapped out, but he even learned how best to conduct himself in each circumstance until such time as he would be definitely established among friends.
The story has it that at last the stranger stood up and prepared to leave the room.
"Father, I must go now," he said. "Take this purse of money. You have need of it. You could not pay for your supper tonight." The good priest was dumbfounded, but a holy fear came upon him when, suddenly, the stranger more beautiful than anything the Father had ever seen, said: "I am Raphael," and was seen no more. The priest used the money and started on his journey. He had no trouble, for everything was as Saint Raphael said. Why wonder, then, if he decided to choose his "friend" as the Patron Saint of the parish?
Before we tell of the formation of any parish in the two counties of Stormont and Glengarry, we must first give a general description of the country as it was known to Father Roderick Macdonell on his arrival after the American War of Independence. He would no doubt land at Quebec where he would receive faculties and instructions from Bishop d'Esglis who was then ecclesiastical superior of all Canada. The Civil Government also functioned from Quebec, as the Constitutional Act of 1791 had not as yet divided the country into Upper and Lower Canada. Father Roderick would proceed by "bateau" to Montreal where he would find a small but well organized religious and trading center.
Leaving Montreal Father Macdonell would proceed by small boats up the St. Lawrence. He would find military and Indian bartering posts at Lachine, St. Anne's, Coteau du Lac, and Point au Boudet, which latter place was even then the projected dividing line between French seigniorial land-tenure territory and English or land-tenure as it prevails in Ontario to-day. From Point au Boudet on, he would pass small huts in little clearances in the bush along the shore. In these huts were his own friends. To the south, his "bateau-man" would show him the Indian village at St. Regis where he was to live for many years.
Let-us suppose that he did (as was quite natural) land at what is now known as Stone House Point. Here his cousin Captain Alexander Macdonell (Abercalder), late of the King's Royal New York Regiment, had built a log hut, typical of the homes of most settlers for the first year or two. Perhaps this shelter was not more than twenty feet by fifteen, built of round logs notched at the corners and laid one upon another to a height of seven or eight feet. The roof was made of elm bark; an opening for a door and one for a window were cut; the floor was made of split logs, the hearth of flat stones, the chimney of field stones laid up with clay for mortar, the spaces between the logs "chinked" with small pieces of wood daubed with clay, the furniture, well-blocks of wood were the only chairs! And these were the homes of manywho had known the comforts of manor-houses, like Abercalder, Scotus, and Leek, in the Highland glens.
Here the captain would tell the priest all that had happened since they left Scotland-yea, the priest's own brothers, Captains Archibald and Allan Macdonell (Leek) had come through the war and were given land north of New Johnstown, now Cornwall. This place, the rendezvous for all Loyalists and settlers, was called after Sir John Johnson, the gentleman who succeeded his father, Sir William Johnson, as chief officer of the Crown in the Mohawk
Valley and who brought the Loyalists to their new homes in British territory.
Scotus MacDonell was living in New Johnstown, and there were many friends and relatives who longed to see the "Sagairt." Every man in New Glengarry was rich in land, which takes time and labor to make productive. In those first intimate conversations, Scotus would tell the priest that a survey had been made the preceding summer-he himself having been engaged to do the work, and that a Patrick McNiff was preparing a map of the five townships from Point au Boudet west. He argued that the county should be called Glengarry, since by far the greatest number came from Glengarry, in Scotland. He told the priest that as yet there were no roads-that he would have to follow the rivers or go by "blazed" trail through the woods in townships which extended back as far as the Grand (Ottawa) River.
The captain would say that here the Government land-agent gave him the script for his lots after he had drawn by chance his number from the hat. He would tell him of heavy snows-of cold winter storms-of wolves and strange wild beasts. He would cheer him up, however, by stories of men who had already spent winters in the rough log homes, and who had cut away the bush and had land enough to till. He would tell him what these men knew by instinct-that early hardships would be followed by years of prosperity, by years of happiness in the service of their adopted land.
Indeed it happened thus. Was not the very log cabin of Captain Alexander soon to be converted into the first and largest stone mansion in Ontario, "Glengarry House," known as the home of Highland hospitality, where the noblest of the land were entertained? It was burned in 1813, but the Historic Sites Commission unveiled a commemorative tablet last year at Stone House Point.
Were not Glengarry's men, even within that generation, to take their places among the country's leading citizens? In law there was Angus Macdonell, member and first president of the Law Society of Ontario, 1792; in commerce, Alexander Macdonell, Greenfield, and Finnan Macdonell, chief factors of the Hudson's Bay Company; in exploration, Simon Fraser, discoverer of the
Fraser River, whose remains lie buried at St. Andrew's; in politics, Colonel John Macdonell, M. P., first speaker of the House of Assembly, 1792; in war, Colonel Macdonell, A. D. C. to General Sir Isaac Frock, the hero of Queenston Heights; in education and religion, the Honorable and Right Reverend Alexander Macdonell, first Bishop of Ontario; in diplomacy, Hugh Macdonell, consul-general in Algiers. But enough; these and the Colonel Chisholms the Colonel Frasers, the Sandfield Macdonalds, and a host of others, have their names written on the pages of Canadian history for all to read.
A Glengarry Warrior - A True Story They Say - Austin MacDonell - St Alexander's Parish - St Finnan's - From A Pastor's Breviary -
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