Posted by: Manager / Associate Curator | January 14, 2016

Cornwall’s Irish Catholic Community

1-StColumban_profile_1984 Cr Fx_WMStColumban_postcard_93-14.5 Fx_WMThe present St. Columban church exterior as it looked in 1984. Beyond structural remediation, little of the exterior has changed other than three front sidewalks being merged into one.

StColumban0002 LabelledOn the left of this aerial photo from the Quenneville collection, we see St. Columban Parish Centre (Agape today), which opened in March of 1962. Prior to that time the parish hall was a building north of the Bell Canada (notice the remnants of the circular drive at the top center). It was used as a Legion hall for a time. Today Adams/Hollis Wealth and St. Columban’s Pitt Street lane is there. The former second convent of the Congregation of Notre Dame to the west of the rectory operates as Baldwin House womens’ temporary shelter today. The footings of another former parish hall, Corbett Hall, can be seen in the area of the old cemetery, opposite the main Fire Station. Corbett Hall started out as a school building on the other side of the church and was re-located.

Digging Parish Centre_WMLaying the foundation for the St. Columban Parish Centre (now Agape) in 1961. Standard-Freeholder photo from the Cornwall Community Museum archives.

StColumban_94-10.82 BETTER_WMLaying the cornerstone of the present (third) church on the site. The second church is in the background. Note the strong man sitting atop the tripod, lowering the cornerstone with the aid of pulleys.

2-StColumban_1864-1896_95-7-101 Older Sepia_WMThe parish quickly outgrew the second church and replaced it with the present church immediately west.

First ChurchThe first church faced Augustus Street rather than Fourth Street. It was torn down and replaced as the parish grew.

PatronsSt. Columban Parish was established to serve the Irish immigrants and transient canal workers, thus the rationale for having an Irish patron saint. Scots were already well established in St. Raphael’s and at St. Andrews West. Later, as more Scots made their way to Cornwall, St. Patrick and St. Andrew became unofficial second patron saints. Statues of Andrew and Patrick are still located to either side of the sanctuary, while Columban stands guard at the main entrance.

85-16.18_StColumban0001 from online_WMHere we see the interior of the current church, prior to the days of electricity and before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

View from sanctuaryView from rearMany of the statues, the Communion rail, and the old-style altar are long-gone. After two arsons, the church interior is modernized with ample lighting, modern storage facilities and a new sound system is being installed.

KneelerThis is one of two remaining pieces of the original marble altar rail that now serve as a place to kneel when lighting votives.

Last SupperThe Last Supper is now located in the lower sanctuary to preserve a memory that originally it formed part of the pre-Vatican II altar.

Altar windowSeveral magnificent stained glass windows adorn the structure. The Crucifixion stained glass window above is located in the sanctuary.

Tree branch
St. Columban is by far the oldest Catholic parish in Cornwall and is referred to as the “mother church” of the other Cornwall Catholic parishes, English and French.

StColumban_Old Cemetery Fx_WMBy the mid-1930s, the original parish cemetery site, east of the church, was very much in need of renewal. Although there were burials prior to that time, the first burial on record in that cemetery took place in 1835. Over time, many of the stones had become badly worn and damaged. The remaining intact gravestones were formed into a memorial cross to provide the base for the Calvary scene of the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and St. John surrounding Christ dying on the Cross of Calvary.


Dec 1916 – Revised from May 1895 Fire Plan

In 1872 the first Catholic school was opened by Fr. Charles Murray in a house that would later be known as Corbet Hall, on the site of St. Columban Parish’s first cemetery, immediately east of the church. The building was owned by Jan Ban MacLennan. The first teacher was Helen MacDonald, daughter of Alex. E. Macdonald. The school was behind MacDonald’s residence.

IMG_7007TighterSome of the Irish Catholics who died while in quarantine at the temporary hospital, southeast of Cornwall’s original square mile, are among those buried in this cemetery. On 18 October, 2014 a memorial celtic cross was unveiled in Lamoureux Park, immediately west of the Cornwall Community Museum, commemorating the events of the summer of 1847 when fifty-two out of 234 Irish emigrants died in Cornwall Ontario’s typhoid quarantine sheds between June 14th and October 18, 1847, making this the single largest human tragedy in the history of Cornwall and the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry. A list of those admitted and those discharged from the Cornwall Emigrant Hospital is posted on the Irish Memorial website.


  1. I have at least two ancestors buried in the old cemetary. Edmond and Rosanna Ryan (1867 and +) Does the registers of the church still exist?

    • According to the Baptisms, Marriages, Deaths and Confirmations listing for 1860 – 1879, Rosanna Ryan was buried in the old cemetery on 17 July, 1861. Lucy, Mary and Michael Ryan are also buried there. Mary was treated and died at the immigrant quarantine hospital during the 1847 cholera outbreak.

      • Thank you so much for these infos. We will certainly visit your museum very soon. Is it possible to consult these registers at the museum? Or would they be found at the parish? Regards,

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