History: Mount St. Patrick & Dacre
Please find the following historical stories:
The first settlers to appear in what would become the Parish of Mount St. Patrick probably arrived in the 1830s. No one knows for certain because these settlers could be considered squatters since there was no land registry until the 1850s. Some were certainly shanty men who lumbered the pines of what would become Brougham Township. Some of these men took land and brought their families to the area. Others were genuine immigrants who in this case arrived from Ireland.
One account left in a history by Father Tom Hunt, who was a third generation resident of Mount St. Patrick born 1895, says that his own family, arrived with sixteen other Irish families in the early 1800s. They arrived at the Mountain "coming in the back door by way of Perth." It wasn't long before Mount St. Patrick was almost entirely undiluted Irish Catholic.
The Catholic Church played a central role in the history of this community. In the first years there was no church but the people were served by visiting missionary priests. These men would move between many far-flung communities of Catholics in the days when there were no real roads and often only the rivers and creeks provided a means of travel.
Among the first of these pioneer priests was Father John McNulty. He arrived from Ireland in 1842 and was supposed to be headquartered in Renfrew and visit Springtown, Eganville, Douglas and Osceola from there, but instead chose to centre his activities around what is now Mount St. Patrick because he had family living there who had arrived during the 1830s. His family originated from the Dioceses of Tuam in County Mayo (Ireland), which is the location of the original Mount St. Patrick.
By the 1850s the building of settlement roads was a priority of the government of Upper Canada. One of these roads was the Ottawa-Opeongo Road, which began at Farrell's Landing on the Ottawa River near Renfrew and passed within a few kilometres of the present site of Mount St. Patrick. It was in the village that Crown Land Agent T.P. French decided to set up his headquarters.
In September 1855, T.P. French took up residence at the John Brady Hotel in Mount St. Patrick, which placed him 16 miles from Renfrew and 2 miles from the Opeongo Road. His duties as Crown Land Agent included promoting settlement through advertising, giving the settlers aid and advice and ensuring that their obligations were fulfilled, supervising road improvements, selling Crown lands and reporting on progress. Today T.P. French is especially noted for his marketing abilities and his creative writing. His prospectus, which described the terms for gaining "indisputable title" to 100 acres of land for free, were circulated throughout Europe. He was eloquent, believable and engaging, but often the reality did not measure up to his prose.
Regardless, many came to settle and whether disappointed or not French contributed to the growing importance of Mount St. Patrick during this period. Another important factor was the building of a stone church in the village in 1869. This is the church that exists to this day. Before this date there was a chapel of log construction located near the McNulty farm high up on the mountain. For reasons of accessibility the local place of worship was moved to the village.
Over the generations parish priests strongly influenced the life of the community. After Father McNulty left the parish in 1852 a number of priests served the community and outlying areas until the arrival of the next influential priest-leader of the community in the form of Father John McCormac.
Father McCormac arrived in Canada in the same year as his ordination in Ireland in 1865 at the age of 24 years. He arrived in Mount St. Patrick in January 1867 and was parish priest until his untimely death in 1874 at the age of 33 years. He oversaw the building of the present church in 1869 and was responsible for the Holy Well, which remains a notable landmark in Renfrew County. Holy wells are a part of an ancient tradition in Ireland that goes back to the Celts. Certain pools and springs were thought to have spiritual power. Father McCormac found what he believed was such a spring near Constant Creek, which he blessed as a holy well, in the Irish tradition. Ironically, it was in this same Constant Creek that Father McCormac died by drowning in 1874 while fishing.
In its heyday at the end of the 19th Century, Mount St. Patrick boasted a number of hotels, stores, blacksmiths and at least one harness shop. It was also an important spiritual draw for local Catholics. Today, not a single commercial enterprise exists within the village. It was probably the automobile that sealed its fate as a viable commercial centre. Between 1956 and 1962 Highway 132 was paved and the residents of Mount St. Patrick now had easy access to Renfrew and beyond.
Lying between Mount St. Patrick and Dacre is Constant Creek. This waterway is important to the history of both villages. It was the first highway in the area, which allowed people and goods to be easily transported from place to place along its shore. Mount St. Patrick's famous Holy Well is located near its shore and the village of what was Balaclava owed its existence to the Creek.
Like many place names in the region, there are two possible derivations to the name. One version says Constant Creek and Constant Lake were named for Simon Constant, an Indian who lived in the area until his death in 1899. The other version says Constant refers to Constant Penency (Pennaissez) an Algonquin who was born around 1786 near the Ottawa River. His hunting territory was said to be 10 square miles in what is now the City of Ottawa. After his land was expropriated by the British, he remained in the historical record by advising Alexander Shirreff during his 1829 explorations. It is said that he spent his final years with his sister in the Springtown area.
Balaclava, which shared Constant Creek with Mount St. Patrick and Dacre, began as a mill town built on Constant Creek in 1855. By 1860 a blacksmith shop, hotel and homes were added. The mill was acquired by the Richards family in 1868 who operated the mill for the next 91 years. The mill was rebuilt in 1936 after a good deal of the original edifice was destroyed by fire. In 1957, Donald Dick took over the mill, however the supply of timber was very much depleted and the mill was only producing a few thousand board feet a year (compare this with one million board feet a week at the mill's peak). In 1959, the mill was shut down, the store closed and all that exists today is a ghost town.
Editor's note: Wes Bomhower is responsible for gathering these personal recollections about Mount St. Patrick from a few residents who have memories that go back to an earlier time.
Mount St. Patrick and the surrounding area, probably more than any place in Ontario, is like a little piece of Ireland itself, with what is left of the village, the beautiful old church and ancient burial grounds, the Holy Well, and most of all the big mountain in the background. The view from up there is spectacular any time of year and in autumn when the leaves are in full colour, it would bring a lump to any man's (or woman's) throat, be they Irish or not. Mount St. Patrick was a settlement, complete with church and school, long before many other villages in Renfrew County, but for unknown reasons there is little remaining except the church and a few houses. It is off the beaten path, so to speak, but probably the automobile had more influence on the decline of the village and the business establishments that may have flourished at that time. It is a wonderful place to remember and come back to, nevertheless. Just attend the autumn dinner held usually in late September and it is like Old Home Week. People are coming from all corners of the Earth to be with kith and kin once more, and to relive their childhood memories of "The Mountain".
MOUNT ST. PATRICK-Bernardine (Sheedy) Murphy's story
"Bernie", now a retired school teacher living in Calabogie, was born in the village of Mount St. Patrick right across the road from the church in 1939. Her mother was Katie Hunt from the Mountain and her father Michael Sheedy, who built a house and store in 1934 across from St. Patrick's church and operated the store until 1965. Business was good, especially on Sunday mornings during summer when Mass was held twice, and they would sell gallons of ice cream. The building still stands today though badly in need of repair, and it breaks Bernie's heart to see it so. Bernie recalls Father John Harrington, followed by Father Kennedy and Father Jones in her childhood. She lived in Mount St. Patrick until her marriage to Leo Murphy in 1960. The Holy Well, which was near the shore of Constant Creek and a little distance behind the church, was known for its healing qualities since long before Bernie's time and is still in operation. Over the years, several priests and nuns originated from Mount St. Patrick and surrounding area. There are those mentioned in Margaret Hunt's story, which follows, plus Father Bernard Hunt from up on the Mountain itself, Sister Alberta (Leona Colterman) from the flats toward Dacre, Father Lynch from the new road built out to132 Highway and Father Kylie from the English Road, just east of the village, to name a few. Incidentally, Father Kylie was an uncle to Mickey Bolger whose story will be appearing in Out on the First Concession at a later date.
Church renovation in 1929
MOUNT ST.PATRICK, Margaret (Norton) Hunt's Story
Margaret bas born in 1909 and spent most of her early years with her grandfather, Dan Kennelly, just west of Calabogie where Jim Mercer now lives. With the aid of an old chair, she could harness a horse at the age of five years and drive the horse too. Margaret still loves horses. Her first memories of Mount St. Patrick were in 1925, and were connected with the wedding of Beazie Hunt of Ferguson Lake to John Pat Maloney who lived on the Mountain. They were real celebrities because after the wedding at St. Patrick Church, the couple went to live in Detroit, Michigan, practically on the other side of the planet everyone thought. There were two stores operating then, Mary Hunt's variety store and John Carter's general store. Jack Hunt did a thriving business with a blacksmith shop in the village, and this same man fathered four important clerics in later years, namely: Father Tom Hunt, Sister Hilda, Sister Gerard and Sister Bertille. Margaret married Dennis Hunt in 1930 and took up residence at Ferguson Lake, just a bit east of the village where Margaret lived until going into Quail Creek Retirement Centre in Renfrew a few years ago. She now resides in Bonnechere Manor. She well remembers Father Harrington, the priest who officiated at her wedding.
He did the hiring and firing of the crews who were building the road from the village to what is now Highway 132. If you were not in church on Sunday morning, you had better have a damn good reason or you would not have a job on Monday morning. A new crew was hired every two to three weeks, enabling everyone a chance to work in those hard times. Margaret's husband, Dennis, worked on the hoists at Black Donald Mines for many years.
Shortly before Margaret's marriage, a couple by name of James and Katie Legree sold part of their property below the Mountain-1000 acres, to purchase a new Star automobile.
She recalls one day at her grandfather Dan Kennelly's home when Jim Kelly of Black Donald drove up with his mother to visit. Kelly's mother went in the house and Kelly tried to put his horse in an outbuilding but the door was too small. Grandad Kennelly, who could swear like a trooper was watching from the house and he called out: "You stupid Irish so and so, can't you tell a hen house from a horse stable?"
Back in those years, Margaret knew everyone on both mountains (St. Patrick and Kennelly), Maloneys, Hunts, Kennellys, Scullys, Mulvihills, etc. and she knew all the families for miles around below the mountains too. One family on the flats, the Salmons, held frequent parties and dances at their house. This continued for some time until one night Father Quilty and Father Harrington took a drive out, and that was the end of that. The priests certainly held a lot more authority in those times, and life centred on the church much more than today.
Margaret loved the general area and the people of Mount St. Patrick, and though she remembers a lot of hard work and many more hard times, she does not regret one minute of her life and would not have it any other way.