Major Religious Groups of Flamborough: Origins and impact on community development

Originally Published in Heritage Happenings, September 2002
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Flamborough, like many Canadian communities, enjoys a diverse and proud ancestry, one rich with religious contributions. Although economic and commercial implications are easily seen and felt when considering an area’s development, the religious contributions and origins are sometimes not fully appreciated.

Flamborough, being comprised of East Flamborough, West Flamborough and Beverly Township, enjoys a wealth of contributions (both commercial and religious) to their ever-growing communities. These commercial and religious contributions share a reciprocal relationship, and have done so for approximately the past two centuries. It is this unique relationship which has helped to guide the course of Flamborough’s evolution, and convert it from a site on the preaching circuit, to the thriving (and religiously self-sufficient) community which it has become today.

Among the most prevalent religious groups found in Flamborough are: the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Presbyterian Church and the United Church. In order to truly comprehend the profound impact elicited by these religious groups, their respective histories in relation to Flamborough’s development must be explored.

The first of these denominations to be explored will be the Roman Catholic Church, the first organized monotheistic religion to journey to North America. Although Roman Catholicism uttered its birthing cry in North Africa, it was first brought to North America by French explorers. These explorers were accompanied by soldiers and by representatives of the Catholic Church. Priests, missionaries and nuns travelled with the company of explorers, in order to tender to the souls, minds and bodies of their companions, and eventually in an attempt to save the souls of the Natives.

Following Britain’s defeat in the American Revolutionary War, displaced United Empire Loyalists began moving North into Upper Canada. Many of these loyalists were practising Roman Catholics. The closing days of the 18th century also saw Upper Canada detach itself from Québec. It was during this period that a settlement boom occurred in Southern Ontario. The loyalists coming north greatly contributed to the massive influx of people into Southern Ontario. The Hamilton area became the focal point for many of these immigrants. This was due largely to Southern Ontario’s strategic location. The first Catholics (of German origin) arrived in 1820, followed by Irish and English immigrants who quickly outnumbered them.

The spiritual needs of the first Catholic settlers in the Flamborough area were sporadically met by travelling priests. These priests were usually from Toronto, Niagara or Kingston, and would make their way to Hamilton, Dundas and Guelph where services were usually held in homes. The majority of the priests came from Niagara, as there was a military garrison attended by a chaplain there. Dundas at the head of the lake was considered to be one of the area’s major settlements, the first Roman Catholic Church was erected there, and until 1838, Hamilton Catholics were forced to make the trek to Dundas to attend mass, so the town could be thought of as a religious epicentre of sorts. Among those who served the area were Reverend Cullen, pastor in Dundas from 1829-1834, Father William P. McDonald who worked primarily in Hamilton, and Father Edward Gordon who became parish priest at St. Mary’s in Hamilton in 1846.

The first Catholic Church to be established in the Flamborough vicinity was St. Augustine’s in Dundas. The initial chapel was established in 1827 by Father Campion, a missionary preacher whose territory began at St. Catharine’s and included everything as far north as Guelph. In 1832, a more permanent structure was erected in the Memorial Square area. However, due to fire, this church only lasted 29 years. On September 14, 1861, a fire erupted and consumed the Elgin House Hotel in Dundas. The conflagration spread swiftly eastwards, devouring many buildings, among them, St. Augustine’s. The incumbent priest, Reverend John O’Reilly arranged for the purchase of property on Sydenham Street, upon which a new church was to be built. St. Augustine’s on Sydenham Street held its first mass on December 4, 1863, and is still conducting services today.

Father Edward Gordon began his career conducting missionary work in York (Toronto) and surrounding areas, with St. Patrick’s Church in the Township of Toronto Gore as his head quarters. Gordon continued his missionary work until 1833, and one year later he was made the first resident Clergyman on the Niagara peninsula. Gordon made unequivocal contributions to the Church, and was instrumental in the creation of the first Church in Niagara in 1835. Gordon remained in Niagara for eleven years, until 1846 when he was appointed the parish priest at St. Mary’s in Hamilton.

To be continued…

© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 2002, 2023.


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