From the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto (ARCAT) November 7, 1954


In the early days of the settlement of Upper Canada, the few Catholics living in the townships north of Lake Ontario received only the occasional visit of a missionary prriest. The Right Reverend Alexander Macdonell, the first Bishop of Kingston, whose Diocese included the whole of Upper Canada, has left accounts of his journeys through this vast territory. He used every mode of travel known at that time. Including horseback, canoe, and, sometimes, in the more inaccessible places, he went on foot.

In 1822, St. Paul's Church was built, the first Catholic church in the town of York, and the priests attached to St. Paul's, visited the surrounding townships when circumstances permitted. The Reverend Edward Gordon arrived in 1830 to help the resident priest at York, and his "Register of Baptisms performed....... in the townships above York between 1830 and 1833" and his letters, help us to picture the life of these early missionaries. Writing to Bishop Macdonell in 1830, he said, "....I left York on the 16th of February on a mission throught the townships of Toronto, Albion, Mono, Adjala, Tecumseth, West Gwillimbury. In this latter township, which was never before visited by a Catholic clergyman, I found nineteen Catholic families comprising a population of 75 souls, with whom I remained two days, and then proceeded on towards Thorah, by Lake Simcoe, where I lost my way on the ice, and came to a path which brought me to a house within ten miles of Thorah. I stopt four days in Thorah and then returned to York.. ...The dificulties, hardships and expenses of my mission were forgotten when I witnessed the fervor of our poor people in complying with their spiritual duties....."

The first Georgina township baptism recorded by Father Gordon, reads: "Feb. 28th (1830) Baptized, Robert aged 5 months, of Alexander McDonald & Mary McDonell, residing in Georgina. Sponsors, Angus Campbell & Isabella McRae. By me, Edw. Gordon. M. Ap. (Missionary Apostolic)

From "The Story of St. Paul's Parish", by the late Father Edward Kelly, we learn that the Reverend Thomas Gibney, visiting the outside missions (around Toronto), wrote in February, 1837, to Bishop Gaulin, coadjutor Bishop of Kingston, "that he had just visited the townships of Thorah, Mara, Brock and Georgina, in all of which he found about 75 families...most anxious to have a resident priest among them. This was the second visit he had made to these parts.."

The Reverend Michael R. Mills, sent by Bishop Macdonell to Toronto in the summer of 1838 to make a tour of the missions around Toronto and Lake Simcoe, reported the Catholic population to be as follows: Thornhill - 103, Newmarket - 56, Mara & Thorah - 83, Brock - 130, Georgina - 42, West Gwillimbury - 94, Markham - 68, Scarbro - 31.

The Diocese of Toronto was erected in December of 1841, by the division of Kingston, with the Right Reverend Michael Power as its first Bishop. The records of Bishop Power's administration show that the Reverend Michael Charest was in charge, in 1842, of Tiny, Tay, Orillia, Georgina, Mara, Sunnydale, Nottawasaga... and other surrounding places not under the jurisdiction of another priest.

In 1846, the Reverend John Baptist Proulx was appointed to the Newmarket mission. This included "the townships of Whitchurch, Essa, a part of King, Markham, Vaughan, Georgina, North, East & West Gwillimbury and surrounding townships not having a priest...."; and, in 1848, he was given the mission of Oshawa, which at that time, took in the whole county of Ontario as far north as Orillia. He kept this charge until 1860, when he was transferred to Toronto.

Father Proulx, whose memory is revered in the Diocese, was a man of great stature, both in stature, both in a physical and in a spiritual sense" He was born in 1808 in the parish of Montreal, ordained in 1835, and had a long and active life in the priesthood. One of his early charges was the care of the Indians of the Manitoulin Islands and the north shore of Lake Huron as far as Sault Ste. Marie. His later missions were extensive, too and it was necessary for him to travel long distances, in his work for the salvation of souls. During the typhus epidemic of 1847, which took the life of Bishop Power, Father proulx was called to Toronto, where he worked, along with his brother priests, among the sick and dying. One of the churches built by Father Proulx was St. Joseph's at Highland Creek. This has been in constant use until the present year when it was enlarged and extensive work of renovation was done. In 1879, two years before his death, Father was made a Domestic Prelate by Pope Pius IX, with the title of Monsignor, the first priest of the Diocese of Toronto to receive this honour.

Father Proulx's letter to his Bishop contain occasional references to Georgina, most of these being reports of his visits to the township to minister to the faithful. Writing from Oshawa on June 15, 1852, to arrange with Bishop de Charbonnel for the latter's tour of Confirmation, Father says that they will expect the Bishop "by the boat of the 26th to land at Whitby..... where the parishioners of Oshawa and Duffin's Creek (Pickering) will meet him. He goes on to say ...."I am just starting for a sick call to Georgina and next Sunday I will be in Brock."

In a letter written on June 2nd of the same year. Father Proulx speaks of a church in Georgina; "....I beg leave to remark that besides the churches of Pickering, Oshawa, Brock and Georgina, there are three other places or stations in houses... one in Reach and two in Mara..." this referende to a church is interesting, since all other available records refer to the present church in Virginia and indicate that it was built sometime after the coming of Father John Walsh to Brock, late in 1854. At any rate, the deed to the present church property is dated April 8, 1857, and is for about 2 acres - from Anthony Charpentier to the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation for the Diocese of Toronto.

From Father Proulx's letter of November 2, 1853 to the Bishop, written at Oshawa, we can form some idea of his life while in the outside missions and the hardships he had to endure. ".... I am starting to-day for my northern townships - Reach, Brock, Thorah, Mara and Georgina - Therefore, I will not be back before the 13th of the month. My health is not very good but I am willing to do what I can and to go as far as I can with it. Give me your blessing My Lord, to enable me to go through...."

In 1854, the parish of Brock was established, with Father Walsh (later second Archbishop of Toronto) as its first resident pastor. The "Jubilee Volume - History of the Archdiocese of Toronto", published in 1892, states that the parish "extended over the townships of Brock, Reach, Uxbridge, Scott, Georgina, North Gwillimbury, Thorah and Mara. To accommodate a large number of Catholics he built a frame church in Georgina township, not far from Lake Simcoe, on two acres of land given by a Mr. Anthony Charpentier.." An old list (presumably compiled in the 1880's) of churches built in the Diocese, gives the cost of the church in Georgina as about $600.00 and the dimensions as 50' x 35'. However, this list has not always been found to be accurate.

The successor to Father Walsh in Brock was the Reverend John Lee, who came here in 1857. The Bishop being absent from the Diocese, Father Lee wrote to the Administrator on May 8, 1857, shortly after his arrival, ".. I have secured the Deed of the Georgina Church ground .." and after speaking of other things, he said "Having secured the Georgina deed I will commence a collection there in order to finish the church as soon as possible." In another letter. Father Lee, giving an account of the work he has done since coming to the mission, says, ".... The Georgina Church was unfinished. I have started the plastering.....".

According to the Jubilee Volume, "Father Louis Braire was appointed to the mission (of Brock) in 1860 and remained for 21 years." There is an account - in French - in the archives of the Archdiocese of Toronto, of a pastoral tour which Bishop Lynch made in October, 1860. This took him to Collingwood, Orillia, Brock, Georgina, etc. The report regarding Georgina speaks of a visit, a Mission, and Confirmation - to the "little mission of Georgina, in great part French"... where His Lordship was received "with joy". The church had been prepared with rustic simplicity, the walls, the altar and the route taken by the Bishop to the church, being decorated with pine boughs. Bishop Lynch was accompanied by Fathers Braire, Lee and Covac and Mass was said, Communion given to one hundred persons and Confirmation administered to thirty one, both children and adults.

Nov. 7, 1954

Signed Leslie Clarke?