Oblate presence1870-1979. Geographic Location: city near Ottawa

Before the canonical erection, Father Durocher had a humble red colored chapel, called “chapel of the workcamps”, built on a site, which R. Wright had given him on September 16, 1846. He was the first priest to serve there from 1853 to 1870 and resided at the bishopric of Ottawa. On June 5, 1888, a fire destroyed the church, the presbytery and 400 houses. In October, Father Reboul began excavation and masonry work for the construction of a new chapel. The basement was completed on September 15, 1889. On August 30, 1891, the basement chapel was opened for worship and on September 25, 1892, the church was blessed by Archbishop Duhamel. The stone church was canonically erected on November 17, 1890 by Bishop Guigues of Ottawa, who signed a Convention in favour of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The document gives the following reasons for this:

“In order to provide the Catholic population of the village of Hull with the benefits of religious service by a community of the Reverend Oblate Fathers, as requested by a petition addressed to His Grace the Bishop of Ottawa on April 16, 1870 and signed by 280 citizens; also to give his diocese a community of missionaries who can offer their ministry to the clergy of the parishes and bring religious help to the many workcamps scattered in the woods of Ottawa — His Grace Joseph Eugene Guigues, Bishop of Ottawa, concludes the following agreements with Father Vandenberghe, Canadian Provincial of the Reverend Oblate Fathers:

  1. All previous agreements made with the Oblate Congregation with respect to the service of the Cathedral Church of Ottawa are hereby declared void;
  2. The Oblates became the ones ordinarily responsible for the Catholics of Notre Dame de Hull;
  3. Title deeds for the land of the church under construction in Hull will be given in due form to the Oblate Fathers’ Corporation;
  4. The priests of the Hull community will continue the ministry in the workcamps, as in the past, the annual retreats for the men of the workcamps will continue to be preached in the cathedral as long as the bishop considers it appropriate for the good of this work;
  5. The Bishop of Ottawa will continue to provide the Oblate Fathers with the annual allowance paid for the workcamps;
  6. The Reverend Oblate Fathers commit themselves: a) to continue the work on the church with the help of the population, b) to reimburse $4,500 (four thousand five hundred dollars) advanced for the building of the church by the bishop.

The agreements, accepted and signed for both parties on November 12, 1870, were sanctioned by an episcopal document establishing the Oblate community in Hull, two days later, on November 14, 1870, thus establishing the parish of Notre Dame de Grâce in Hull:

“Among the concerns that we considered to be the most appropriate to awaken our solicitude,” wrote the bishop, “the care for the parish of Notre-Dame de Grâce occupied one of the first places. The proximity of this parish to the city of Ottawa, its sudden and very considerable development, the quality of the generally poorly educated and poor people of whom it was composed, the lack of liaison between the families who came from all over, exposed them to all kinds of disorders, and demanded the same special care.

It seemed to us that, to meet the needs of this already important service, the dedication of a community was beneficial and even essential. We therefore focused our attention on the Reverend Oblate Fathers who had already dedicated much effort and work to form this new population.

Two particular reasons have confirmed this new resolution: the first is that the secular clergy is beginning to feel the need to call missionaries to give retreats in the parishes. This establishment, near the first pastor, will offer a very suitable position for the residence of missionaries who evangelize the diocese and for the Fathers who go to the workcamps. The second reason is that the current debt being already considerable, and the works that remain to be accomplished being very numerous, a secular priest could hardly take responsibility for it. While the spirit of sacrifice and dedication of the Oblate Fathers are well known to us, allow us to hope that not only will they be sufficient for these works, but that after years of hard work, they will even be able to obtain resources to help them in the accomplishment of the commitments they have imposed on themselves in the interest of the diocese.

Consequently, we charge the Oblate Fathers’ community with the service of Our Lady of Grace in Hull. The petition sent to us on April 16, 1870, and signed by 280 Catholics, proves to me that this appointment will be accepted in the parish with the greatest satisfaction.

We also grant ownership of the land of the church to the said community, with the responsibility of serving this parish in accordance with the rules of the diocese, and of paying the debts already contracted, and of completing the work with the support and help of the Catholics entrusted to its care.

We designate the Superior of the community as parish priest, giving him the freedom to be helped, and even replaced, for the service entrusted to him by one of the Fathers of the community. We are assured that the regularity of the members who compose it, and their fidelity to observe the rules of the diocese, will offer a great example to all the clergy, and encouragement in the accomplishment of the works entrusted to them. Joseph Eugene, Bishop of Ottawa.”

This was how the Oblate parish of Notre Dame de Grâces in Hull was created.

Unfortunately, the church and presbytery were destroyed by fire in June 1888. Taking action very quickly, the construction plans for the new building were ready at the end of August. To finance the debt, a special lottery was organized.

In December, excavation work for the presbytery and church was completed. But of course, we couldn’t have the midnight Mass that year.

On May 13, 1890, Father Lauzon informed us that the bell tower would not be completed until the fall of 1891, although work inside the church would continue in the winter.

On February 11, 1891, the Oblates borrowed $25,000 to complete the construction of the church of Notre Dame de Grâce, which had burned down three years earlier. For “safety” and security, the Corporation mortgaged the lots and lands on which the new church and its outbuildings are and took out “fire insurance [$78,325] for them.”

Despite the many conflagrations that caused many ruins in Hull, the construction of religious buildings and their restoration were not frequent and even less at the expense of the parish. History reports that, at the beginning, the parish was very poor and that the cost of the new church, although built with economy, could not be covered by the parishioners alone. The Oblate Congregation had to invest a large part of the capital required for this construction. The debt was still quite big when the church was destroyed by fire. This is the situation in which the pastors of Notre-Dame found themselves to raise the church and the presbytery from their ruins. They had to agree once again to leave the money invested in the construction of the first church and start again with the humble part of the insurance they were entitled to after having paid back the borrowed foreign money.

For the next forty-three years, few restorations were carried out. Parish records indicate three of some importance: in 1909, the redecoration of the church, the erection of the towers for fire protection in 1911, and the purchase of the organ in 1915.

But this spirit of economy could hardly be pushed any further: the heating system, guaranteed for twenty years, had already been in use for more than forty years. Public safety made it a duty not to delay any further. The foundations of the bell tower needed to be fortified to resist the violence of storms. To comply with government regulations, it was necessary to improve the electrical installation. The crowds in the church and the basement who meet in the same portico during Sunday and holiday celebrations are open to becoming victims of accidents in the event of panic. In addition, without adding much to the amount to be spent on urgent repairs, the church must be fireproofed. The projected improvements cannot be compared in cost to the damage that a fire could cause. Finally, no one can deny that a major cleaning of the church is necessary after 23 years of constant use.

This is what was planned for the restoration of the church of Our Lady of Grace on April 24, 1932. But you can’t predict everything that happens. Fire broke out in the bell tower at 5:30 am on a Sunday morning, September 12, 1971. The emotion was great. The fire caused serious damage to the church. The bell tower collapsed. The roof burned. Only the inner vault of the roof could resist, but not without leaving irreparable traces.

The Board of Directors of the Parish Assembly met several times to study the situation. Will what is left of the building be rebuilt or simply demolished? Various proposals were made, each more interesting than the next, until a final decision was made by a letter from Bishop Paul-É. Charbonneau of March 21, 1972 which reads as follows:

“To all those who would be interested to know the position of the Bishop of Hull, regarding Notre-Dame de Hull Church…

Since the fire at Notre-Dame de Hull Church on September 12, 1971, I have followed very closely and with interest all the work of reflection and planning carried out with a very serious pastoral sense by the pastor and the religious and lay leaders of the parish. I would like to congratulate them on their realism and pastoral openness. […]

1) The restoration of Notre-Dame Church, as a place of worship, is too expensive and unrealistic for a depopulated parish that will change its appearance in the near future.

2) We must respect the public bodies that for historical reasons or for reasons of cultural projects are committed to restoring Notre-Dame Church. However, these same public bodies will have to take financial responsibility for the restoration and maintenance of the building themselves.

3) The parish of Notre-Dame remains free to choose the option it has taken for a pastoral care adapted to our times: a community centre or integration into a complex.

I hope that the dialogue so well established between the Oblate community and parishioners on the one hand and the Special Committee of the S.H.O.Q. on the other hand will provide a solution that will respond to the legitimate pastoral aspirations of some and the aesthetic, practical and historical desires of others. Paul-É. Charbonneau, Bishop of Hull.”

Eugène Lapointe OMI