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A Sketch of the Life of the Hon. and Right Reverend Alexander MacDonell
Efforts on Behalf of his Countrymen


After his arrival in York, now Toronto, Mr. Macdonell presented his credentials to Lieutenant-General Hunter, then Lieutenant Governor of the Province, and obtained the land stipulated for his friends according to the order of the Sign Manual. He was immediately appointed to the Mission of St. Raphacis in Glengarry, which remained his headquarters for some twenty-five years. "I had not," he writes in an address, "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 oil 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 counties 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 properly which would have put a large proportion of you at ease for many years—I mean the transport of war-like stores from Lower Canada to the forts and military posts of this Province, which the Governor-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."

One of Mr. Macdonells first and chief objects was the building of churches and establishing of schools, for which purpose he subsequently obtained grants of money from the Home Government, but these grants were not permanent. On his arrival in Upper Canada he found only three Catholic churches in the whole Province, two of wood and one of stone, and only two clergymen—one a Frenchman, utterly ignorant of the English language; the other an Irishman, who left the country soon afterwards.

For more than thirty years Mr. Macdonell's life was devoted to the missions of Upper Canada. 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, 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 my pastoral duties, I had the whole of the Province in charge, and without any assistance for the space of ten years. During 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 tires 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 in promoting general education."

By his zeal, prudence and perseverance, the settlers belonging to his faith, as they multiplied around him, were placed in that sphere and social position to which they were justly entitled.


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