Did you know there is a hauntingly beautiful National Historic Site just off Highway 34, in Glengarry County between Lancaster and Alexandria?
I stumbled across St. Raphael’s Ruins completely by accident one day, while driving back from Glengarry Fine Cheese in Lancaster (a great place—more on that in a future post!). Like my dad, I can’t resist any sort of road sign indicating an historical plaque, so I took a sharp left turn and discovered a roofless church of grey stone with a strong connection to Ontario’s Scottish past.
In 1786, some 500 Highlanders from Knoydart, Glengarry, emigrated to Canada to escape terrible economic conditions back home. Their leader was Reverend Alexander MacDonnell, who later became Bishop of Kingston.
In 1815, the settlers started planning this huge structure, one of the first anglophone Roman Catholic parishes in what is now Ontario. Its 1830s steeple, which housed three huge bells cast in Philadelphia, collapsed during a catastrophic fire in 1970. Luckily, though, the walls remained standing, and a keen citizens’ group raised the funds to stabilize them.
These days, the church is occasionally used for concerts and special events, as well as weddings. However, it’s open during the day for anyone who just wants to stroll through and imagine what life was like for a hardy band of Scottish settlers, far from home, who likely scrimped and saved to build such a massive structure. Admission is free but donations are welcome. Bring your camera—the photo opportunities are endless.
In researching this post, I discovered that Williamstown is actually home to several National Historic Sites, as well as one of Canada’s oldest annual fairs and the Glengarry Celtic Music Hall of Fame. Now, I want to go back!
Throughout July and August 2017, I’ll be posting one photo a day that I’ve taken somewhere across Canada, in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary. Want to see more photos in this series? Type “Canada 150 photo” in the search window on the right-hand side of this page.