St. Isidore Church

History of St. Isidore Church - March Township, Kanata

Prepared in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the blessing of the church October 9, 1887

The history of St. Isidore parish goes hand in hand with the history of March Township, now included in the City of Kanata. Bounded on the northeast by the Ottawa River and Nepean Township and on the northwest by the Township of Torbolton, March was first settled in 1820. the fist arrivals were members of the British Military released from duty after the War of 1812. They received land grants ranging from 100 to 1600 acres, depending on their rank. These land grants, along with a supply of tools and other necessities, were given without any conditions, such as amounts to be cleared or buildings to be built. The grants were discontinued in 1824.

As early as 1823, names which would become familiar in the parish appeared on the census: Ganisford, Scissons and Lahey. Sam Scissons had one of the first stores in the area called South March on three acres donated by John Goodman. His son, John Scissons, lived a short way north on what is now March Road. Some other names among the early settlers were: Murphy, Kennedy, Major, Clarey, Cunningham, Foley, Burke, Tracey, Carroll, Nash, Monaghan and Hogan. All during the 1820's and 30's Irish immigrants were arriving, driven out of Ireland by hard times, notably the Potato Famines.

The early settlers in South March were visited by many different missionaries from Kingston, Richmond and Perth. The area was served by the Cathedral in Ottawa (Bytown at the time). Priests mentioned in the Archdiocesan archives as visiting during the years included: The Rev. M. Heron, O'Mears, Lawlor, Cullen, Cannon, Terrence Smith, J. H. McDonough, P. Meehan, H. Marion, J. Whelan, John Cadiagan, John Coffee, D. F. Foley and most actively, Father Michael Molloy, who visited from 1845 to 1876.

In the early days these visiting priests had to travel by horseback to the Mission in South March. They would stay overnight with a parishioner, hear confessions, say Mass, perhaps have some catechism lessons for the children, then be on their way to another mission and back to their home. This would most likely be once a month or less. By 1836 there were enough Catholic families to build a log chapel 38' x 23' which was officially blessed as a Mission of St. Patrick Fallowfield in 1840 by Bishop Bourget of Montreal, an extraordinary trip through the Ottawa Valley. Enlarged in 1850 it served the community until 1887, when the present church was built. The old church was removed by Arthur Brunettes, who was paid $55 for the job in February 1888 for the job.

In 1848 the parish of March had another episcopal visit, this time from Bishop Joseph Eugene Guiges, who received an undertaking from John Lahey, donating "two acres of land for the upkeep of the church and of the Catholic priest who will be named by his excellency and his successors to serve this mission or parish of March. These two acres are situated on lot 14 and touch on one side the main road to Bytown and on the three others the property of the donor."

Somewhere in these years the name St. Isidore was given to the parish. It was usually referred to as the "Mission of March" but as early as 1883 Archbishop Duhamel called it "St. Isidore" in a pastoral letter.

The first baptism in the parish was for John Fahey, son of William Fahey and Margaret King, by Fr. M. Molloy, on June 9, 1861.

The first marriage performed was on November 9, 1864, uniting Michael Fahey, son of John Fahey and Nancy Kinly, with Elizabeth, daughter of William Tracey and Rachel Day. Witness to the wedding were Robert Shirley and Bridget Tracey; the presiding priest was Rev. D. Orebuel, O.M.I.

The first funeral was on July 12, 1869 for Michael Ahearn, 75 years old. The priest was Fr. Molloy; the witnesses were Pat Carroll and Pat Murphy.

The first Roman Catholic school in the fledgling parish of March was established in 1877, according to Diocesan records. There was already a Protestant school on the third line; so the parishioners decided on the second line. The Carrol family allowed the school to be built on their property at lot 23, concession 2.

Each family brought logs and built a 20' x 40' structure which served until 1905 when it was demolished and a brick building was built on a stone foundation 26' x 30'. There is no record of the earliest teachers or students but a report submitted by Fr. Sloan in 1899 mentions a Miss E. Nemohan as paid $250 for the year.

Other details from that report: there were an average of 20 Catholic students in each of the four public schools in the area (two in March, two in Nepean). Catechism was taught, at the Catholic school only, for twenty minutes a day. There were three young men attending college: Austin Beatty at Toronto Law School, John and James Scissons at the Business College in Ottawa.

In late 1883 the Rev. John A. Sloan, pastor of Fallowfield, became a regular, visiting South March once a month. Parishioners would take turns driving a buggy to bring Father Sloan to the Mission, putting him up in their homes overnight and taking him back the next day.

Father Sloan was remarkably active in the parish for a long-distance mission priest. He submitted annual reports to Bishop Duhamel in Ottawa, detailing his parishioners habits, good and bad. In 1884, for example, he wrote, "keeping company", for want of proper vigilance on the part of the parents had given rise to scandal in almost every second house". He noted, however, that "the people of March were very free from bad habits and were a very obedient and respectful people towards the Church, although there was some drinking (rare) and too many dances". He doesn't say where these were held.

In 1884, Father Sloan reports 97 families in the parish: 500 souls, 350 communicants. These families were mostly Irish and some French Canadians. Even though he only came once a month and had a very difficult time getting other priests to help out, Father Sloan felt that the log chapel was not adequate. He Obtained a loan form the diocese and forged ahead with getting a permanent stone church built. The total cost of the church was given as $5,831. Aside from buying another acre of land from John Lahey, one of the first expenses was $35 paid to the architect, Canon M. Bouillon, for drawing up the plans. The new church was to be of ploughstone, 75' long x 45' wide, with 30' high side walls. The sacristy would also be of stone, 30' x 20'.

Canon Bouillon was also the architect of the Rideau Street Chapel which has now been reconstructed in the National Gallery in Ottawa. The masonry was done by Moise Lortie, the carpentry by J. and W. O'Connor, plastering by James O'Toole, who also supplied the trusses. William Brennan also was a contractor for the "toise" of stone. A Mr. Sharp was paid $3 for measuring the stones. Trustees at the time were Thomas O'Hara, Edward Rowan and John Nash.

In 1883, $11 was raised for the building fund by raffling a stove. In September, 1884 there was a concert which brought in $100 towards the new church and a silver collection took in $98 for the organ. A bazaar, held at Christmas 1885, netted the amazing amount of $1,350. People gave pledges and paid each month. At the blessing of the cornerstone ceremony, a special collection realized $146.56. Obviously, these early parishioners felt a deep commitment to their parish, as these were extraordinary amounts to be so generously given by often cash-strapped families.

The church was mostly finished in 1887. On October 9, Joseph Thomas Duhamel, Archbishop of Ottawa, blessed St. Isidore church. The 100th anniversary of that occasion was the impetus for this history.

Fr. Sloan reported that a Temperance Society, which had been established about 1860, numbered 40 members in 1887. There were no taverns in South March at that time but in 1889 one started up. By 1891 the Temperance Society had disappeared but other organizations were established: The Society for the Propagation of the Faith, St. Francis de Sales Society and Scapular of Mt. Carmel. In 1893 a Holy Family Society was formed. There is no report as to whether these organizations were effective in curbing demon drink.

In February, 1889, the fist pew rents for the new church were received: $47. In 1890 the assets of the fledgling church were $8,140, including the new church, with 52 pews and the land. Liabilities were first mentioned in 1887 as $3,130, borrowed from the Archbishop to build the church. This method of financing a major purchase by borrowing from the Diocese was common in the area and allowed the small parishes to acquire the things they needed. St. Isidore, for instance by 1891 had not only the debt for the new church but also 12 new pews built by Arthur Brunette (who also built some stables), an altar and the stations of the cross, acquired from St. Theresa's for a total of $105; two stoves for $36.93 and the repainting of the church roof. The debt was paid back year by year with collections and pew rents, amounting to $742 in 1888. It is inspiring to note how well and faithfully the congregation supported its church, even before they had their own pastor.

The church bell was purchased in 1891 from Mr. Henry McShane. It weighed 740 lbs. and was christened St. Anne. It was blessed by Archbishop J . T. Duhamel on November 15, 1891. A special collection of $166.02 to cover the cost of the bell is noted in the church archives

Fr. Sloan in his annual reports to the Archbishop, begged for more masses for the parish, and more priests to supplement his once-a-month visits. He felt this would be the best remedy for the "disorders" in the parish which were mainly the "keeping company" mentioned previously, dances at which "liquor is often used to excess" and the fact that the children were not being sent to the Catholic school regularly.

By 1893 the annual receipts for priest support and expenses were down to $226, note being made that 45 people didn't contribute anything, being "too poor". Fr. Sloan felt that at least an instruction and evening service every second Sunday in the Summer would be provided, but his strongest statement was that the "need is great for a resident pastor". He did get some help in the form of a Fr. Dunn, who came to March in 1895 for a 40-hour devotion and Easter Duty, but for most of the time he got no help from other priests. In spite of all the difficulties, in 1899 Fr. Sloan spent every day for a week in the parish instructing children for their First Holy Communion.

In 1895, the supplier of sacramental wine was changed from a company in Montreal to Mr. Major's on Dalhousie Street in Ottawa.

In 1897, Fr. Sloan was most concerned about the Klondike Inn in South March. "It was", he said, "giving great scandal ........ as well as whiskey on Sunday".

In 1898 a subscription was started to build a rectory. "This", Fr. Sloan reported "will necessitate a heavy debt, as the $500 on hand will be needed to buy and fence a cemetery".

That year saw the purchase of a 5-acre field for $550 from John Lahey, the digging of a well ($170) by Timothy Murphy, the establishment of the cemetery ($477) and the start on a rectory ($3,305). The first mention of payment to an organist was in 1903. Florence Rock played for all masses and special events and continued to do so for many years.

By 1899, the rectory was completed. It was 28' x 36', brick veneer, with a kitchen 18' x 25'. The brick work was done by Bert O'Connor, father of Kay Charlebois. Also that year, the last payment was made on the debt of the church itself.

The parish now being ready for a full-time priest, Fr. Sloan left to serve Our Lady of Good Counsel and St. Brigid.

Rev. Thomas John Brownrigg was born in 1868 at Curran, Ontario. Father Brownrigg was ordained on May 27, 1899 by Msgr. Duhamel, Archbishop of Ottawa. He had visited the March mission several times before being named its pastor in 1900. He moved into the new rectory to stay for six years, ministering to a grateful congregation. They must have been grateful because the only problem mentioned in Fr. Brownrigg's 1901 annual report was "some neglect of church duty". By now there was a Sacred Heart League and the Union of Prayer. In 1903 the Confraternity Mary Queen of Hearts was added.

Fr. Brownrigg left St. Isidore's in late 1906 to become parish priest at St. Philip's in Richmond. He served at three other churches in the area before he retired in July 1945. He died at Ottawa on April 12, 1956 at the age of 88.

For a few months the parish was administered by Fr. E. Cavanagh, awaiting the arrival of a new pastor.

The second parish priest, Fr. Thomas P. Fay, was born in Lamonte in 1875, After being Director of the Catholic Action for the Achdiocese of Ottawa, he came to South March in 1907.

Farm life has always demanded many hours of work for the whole family but Fr. Fay found it necessary to be strict about the inevitable results. He reported that in 1908, for instance, there would be no First Communion because the children were not instructed well enough., There was a Catholic school and catechism classes "but", he said "the parents were "neglectful of attendance at school and church". Of course, at this time, just before and later during WW I, some of the men would have been lost , at least temporarily, from the farms. By 1908, Fr. Fay was mentioning and "exodus" from the parish, several whole families having moved out. Unfortunately, we don't know the exact Catholic population because, as Fr. Fay noted in his report, "he had no horse for the census".

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