8 March 2010

Part One of A Brief History of the Toronto ArchDiocese Chapter 1: A Parish in Crisis


Part III: Aftermath.

Note: This chapter has drawn fairly heavily on an interesting on-line book. I mentioned to a friend of mine that I wished I could find some photographs of the original St Paul's. She, being an archivist, trolled the net in ways I never imagined and came up with this link. It is an on-line copy of The Story of St Paul's Parish, published in 1922 in celebration of the centenary year of Toronto's first parish. It is also well illustrated with photographs of the old church, (alas, no pictures of the interior) as well as photographs of the current St. Paul's, when it still had its high altar and communion rail. For anyone who likes the church and is interested in its history, this is a must read.


Events in history have been compared to ripples from a stone dropped into a pond. Some ripples fade away, as though they had never been, others continue on, often interacting with other ripples to create stronger ripples, redirected ripples, or perhaps to cancel each other out. O’Grady’s arrival at St Paul’s sent out many ripples, some of which faded from history, others which are still felt today. His most obvious influence on the matters of the Catholic faith in this area, but for the moment, let us consider the effect his presence had on the Reform movement.

O’Grady’s open support for the movement coupled with his editorial blasts from his newspaper helped to bring many Catholics into the Reform movement, thus strengthening William Lyon Mackenzie’s position and making him bolder. When O’Grady turned away from the Reform movement in Toronto, some Catholics left, others stayed. However, by that time, believing himself to be far more popular than he really was, Mackenzie went ahead with the rebellion, but was quickly defeated.

The Rebellion’s influence on Canadian history was huge, but debatable. The usual interpretation is that the Rebellion caused the British to listen more closely to the demands of its colonies, which brought about the reforms that would lead to responsible government a decade later. However, there is another school of thought, stemming back to the time of the Rebellion itself, which said that Mackenzie’s hot headed tactics and ultimate rebellion actually caused the British to dig in their heels and turn a deaf ear to all calls for reform, including those by more moderate reformers, thus delaying the institution of responsible government by a decade. In fact, the leader of the moderates, who was later a leader of the united Canadas, Robert Baldwin, was outraged by MacKenzie’s rebellion, and said MacKenzie had set back the reforms of the government by ten years.

Many Canadians who read this may wonder why they have never heard the theory that William Lyon Mackenzie actually hindered the institution of the reforms he sought. This is because of the actions of one William Lyon Mackenzie King, Mackenzie’s grandson, Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister and all round lunatic. King felt a great amount of his personal prestige was attached to his grand-father’s status as a key figure of Canadian history. He used his positions of power during his long career in politics to keep any historian from saying otherwise about Mackenzie. Any historian who said William Lyon Mackenzie was anything other than a cause of great reform at a key moment of Canadian history would find his books went unpublished, and his career would very quickly go nowhere.

So, King’s attempts to write history as he saw fit aside, O’Grady was clearly a leader of a movement clearly connected to one of the most significant developments of Canadian history- a movement that was either a key cause or chief stumbling block to that development.

Another chain of events from the Rebellion can be more clearly traced. The Rebellion lead to Lord Durham being sent by the British to find out why yet another North American colony was rebelling against the Crown. Durham wrote his famous report which recommended, among other things, that Upper and Lower Canada be united into one province. This was done in 1840 by the Act of Union, and the two Canadas were now named Canada East and Canada West, united under one parliament. This parliament quickly bogged down into political deadlock. The ultimate solution to the deadlock was to seek a confederation of the Canadian province with other British colonies to form a new country, Canada. In this construction it is possible to see O’Grady as helping to push along the chain of events leading to Confederation. He may be a critical figure in our history as a nation after all, although calling him a Father of Confederation would be going too far. He’s not even a Grandfather of Confederation. If he is a Relative of Confederation, he’s more along the lines of a Crazy-Uncle-No-One-Talks-About-Because-He-Always-Shows-Up-At-The-Reunions-Drunk of Confederation.

Perhaps claiming O’Grady as a figure of national importance who has been ignored in favour of more glamorous and better connected figures may be pushing the envelope somewhat. In that case, let us turn to his place in the history of the Church in Canada, where we find that he has been deliberately removed, and his influence left untraced.

St Paul’s remains the only church in Toronto to be placed under interdict. That fact was such a source of embarrassment to later generations that when Reverend E. Kelly came to write the history of St Paul’s church in honour of its centennial, he all but removed O’Grady from the history. This is especially odd considering the overall pattern of that book. The history of St Paul’s is mostly a chronologically ordered history of its priests, and the reverend traces down virtually every priest who walked through the doors of St Paul’s and outlines their achievements while at St Paul’s, and further gives a brief biography of about two paragraphs for each one in turn. Rev. Kelly mentions O’Grady’s arrival, but soon after devotes most of the chapters dealing with the O’Grady years talking about Bishop McDonnell and how McDonnell came to Toronto, built a house, set up his own chapel, and went to parliament- most of which had nothing to do with St Paul’s. The troubles of St Paul’s are limited to a single page. O’Grady’s biography is a mere three sentences. It is a manipulation of history worthy of Mackenzie King, or even the Ministry of Truth of George Orwell’s 1984. In the terms of that book, O’Grady is made into an unperson, though in his case the term ‘unparson’ may be more appropriate.

Despite the attempted erasure by the official historian of the church, O’Grady did have influence within the city of Toronto and beyond in the matters of the Church. One influence caused by O'Grady's arrival in Toronto is quite specific, and it happened to the man most immediately affected by O'Grady's presence, and that is Rev. Angus McDonnell, the bishop's nephew, the man who opened the door to O'Grady's knock in 1828. Angus McDonnell, you may recall, stepped aside as pastor of St Paul's in favour of O'Grady and wished to transfer to the wild shores of Lake Simcoe. Instead, his uncle shipped him to Bytown, renamed and made Capital of the new Dominion of Canada in 1867. Some who read this might think the Uncle was doing a favoured nephew a favour by sending him to a cushy job at the nation's future capital. They would be rather sadly mistaken. Bytown was a backwash of monumental proportions. The reasons why it was chosen as capital are usually listed as 1. It was more or less in the geographic centre of the new country; and 2. In 1867, there was still a fear of American invasion. Bytown/Ottawa was such an insignificant town it was believed any American Army seeking to capture it would get lost trying to find it. And that was with forty years worth of development that occurred after Reverend McDonnell arrived. Still, McDonnell applied himself diligently to his new task for the duration of his stay, and built a new church in which to say Mass. That church is long gone now, but the site of it is easy enough to find: There's a Cathedral built on the spot now, thanks in part to William James O'Grady.

So what are we in the twenty-first century to get out of all this? There are many threads that could be taken up here. I often speak to people who wax nostalgic about the "good old days". As you may have seen in this little history- it was indeed of 'old', and they were in fact 'days', but as for everything always being 'good'- well, as the song says, two out of three ain't bad. Christ tells us "The poor shall be with you always." Some take the word "poor" to be a noun, but I sometimes wonder if it could be an adjective: poor priests, poor bishops, poor believers. They've always been with us. Always will. So are the good priests, the good bishops, the good believers. There's always reason to hope.

And remember: you may want to think twice before you answer a knock at your door. Rebellions could be launched, countries levelled and remade, churches may be closed and cathedrals may be built. The consequences could be very, very far reaching.

And, oh, before I conclude this chapter, I should add: one more thing did come out of O’Grady’s time in St Paul’s: the diocese of Toronto.


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