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Sketches Illustrating the Early Settlement and History of Glengarry in Canada
Chapter 28


Bishop Macdonell—His Services to the Crown, His Countrymen and the Catholic Church.—His Death at Dumfries, Scotland.—Funeral in Edinburgh.—Obituary Notices.—Tablet at St. Rajwaels.—Gilfinnan's Poem —Removal of his Remains to Canada..

Bishop Macdonell, who had for so long played so notable and conspicuous a part in the affairs not only of the County of Glengarry but of those of his adopted country at large, died at Dumfries while on a visit to Scotland on the 14th January, 1840.

As to the place of his birth, as not unfrequently is the case some doubts exists, the Chevalier Macdonell of Toronto, recently Vice-Consul of France, stating that he was born on the borders of Loch Ness, Inverness-shire, on the 15th July, 1762. while his grand-nephew, the late John Allan Macdonell, J.P., of St. Raphaels, than whom few were in a better position to speak authoritatively on the subject, in a memorandum given to me some years ago, gave the place of his birth as Inchlaggan, Glengarry, Scotland. The latter accords with the tradition in Glengarry. He was educated at the Scottish College in Paris, and subsequently at the Scots College at Valladolid in Spain, where he was ordained on February 16th, 1787, and on leaving there returned to Scotland, and was stationed as a missionary priest in the braes of Lochaber, where he remained for several years.

His part in the raising of the Glengarry Fencible Regiment, his connection with that corps as Chaplain during the Irish Rebellion and while it continued on service until disbanded during the Peace of Amiens in 1802, and in subsequently bringing the greater part of the men with their families to Glengarry in Canada has been set out at length in these pages.

Arriving in Canada in 1804, for thirty six years he had been a notable figure in the Province. He possessed an influence over his Highland fellow-countrymen, which was exerted without stint for their temporal welfare and advancement, without distinction of creed, and for the furtherance of those sound and loyal principles which were so dear to his heart.

With the maintenance of British connection in Canada the name of Bishop Macdonell must ever be indelibly associated While he was a priest of the Catholic Church—almost its pioneer in Upper Canada—he was a bulwark of the Throne. By precept and example, again and again he proved his stern, unfailing loyalty, and drew from the highest authorities repeated expressions of gratitude and thanks. While the nature of his sacred profession debarred him from taking part in the actual fighting, he nevertheless took good care to see that every man of his name was on hand to fight, and when there was fighting to be done he was always near by to see that it was well done. It was a favourite saying of his that "every man of his name should be either a priest or a soldier," and had he not been a priest he would have made a great soldier. He had all the attributes of one. His stature was immense and his frame herculean. He stood six feet four and was built in proportion; he had undaunted courage, calm, cool judgment, resolute will and a temper almost imperturbable, although it was best not to arouse it; he had the endurance of his race, fatigue and privation were as nothing to him; he was a man of great natural ability, great parts and of a personality which impressed all brought in contact with him; he inspired confidence, admiration and respect, but above all he was a born leader of men. The gain to the Church was great, the loss to the Army correspondingly great when he was ordained at Valladolid.

Of his services to the Catholic Church it is unnecessary here to speak at any length. In after life, he himself, in a letter to Sir Francis Bond Head, referring to an address in the House of Assembly in 1836, in which his character had been aspersed and his motives assailed by William Lyon Mackenzie and his radical confreres, who hated the Bishop both on account of his religion and his loyalty, gave a statement of the hardships he was called upon to endure in the discharge of his sacred functions when he first came to the country, and of his efforts on behalf of religion subsequently

" * * Upon entering upon mv pastoral duties, I had the whole of the Province in charge, and without any assistance for the space of ten years. Duuring that period I had to travel over the country from Lake Superior to the Province line of Lower Canada, carrying the sacred vestments sometimes on horseback, sometimes on my back, and sometimes in Indian birch canoes, living with savages —without any other shelter or comfort but what their fires and their fares and the branches of the trees afforded; crossing the great lakes and rivers, and even descending the rapids of the St. Lawrence in their dangerous and wretched craft. Nor were the hardships and privations which I endured among the new settlers and emigrants less than those I had to encounter among the savages themselves, in their miserable shanties, exposed on all sides to the weather and destitute of every comfort. In this way I have been spending my time and my health year after year since I have been in Upper Canada, and not clinging to a seat in the Legislative Council and devoting my time to political strife, as my accusers are pleased to assert. The erection of five-and-thirty churches and chapels, great and small, although many of them are in an unfinished state, built by my exertion, and the zealous services of two-and-twenty clergymen, the major part of whom have been educated at my own expense, afford a substantial proof that I have not neglected my spiritual functions, nor the care of the souls under my charge; and if that be not sufficient, I can produce satisfactory documents to prove that I have expended, since I have been in this Province, no less than thirteen thousand pounds of my own private means, besides what I received from other quarters, in building churches, chapels, presbyteries and school houses, in rearing young men for the Church and promoting general education."

Upper Canada was erected into a Bishopric by Leo XII. on 14th February, 1826, and Bishop Macdonell appointed first Bishop under the title of Bishop of Resina, i.p.i., the Home authorities not at the time wishing that Bishops of the Catholic Church should be recognized as Titulars. H's appointment was made on the recommendation of the British Government. His Diocese comprised the present Province of Ontario, and has since been subdivided into the Dioceses of Kingston, Toronto, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Pembroke, Peterborough and Alexandra.

Advancing age and increased responsibility forced the Bishop to apply for a coadjutor, and Mr. Weld, of Lulworth Castle, a descendant and representative of one of the oldest Catholic fancies of England, who, on the death of his wife—like another eminent Cardinal of a very recent day—had taken orders, was selected and consecrated Bishop of Amycla and Coadjutor of Upper Canada, on the 6th of August, 1826. By the advice of his friends and medical advisers, Bishop Weld remained some years in England and afterwards went to Rome, where, in March. 1830. be was nominated Cardinal by Pius VIII.

The Presbytery (abandoned in 1889 on the erection of the one built on the west side of the Church) and the present Church at St. Raphael's were built in anticipation of the arrival of Bishop Weld. but although always fully intending to go to Canada, he closed his days at Rome on the 10th of April, 1837. His funeral discourse was pronounced by Doctor (afterward Cardinal) Wiseman, Rector of the English College at Rome. Bishop Macdonell obtained many favours from Rome through the influence of his intended coadjutor

Let me give two striking instances of the Bishop's services to his countrymen in Glengarry. "I had not," he wrote in an address to them, "been long in this Province when I found that few or none of even those of you who were longest settled in the country had legal tenures of your properties. Aware that if trouble or confusion took place in the Province your properties would become uncertain and precarious, and under this impression I proceeded to the seat of Government, where, after some months' hard and unremitting labour through the public offices, I procured for the inhabitants of the Counties of Glengarry and Stormont patent deeds for one hundred and twenty-six thousand acres of land."

That may be taken as a fair indication of the magnitude upon which he was able to conduct affairs, of the extent of his business capacity, and of the influence he always possessed with the Colonial as well as with the Home Government. Another example of his exertions on behalf of the temporal welfare of the people of Glengarry is given in the same address, which was published by him in a time of great public excitement, when he felt called upon to warn the people of the county against those whom he designated as "wicked, hypocritical radicals, who are endeavouring to drive the Province into rebellion, and cut off every connection between Canada and Great Britain, your Mother Country, and subject you to the domination of Yankee rulers and Lynch law " :

"I cannot pass over in silence one opportunity I gave you of acquiring property which would have put a large proportion of you at ease for many years—I mean the transport of warlike stores from Lower Canada to the forts and military posts of this Province, which the Governer-in-Chief, Sir George Prevost, and the Quartermaster-General, Sir Sidney Beckwith, offered you at my request.

"After you refused that offer it was given to two gentlemen who cleared from thirty to forty thousand pounds by the bargain."

In 1818 he procured from the Duke of York, President of the Highland Society, a commission to establish a branch of that institution in Canada. It was addressed to William MacGillivray and Angus Shaw, esquires, the Rev. Alexander Macdonell, John Macdonell (of Gart) and Henry Mackenzie, esquires. The institutional meeting took place at St. Raphaels on the 10th November, 1818, over which Mr. Simon MacGillivray, one of the Vice-Presidents of the Highland Society of London, presided, and at which were piesent, among others, three of the best and finest Highland gentlemen this Province ever saw: the late Honourable William MacGilliviay, Bishop Macdonell and the late Honourable Neil MacLean—all of whom, though long since dead, will live in the hearts of their countrymen.

The following officers were elected and, with the exception of the President, immediately installed into the respective offices: President, Sir Peregrine Maitland, K.C.B., etc.; Vice-Presidents, the Rev. Alexander Macdonell, Colonel the Honourable Neil MacLean, Lieutenant-Colonel Donald Greenfield Macdonell; Treasurer, Alexandei Fraser, esquire; Secretary, Archibald MacLean, esquire; Directors, Roderick MacLeod, Alexander MacLean, Alexander Wilkinson, esquires. The Society continued in active operations for several years, and contributed largely to the objects for which it was formed, drawing upon itself the blessing of many distressed Highlanders, whom it relieved at a distance from their native home; several liberal contributions in money were given to assist gentlemen engaged in the publication of works in the Gaelic language, and a succession of premiums to Gaelic scholars, performers on the bagpipes and the best dressed Highlanders; nor were the remains of Celtic literature neglected, while some collection of Gaelic poetry was made.

Owing, however, to the death of some and the removal of others of the master spirits who guided it, from this part of the country, to the frequency of the meetings, and the high rate at which the yearly subscription was fixed, and deprived of the fostering care and immediate superintendence of Bishop Macdonell by his removal to Kingston, the Society, after some years of usefulness, struggled for some time under all these difficulties (added to which were those imposed upon it by political excitement and the private dissensions of some of its members) and then sank into the sleep from which the exertions of Mr. Macdonald of Gart subsequently awakened it for a time. It has long since ceased to exist having passed away with the men of the last generation.

That respect entertained for Bishop Macdonell by all classes of the community is well illustrated by the following address, which was presented to him by the Orangemen of Toronto a few years before his death, and which was recently re-published in the Chicago "Canadian-American" of March 25th, 1892, which well remarked in commenting upon it, that a continuation of the spirit shown in the address is essential to the prosperity, if not the existence, of the Dominion:

Address of the Orange Body of the City of Toronto to the Right Reverend Alexander Macdonell, D.D, Bishop of Regiopolis, etc., etc.

May it please Your Lordship,—-We, the Orangemen of the City of Toronto, beg to approach your Lordship with sentiments of unfeigned respect for your pious and loyal labour in the service of your Church and country, and during a long protracted life for the Christian liberality which you have ever evinced towards those of a different creed.

We beg to reciprocate the charitable feelings breathing throughout your Lordship's address to the electors of Stormont and Glengarry; sentiments which bear deeply the impress of a mind noble and virtuous, raised alike above the mean and grovelling distinctions of party feeling or political rancour; such feelings when disseminated, we trust, in the approaching contest for the maintenance of the British Constitution, may array Catholics and Orangemen side by side, and hand in hand, to achieve a victory more bloodless than, yet as glorious as, that which they won on the empurpled field of Waterloo.

We take leave of your Lordship, with a fervent wish that Providence may gild the setting sun of your declining days with every blessing, and that Catholics and Orangemen all over the world may live united in the bonds of Christian fellowship, such as wich tend to prevent the crafty agitator and the renegade apostate from ever being able to sever that bond of union which we trust may ever exist between us, not only in our attachment to each other, but also in our attachment to our Mother Country.

The Bishop, in his reply, stated that no cause of difference or misunderstanding existed between Catholics and Orangemen in Canada, that as fellow subjects they should stand shoulder to shoulder in defence of the British Constitution and British liberty against the crafty and designing enemies who expected to achieve by cunning what they dare not attempt by force, and that he trusted they would unitedly prove an impenetrable bulwark of their adopted country and the strong chain of connection with the Parent State.

In 1839 Bishop Macdonell paid Ins last visit to Great Britain, from which he was fated never to return alive. Previous to his departure a dinner was given to him at Carmino's Hotel, Kingston, by the Celtic Society of Upper Canada, which was attended by all the leading townspeople as well as by the principal officers of the garrison, with whom the Bishop always lived on terms of great intimacy and friendship, and by many influential gentlemen from a distance. Some days afterwards the Bishop commenced his journey, and was accompanied to the steamboat "Dolphin" by a large number of his personal friends, the old bell of St Joseph's Church pealing forth a parting salute.

The Bishop and his party landed at Liverpool on the 1st of August, 1839. Soon after his arrival the Bishop went to London, where he communicated personally with the Colonial Office regarding his plan of emigration from the Highlands as a measure of relief to his suffering fellow-countrymen in Scotland, and as a security and benefit to his fellow-country men in Canada; as well as with regard to the establishing of the College for the domestic education of the priesthood and other matters. He then visited the scenes of his nativity and childhood, and was present at the great northern meeting at Inverness in October. In the same month he passed over to Ireland, intending to be present at a great dinner given to the Catholic Prelates in the City of Cork, but a dense fog in the Clyde and adverse winds prevented him from arriving in time for the festival. Nevertheless, he visited the Bishops, and being unable to obtain, in the West of Ireland, any other conveyance than a jaunting car, he was exposed during the entire day to one of the drizzling rains so common to that region. The exposure brought on inflammation of the lungs, accompanied by a severe cough ; and although he placed himself under the care of the President of Carlow College, and afterwards with the Jesuits of Clongowes Wood, and received much benefit and every attention, he still continued so indisposed on arriving in Dublin as to be obliged to keep to his bed for nearly a fortnight. From Dublin he went to Armagh, and remained a short time with the Catholic Primate. He then accepted the invitation of his friend the Earl of Gosford, to Gosford Castle, near Market Hill, Armagh, where, under the roof of that kind-hearted nobleman, who had been Governor-General of Canada from 1835 to (immediately preceding the Earl of Durham), he appeared to have completely recovered. He then returned to Scotland, a great meeting of noblemen and proprietors having in the meantime been held (on the 10th of January, 1840) at the Hopetown Room, Edinburgh, at which the Bishop's measure of emigration was discussed, the Bishop's traveling companion, Dr. Rolph, attending it as his representative.

From Port Patrick to Dumfries he was obliged to drive all the way on the outside of the coach, a cold Scotch rain falling upon him all the time of his slow journey of nearly eighty miles. On the morning after his arrival (Sunday), he was with a great effort able to leave his hotel to say Mass at the Mission House, but it was a last effort. On the following Tuesday he was dead, passing away so quietly, in perfect peace, that Vicar-General Dawson, who was present with him at the time, states that they who were in attendance could not tell whether the vital spark had flown until Dr. Blackcock arrived, and, after due examination, pronounced. There was no funeral in Dumfries; the remains were conveyed at once to Edinburgh. Bishop Gillies, with the full consent of the Senior Bishop, had everything arranged in the grandest style. Since the days of Scotland's Royalty so magnificent a funeral had not been seen in Scotland. All that was mortal of him was deposited in the crypt of St. Margaret's Convent Chapel, where his body rested until brought to Canada in 1861. Upon the arrival of the melancholy intelligence at Kingston, his See, a solemn Requiem High Mass was sung by Bishop Gaulin, on Passion Sunday, 1840, which was attended by all the clergy of the Diocese and a vast concourse of people.

In 1861 Bishop Horan went to Edinburgh to bring Bishop Macdonell's body to Canada. The funeral cortege, which drove through Glengarry, resting at the well-loved St. Raphaels, arrived in Kingston on the 25th September, and the earthly remains of the much-loved and venerated Prelate were consigned to their last resting-place, with suitable honours, in the Cathedral Church of his Diocese in the land of his adoption.

In the Parish Church of St. Raphaels a tablet was erected in his memory by the Highland Society of Canada, in pursuance of the following resolution, which was moved by the Rev. Mr. Urquhart, the Presbyterian Minister of Cornwall, seconded by the Rev. George Alexander Hay, Parish Priest of St. Andrews :

Resolved, that the Highland Society of Canada do erect on the 18th of June next, in the Parish Church of St. Raphael's a tablet to the memory of the late Bishop Alexander Macdonell; that the said Society meet on that day, which is the day of the festival anniversary meeting, at eleven o'clock at Macdonell's in Williams town, and proceed thence at twelve o'clock in procession to the Parish Church, where the Reverend John Macdonald be requested to read prayers, to erect the tablet; and that George S. Jarvis, Esquie, Guy C. Wood, Esquire, and Alexander MacMartin, Esquire, be a committee to procure such tablet."

The day was advisedly chosen, as one which the Bishop gloried in—the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

The tablet bears the following inscription :

"On the 18th of June, 1843, "THE HIGHLAND SOCIETY OF CANADA" Erected this Tablet to the memory of "THE HONOURABLE AND RIGHT REVEREND ALEXANDER MACDONELL," Bishop of Kingston, " Born 1760. Died 1840;

"Though dead, he still lives in the hearts of his countrymen."

The Kingston "British Whig," thus refers to Bishop Macdonell in its obituary article :

"Of the individuals who have passed away from us during the last twenty-five years, and who have taken an interest in the advancement and prosperity of Canada West, no one probably has won for himself in so great a degree the esteem of all classes of his fellow citizens as has Bishop Macdonell.

"Arriving in Canada at an early period of the present century at a time when toil, privations and difficulties inseparable from life asa new country awaited the zealous Missionary as well as the hardy immigrant, he devoted himself in a noble spirit of self-sacrifice, and with untiring energy, to the duties of his sacred calling and the amelioration of the condition of those entrusted to his spiritual care. In him they found a friend and councilor; to them he endeared himself through his unbounded benevolence and greatness of soul. Moving among ail classes and creeds, with a mind unbiassed by religions prejudices, taking an interest in all that tended to develop the resources, or aided the general prosperity of the country, he acquired a popularity so memorable, and obtained over the minds of his fellow-citizens an influence only equalled by their esteem and respect for him. The ripe scholar, the polished gentleman, the leaned divine, his many estimable qualities recommended him to the notice of the Court of Rome; and he was elevated to the dignity of a Bishop of the Catholic Church. The position made no change to the man; he remained still the zealous Missionary, the indefatigable Pastor. His loyalty to the British Crown was never surpassed; when the interests of the Empire were either assailed or jeopardized on this continent, he stood forth their bold advocate; by word and deed he proved how sincere was his attachment to British Institutions; and infused into the hearts of his fellow-countrymen and others an equal enthusiasm for their preservation and maintenance. Indeed, his noble conduct on several occasions tended so much to the preservation of loyalty that it drew from the highest authority repeated expressions of thanks and gratitude. As a member of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada (to which he was called by Sir John Colborne on October 12th. 1831), his active mind, strengthened by experience acquired by constant associations with all classes, enabled him to suggest many things most beneficial to the best interests of the country, and the peace and harmony of its inhabitants."

Mis. Morgan thus concludes his notice of the Bishop in his useful work, "Celebrated Canadians:"

"In every relation of life, as subject, Prelate, relative and friend, he was a model of everything valuable. To his Sovereign he brought the warm and Hearty homage of a sincere, enthusiastic, unconditional allegiance, and the most invincible, uncompromising loyalty; as Prelate, he was kind, attentive and devoted to the interests, welfare and happiness of his Clergy; as a relative attachment was unbounded, and his death caused an aching void to hundreds of sorrowing relatives whom he counselled by his advice, assisted with his means and protected by his influence; as a friend, he was sincere, enthusiastic and unchangeable as his attachments. Such, indeed, was the liberality of his views and the inexpressible benignity of his disposition, that all creeds and classes united in admiration of his character, respect for him, and congregated together to bid him farewell as he left the shores of the St. Lawrence on that voyage, which proved but the prelude to that long and last one, from which there is no return."

The following beautiful verses, composed by Robert Gilfillan, a Scottish poet of some celebrity, appeared in the Edinburgh "Weekly Chronicle" at the time of the Bishop's funeral services there :

DIRGE OF THE LATE BISHOP MACDONELL.
BY ROBERT GILFILLA.N

The temple was wrapt in deepest gloom,
As they laid out the dead for the silent tomb,
And the tapers were lighted dim—
A soft and solemn shadowy light—
And the book was opened for Holy Rite,
When they woke this funeral hymn
He's gone! he's gone! the spirit is fled,
And now we mourn the honoured dead!"

The coffin before the Altar stood,
With purple pall and silken shroud,
And tassels sable hung,
And as they bore it slow along,
They chanted forth the burial song,
By hundred voices sung—
"He's gone '. he's gone! the spirit is fled,
And now we mourn the honoured dead!"

And many a Priest with mitred brow,
Before the. Holy Cross did bow,
And joined the mournful strain,
"The living once!—the lifeless now!
All, all, to Heath's fell grasp must bow,
Nor come they back again!
The tide gives back its ebbing wave,
But there's no return from the darksome grave!

Frail mortals of the passing day,
Is this your home? Is this your stay?
Attend the lesson given;
'Tis dust to dust and clay to clay,
The friend we mourn from earth away,
They welcome now in Heaven!:
Twas thus they bore him slow along,
With Holy chant and mournful song.

They spoke of his deeds well done on earth,.
His Holy life, and active worth,
Relieving others' woe;
The poor in him they found a friend,
Whose like again they will not find,
In this cold world below!
Did good where good was to be done,
But his, race is o'er, and the prize is wonI

They chanted the Requiem in cadence deep—
The good may grieve, but the dead shall sleep,
When life's dull round is o'er—
Rest, Pilgrim, from a distant land,
A peaceful home is now at hand,
Where troubles come no more!
Like a shock of corn he ripely fell,
His days were long, but he used them well.

Chorus.

Raise the crosier o'er the dead,
Chants are sung, and Mass's said;
Bear him to the dwelling low
Where all sons of Adam go.
Sisters, brothers, onward come,
Earth is but a living tomb,
Full of sorrow, full of sadness,
Little joy, and little gladness
Listen what the Scnpture said;
"In midst of life we walk, in death!"


 


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