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Sep. 21, 2021 | Tuesday
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Niagara's History Unveiled: St. Vincent de Paul Church - Part 1
St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church. (Supplied)

A mix of old architecture from 1834 and new architecture from 1964, St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church sits at the corner of Picton and Wellington streets.

The Roman Catholic population on this side of the Niagara River never grew to any substantial numbers until many years after the War of 1812. The few Roman Catholic adherents before this time would have been military personal.

There are documented records of Jesuit priests, as early as the 1620s, travelling with the French explorers throughout the Great Lakes region converting the Indigenous peoples to Christianity and offering mass to the early French settlers.

There were no established parishes for people to gather and worship together. In fact, from the 1670s to the 1820s the entire Niagara Region, on both sides of the Niagara River, was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Quebec, who did not appoint a permanent priest to the area.

Then the first massive increase in the Roman Catholic population occurred in the 1820s in Peterborough, Ont. A gentleman by the name of Peter Robinson paid for 12 ships to carry poor Irish from Ireland to Upper Canada (Ontario). By the 1830s, Upper Canada, with the growth of Roman Catholic parishioners, was placed under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Kingston and priests started to be assigned to parishes.

Later, breaking from the Celtic tradition of staying where your family graves are, as more Irish left Ireland for a better life in Upper and Lower Canada. Niagara-on-the-Lake benefited from this migration. By the mid-1840s, the Niagara Region parishioners were placed under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Toronto.

From 1831 to 1850, over 500,000 Irish immigrated to Canada, settling in Quebec and Ontario. The biggest push of immigration came during the Irish Potato Famine, which started in 1847.

With a massive increase in numbers in NOTL, St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church was finally established as a parish and the church was built.

The first church, which is still in use today, was built in 1834. The addition to the front of the church was built in the 1960s.

The graveyard beside and behind the church had been used for about a decade before the church was built but unfortunately many of the internments did not have grave markers.

The oldest recorded burial in the graveyard is in 1825 for Catherine Lyons. A stone was not erected on her grave until her husband’s death in 1888.

The oldest grave marker in the cemetery is that of John Battle, who died in 1843 at the age of 49. The inscription says, “Erected by Nelly to the memory of her husband.” There is no record of Nelly having been buried in the St. Vincent de Paul graveyard.

In the graveyard are two stone monuments, each with a large sphere and Roman Catholic cross on top of the sphere. This represents the “Conquering of the World by Christianity.” People who supported the missions around the world often had this symbol on their monuments.

Two other stone monuments use the Celtic cross, which is unusual to find in a Roman Catholic graveyard. This is possibly in recognition of where the deceased had been born. As well, many of the Irish families put on the grave markers where the deceased was born.

Only one priest has been buried in the graveyard, Rev. J.J. Lynch. On Sept. 9, 1897, at the age of 34 and in his 10th year as a priest, he died suddenly. He had only been with the parish for three years but in that time he made a significant impact on the parishioners, with many praising his good works, his good nature and kind heart.

The Chisholm family has one of the most impressive mausoleums in NOTL. Alexander Chisholm and his wife Mary Margaret Phelan were a poor Scottish family who arrived in NOTL in 1827. Their struggles were similar to those of other poor immigrants to this country, so how could they afford such a grand mausoleum?

Janet Carnochan explained that one son had been very successful in life. Hugh J. Chisholm, born in NOTL on May 2, 1847, was the fifth child of Alexander and Mary. In 1859, when Hugh Chisholm was just 13 years old, his father died and, like his older siblings, he was forced to leave school in search of work to help support the family.

Chisholm’s first job was in Toronto selling newspapers on the Grand Trunk Railway trains between Toronto and Chicago. He saved his money and soon bought his own papers to sell on the trains and later the ferries that crossed Lake Ontario. At the age of 16, Chisholm was able to buy out the employer from whom he bought his papers and with his brother they started their own paper business.

While still running the newspaper business, Chisholm furthered his education enrolling in Bryant & Stratton College. He is listed among many famous alumni of the college, including John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford. Through many successful businesses in the pulp and paper industry, publishing and investments, Hugh Chisholm became a prosperous and wealthy businessman.

References: Stones, Saints & Sinners - F. Habermehl & D. Combe, Canadian Encyclopedia - History of Irish Immigration, Niagara Historical Society and Museum, Bryant & Stratton - History


To learn more about the topic of this story you can visit the Niagara Historical Society & Museum website at,, or visit the museum for yourself.

The Niagara Historical Museum is located at 43 Castlereagh St. in Old Town, in Memorial Hall. Visit, or give them a call at 905-468-3912.