Catholic in Flamborough, Part 1

The long history of Catholic worship in East Flamborough Township and the story of St. Thomas Roman Catholic Church

By the late 1830s, several Catholic pioneers from Scotland had settled in the township and by the early 1840s, they were also living in Waterdown.

Among the known early arrivals, Donald Stewart of Bannffshire, Scotland, who emigrated to Canada in 1839 and settled on the 7th Concession, and the Irish Catholic families of the 11th Concession. With no church in the area, Stewart is said to have walked to Oakville or Dundas to attend Mass. He was married at St. Andrew’s Church in Oakville in 1845 and the Baptismal Certificate for a daughter born to this family is among the records at the Oakville church.

By 1846, there was a sufficient number of local adherents to construct a small wooden church. Occasionally, Mass was celebrated in private homes by circuit or itinerant priests, probably from the Society of Jesus, who had served the Head-of-the-Lake area prior to the construction of St. Augustine’s Church, Dundas or St. Mary’s Church in Hamilton.

The land on which the first Catholic church was constructed, Lot 8, Concession 3, East Flamborough Township, was originally part of an enormous Crown grant of 1,000 acres (Lots 4, 5, 7, 8 and 13) awarded to Lieutenant Alexander McDonnell for his contributions during the American Revolutionary War. Part of Lot 8 was purchased by Thomas English, a successful mill builder from Barnard Castle, County of Durham, England, who had settled first in Nelson Township before moving to Waterdown in the early 1840s. Under his patronage, a small wooden church, dedicated to St. Francis was erected. Although there was no permanent priest, occasional services were held.

Within a few years, the frame building fell into disrepair and was replaced by a more permanent one constructed of stone, which remained in use until a third church, built of red brick, was erected on the corner of Barton and Flamboro streets in 1914. In the County of Wentworth and City of Hamilton Directory for 1865-66, the first detailed entry for Waterdown notes: “the Roman Catholic Church was erected in 1850, of stone and cost about $1,200, capable of seating 500 persons.”

On June 10, 1852, English made a formal gift of the church property to the Rt. Rev. Michael Power, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Toronto. The Deed stated that “his successors forever upon trust to hold forever hereafter for the use of a church and burying ground for the members of the Church of Rome residing within the said Diocese and to no other interest or purpose whatever.

Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at

This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 17 November 2011.


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