Last Updated on September 21, 2020
St. Philip Church, Richmond, Ontario
The village of Richmond was established in 1818 as a military settlement for disbanded soldiers. In August of that year the site of the village was laid out; by the end of the year some 400 families had taken up residence in the area. In 1819 Alexander Macdonell, a former military chaplain who that same year was named Episcopal Vicar in charge of Upper Canada under the authority of the Bishop of Quebec, said the first mass. Father Sweeney of Perth was then asked to look after Richmond as a mission until 1822 when Father Patrick Haran was sent there by Bishop Macdonell, who had jurisdiction before the diocese of Bytown was created. Mass was said in the local school until 1825 when a wooden chapel was built. In 1827 Father Haran was moved to Bytown to care for the spiritual needs of the Irish Catholics brought in to work on the building of the Rideau Canal. His successors served both Bytown and Richmond until 1836, when Father Terrence Smith was sent to St. Philip’s. He was a large man and used his bulk to good effect in breaking up battles during the local fairs. In his History of the Ottawa Valley published in l896 J. L. Gourlay described him as “of gigantic stature, and when mounted on a splendid charger with a long whip, or even on foot, he was a terror to evildoers.”
This was turbulent time, marked by conflict between the Orange Order and the Irish Catholics of the area. Some on the Protestant side did not take kindly to the appointment of a resident priest. In August 1837 someone threw a stone through a window of the house in Richmond where Father Smith was living. The twelfth of July the following year saw a militant Orange demonstration marked by intimidation of local Catholics, who later vociferously complained to the government at this treatment. In March 1839 all the windows in St. Jude’s chapel. Fallowfield, a mission of St.
Philip’s, were broken. Although a reward was offered for the conviction of the guilty parties, no one volunteered any information. Worse was to come in the 1850s, as both Orange halls and Catholic churches fell victim to arsonists. In August 1857 St. Philip’s was set ablaze in broad daylight and two Protestants, seen running away, were arrested. The following year a new stone church, 64 feet long by 34 feet wide, was built.
By this time Richmond had become part of the diocese of Ottawa, transferred from Kingston in 1850. Father Smith wished to remain in Kingston diocese and was replaced by Father Peter O’Connell. Remarkably, he remained pastor until 1890, resigning due to old age and infirmity at the age of 89. He retired to Montreal where he died in l899, though his funeral and burial took place in Richmond.
The church’s location proved somewhat inconvenient in the winter. In 1890 Father Dunn complained that it was in “an isolated part of the village, a locality where there is very little travelling, thus leaving the streets leading to it totally blocked up during the winter months.” The problem was compounded by the fact that he lived about three-quarters of a mile from the church, and he asked permission to say weekday masses at his place of residence.
Another difficulty the pastors encountered was scheduling services at times that suited their parishioners’ needs. A perennial problem was with the Forty Hours Devotion which the archdiocese consistently scheduled in February or March, requiring an annual request from the pastor for a change of dates both for St. Philip’s and its mission of St. Clare in Dwyer Hill. As Father O’Neill explained to Archbishop Gauthier in January l914, “the parishioners, as you are aware, live on farms and in the winter all the men that can leave their homes are away working in the shanties and do not return before April.” The fall would be a much more convenient time for them although there seemed to be some difficulty in impressing that fact on the city-dwelling church authorities.
As it grew, Richmond became a commercial and service centre for the local farming community. With the advance or urbanization after World War ll it also became a bedroom community for people commuting to Ottawa to work. The parish population remained around 350 souls for many years although in l900 the pastor complained that Catholics were leaving because Richmond was “essentially Protestant and Orange” and they lacked opportunity. By the late thirties the number of parishioners dropped below 200. By l960 it was back up to 300 and has continued to grow. Today St. Philip’s serves some l,500 people and is the oldest parish within the Archdiocese of Ottawa. In the year 2019, it will be celebrating it’s two hundredth anniversary.
St. Clare Mission, Dwyer Hill, Ontario
From its inception St. Clare’s has been a mission of St. Philip’s, Richmond, about 12 miles away. A small wooden chapel, 40 by 30 feet, was built in l849 to accommodate approximately 20 Catholic families living in the area. In July 1876, Bishop Duhamel noted the absence of pews; on his next visit in May 1888 he noted approvingly that “seats have been placed in it, much to the comfort of the people.” Around l980 it was clapboarded and a foundation put under it. By l900 it was in bad condition and was deemed not worth repairing. Financial difficulties prevented is replacement until l915 when noted Ottawa architect Francis Sullivan was hired to build a new church. A pupil of the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Sullivan designed some of Ottawa’s most noteworthy buildings. At the cost of $6000 he gave the small rural community a unique building which, in the words of one critic, M. Birkhans, “occupies its pastoral setting with obvious grace,” and is considered one of Sullivan’s best works.
The small population of the parish was primarily engaged in farming and, in the winter, working in the lumber camps. On more than one occasion the diocesan authorities had to be requested to re-schedule the Forty Hours Devotion, usually set for February, since, the parish priest noted, “many of the men with their horses are away to the shanties and will not be home until March, and the others at home live far from the chapel.”
The population remained relatively constant over the years, but recently it has grown considerably and now stands at over 70 families, some 230 souls.