Counting our blessings

St. Raphael’s Ruins

Photo: St. Raphael’s Ruins


Laura Hatcher

Buildings and architecture

Published Date: Feb 14, 2008

Built in Glengarry in 1821, St. Raphael’s Church was one of Ontario’s earliest Roman Catholic churches. Constructed under the supervision of Alexander Macdonell – Upper Canada’s first bishop – the church was built to serve the large population of Scottish Catholics who settled there.

The church served the community until 1970 when it was destroyed by fire. Today, St. Raphael’s Ruins is a local landmark and is seasonally operated as a historic site. The walls stand today not just because of its excellent craftsmanship, but also as a testament to the passionate community of volunteers and donors who care for the site.

After the fire, the Ruins were turned over to the Township of Charlottenburgh at the urging of the Ontario Heritage Trust. In 1973, the Trust granted the Township funds to cover the stabilization of the Ruins and the two organizations entered into an easement agreement on the property.

Under the stewardship of the Township, the walls were stabilized and the interior of the Ruins landscaped. The Ruins were soon used by arts groups for open-air performances. By 1993, however, the Ruins were at a critical point; falling stones made the site increasingly dangerous. The Township was unable to fund repairs and maintain the property, and considered giving up their ownership or demolishing the property entirely (not allowed under the terms of the easement agreement).

Wanting to see the Ruins maintained, a group of parishioners and interested citizens formed the Friends of the Ruins of St. Raphael’s and discussed taking on ownership and responsibility for the property themselves. To address the significant costs of stabilizing the Ruins, the group required a fundraising strategy.

In 1994, the Friends bought the property from the Township for a dollar. While they were eager to reopen the site to the public, they needed time to raise funds and explore options for the site. They embarked on a phased fundraising campaign that realized donations from private donors and government grant programs. In order to raise additional funds, the Friends organized a popular golf tournament, hosted various concerts on the site and sold merchandise bearing the St Raphael’s logo.

The hard work paid off. In 1999, the Friends were successful in stabilizing much of the building. This was also the year that the Ruins were designated as a National Historic Site. In 2004, nearly 1,000 people packed the site to participate in a mass commemorating the 200th anniversary of Bishop Macdonell’s arrival at St. Raphael’s.

In 2005, the Friends finished the restoration of the exterior of the Ruins, though they continue to raise funds for regular maintenance of the site. As a gesture of their gratitude, the Friends erected a sign near the site to thank its patrons for their generosity.

For more information about St. Raphael’s Ruins and how you can contribute to its ongoing maintenance, visit