St. John The Baptist Historical Comittee Page

"ST JOHN THE BAPTIST RC. MISSION CHURCH
Bathurst Street, Amherstburg - circa 1802"
By Amherstburg Artist Peter Rindlisbacher

ST JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH - THE BEGINNINGS ..... By Eleanor Warren.

On July31, 1797 Jean Baptiste Marchand, the newly appointed pastor of Assumption Parish (Sandwich, U.C.) wrote to his superior in Quebec that the parish - then comprising all of Essex County and Pelee Island - was "made up of only 150 inhabitants including the 12 at River Thames, 5 along the shore of Lake Erie and 4 on LaRiviere aux Canards. As for the Hurons there remain only four or five lodges with few occupants at LaRiviere aux Canards. Fort Malden is an infant establishment where there are only 2 or 3 Catholics…"

However, with the establishment of Fort Malden the new town on the garrison grounds (Amherstburg) grew rapidly, as did the numbers of adherents to Roman Catholicism. It became apparent to Marchand that the extensive geographical size of the parish made it physically impossible for the lone pastor to contact many of the increasing number of the faithful, especially in outlying areas. So by the year 1800 the hierarchy had decided that Missions should be established at both Amherstburg and the Thames River district. On the 1st of May 1800 Bishop Pierre Denaut of the Diocese of Quebec wrote to Father Marchand, instructing him to "give as Patron Saint" the name of St. John the Baptist "to the Mission at Malden."

In 1801 the Bishop toured the parishes of Upper Canada. In his diary of that trip he wrote that from Sandwich "aboard Mr. McIntosh's barque, the Charlotte, he "arrived at Amherst bourg on the 13th of June at one o'clock in the afternoon... where he stayed for three nights with Mr. DeLery" who was connected to the military engineers at Fort Malden. Church and local historians believe that one of the reasons for this trip was for the Bishop to negotiate with military officials a site for the proposed Catholic chapel, which was soon afterwards built on lot 15, west side of Bathurst Street between Gore and the end of Simcoe Street. (In 1820 when lot numbers were changed this became lot 26.)

In the 11th of September 1802 Bishop Denaut wrote Father Marchand that he was pleased to learn that the chapels at the Thames and Malden were almost completed. The pastor had begun keeping separate records in June, the first baptism having taken place on June 26, 1802. In April 1803 Marchand received permission from the Bishop to "use all the moneys collected from the Holy Days for the decoration of the chapels."

In 1820 the little chapel on Bathurst Street was enlarged to accommodate the growing number of worshippers. It was still being used in the mid-1840s while the present-day stone church on Brock Street was being built. However, according to the old-age reminiscences of Francois Primeau who was choir director for 57 years in the new St. John the Baptist Church, "On Holy Thursday in 1846 the old church was burned to the ground,  fire starting from the curtains which caught from the candles. This was just a few months before the new structure was completed."

The Catholic burial ground which existed on Bathurst Street abutted the public burial ground on the west and extended from just north of the chapel almost to Gore Street. It was used from 1802 until the mid-1830s when property was purchased on Brock Street at the eastern end of Amherstburg.