Somewhere between Montreal and Ottawa, lost in the middle of agricultural fields, you can find an unusual site: the ruins of a cathedral. The ruins of the St. Raphael Catholic Church are so impressive that it almost gives the impression of being in Europe, not a few miles northeast of Cornwall, Ontario.
But why was a cathedral built in the middle of nowhere? At the end of the 18th century, after the American Revolutionary War, those who fought for England got some farmlands in exchange for their loyalty. The lands of this Eastern Ontario county (now South Glengarry) were handed over to a regiment that was mainly composed of Scottish Catholic soldiers. In the following years, other Scottish Highlanders joined them, building farms and laying the foundations of a Catholic parish called St. Raphael. The parish will become the administrative centre of the Catholic Church for Upper Canada.
In 1815, Father Alexander Macdonnell ordered the construction of a large church on a hill in the middle of the agricultural lands of his parishioners. The church, built of stone, was completed in 1821. At that time, it was the largest church in all of Upper Canada. It could accommodate more than 1000 parishioners under its roof. When Father Macdonnell was appointed bishop, the church became a cathedral.
In 1970, more than a century and a half later, the church burned down. The roof collapsed, the interior was destroyed, but the walls remained miraculously intact. Rather than destroying the ruins or rebuilding the church, the parishioners decided to leave the walls as they were. An organization was created to preserve the site, so that the magnificence of what was St. Raphael Cathedral could still be appreciated by visitors today …