– With notes from Westmeath Women’s Institute Tweedsmuir Book, 1981, and other sources.
Early records of the Catholic Church reveal this parish was established as a mission in 1851, with Our Lady of Mount Carmel at LaPasse, Our Lady of Grace at Westmeath and St. Peter’s Church at Fort Coulonge, which remained in this parish until 1876.
The pioneers of this area came up the Ottawa River from Quebec and Montreal. Most of them were French Canadians but mingling with them were a few Scots and Irish from the British Isles. After establishing their homes here in the 1830s they wanted to establish a religious life as well. A delegation of men paddled down the Ottawa River to Bytown to acquire a priest to supply their spiritual needs. It is not certain whether a priest came with them or not; but it is known that Father Brunet, missionary from the Little Nation Base, and Father Cannon, curate at Bytown, received definite orders in 1836 to visit LaPasse and Fort Coulonge. At intervals priests came and administered to the needs of the colonists along the river until 1840. Then Fathers Amyot and Trudeau were sent by Bishop Bourget of Montreal to this area and the actual organization of the Ottawa Valley spiritual needs really began.
The first entry in the Parish Register was in 1851, so we know the parish was established in that year. The first baptism registered in the church records is that of John Shannon, son of Richard Shannon and his wife Catherine Donnelly, by Rev. Charles Arthur Ouellet, on Nov. 16, 1851. The first marriage ceremony was that of John Hudson and Domatilda Lavoie, on December 20, 1851, and the first funeral was that of Louis LaMarche on Feb. 7, 1852.
Father Ouellet, the first priest, served for seven years. Then came Father de Saunbac, then Father Boucher and then Father Ginguet. These priests served not only LaPasse and Osceola and district on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River, but also Fort Coulonge and district in Pontiac on the Quebec side of the Ottawa. These priests had to travel in the saddle, by primitive buggy or cariole, canoe or dugout. They braved the stormy waters in the summertime and the icy conditions in the spring and fall. The land was mostly cover by bush and the roads were mere tracks, making travel slow and tiresome and often dangerous.
These pioneer settlers still have descendants in the area who are highly respected for they represent a race of people with strong faith. They built their homes in the primeval forest, clearing their acres tree by tree, with only hand tools. They made long trips and portaged over rough ground to bring back the necessities of life which they had to carry on their backs; or t bring back medical men to aid their sick. They had little or no chance for education.
The little log church in LaPasse, built in Father Ouellet’s day, was still in use when Father Rochon came to serve the parish in 1877.
A new bell was blessed on November 14, 1881, which was put into the new stone church for LaPasse started in 1884. This beautiful white stone church, to be named Our Lady of Mount Carmel, would take until 1900 to complete.
A red brick residence for the parish priest and across the road, a church cemetery and school were erected.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the loveliest of the old township churches with its mellow pastels and arching pillars. The main alter and two side alters are ornate yet light and simple and the large painting above the main alter draws the eyes up. Over the years it has gained a rich patina and an atmosphere of devotion and peace. Click on photos to enlarge.
Under Father Henri Martel, who came from Bonfield, the first Roman Catholic Church was built in Westmeath Village; Our Lady of Grace. It was built in 1913 of red brick, on what is now Middle Street, across that side-street from the village Public School, which had been built in 1906. Prior to this for some time, services in Westmeath were held in the Town Hall.
The Parish was helped tremendously by the efforts of its Ladies Aides Society. They busied themselves helping to pay off the debt of their new Church. Following the payment of the debt, the Society still met and boasted a good attendance at their meetings, but fund raising efforts were slowed down considerably.
Father Henri Martel was also a booster of the area and in 1906 he wrote an article extolling the beauty of the area entitled “Colonize Westmeath” with the line “…Another feature of this area is the lumber camps in the Black and Coulonge Rivers in the Province of Quebec.”
This church burned down on Thursday, July 11, 1929. The Church that everyone had worked so hard for was ablaze. By evening there was not a wall left standing. The parishioners of Westmeath were without a church once more. The people of Westmeath were saddened but forged ahead.
Fire Destroys Westmeath Roman Catholic Church –
“Fire – July 11, 1929: A very exciting fire broke out Sunday afternoon in the Roman Catholic Church here and the fire had got such a headway that it was impossible to save the structure; but the fire alarm had rung and the calls sent out. A large number turned out to save the contents and everything was taken out except the organ. For awhile it was feared Mrs. Mongrain’s house was in danger but a heavy rain came and gave protection. Everyone worked hard to take everything out but to no avail. The building was partially covered by insurance. Monday morning a large number turned out and drew all the material to the skating rink where Rev. Father Bourke will have mass until a new church is built.”
– From the Cobden Sun. In archival research by Mrs. Evelyn Moore Price, Feb. 1974.
The new building site was chosen on Main Street and the Ladies Aide Society was ready to help. They contributed $550.00 towards the purchase of the new lot on Main Street.
Services were then held in the skating Rink until the present church, under the guidance of Father Bourke, Parish Priest, was built and completed for use in 1930. The former bank building on these grounds was used for a while for the social activities of the parish.
A side alter, purchased from St. Matthew’s Church of Madawaska was placed in the church in dedication to the Virgin Mary. During the late fifties the church was renovated and inlaid carpeting put down. Renovations were paid for by 1958.
Father O’Connor came as parish priest in 1961. The Separate School was built and blessed by His Excellency Bishop Smith in the same year. In 1976 and 1977 the church basement was renovated and new flooring, cupboards and kitchen facilities installed.
Another LaPasse-Westmeath Church history, written by Rev. Wm. O’Dwyer, 1964: R.C. Church History LaPasse and Westmeath
Registry Records transcribed and prepared for this website by Doreen Lacroix McNair, 2013.
This information has been obtained and copied from a compilation by: J. Hamelin, Le Centre De Genealogie, S.C., 2244, rue Fullum, Montreal, Quebec ,titled “Repertoire des Mariages” dated from 1851 – 1973, Publication No. 133. Available at the Upper Ottawa Valley Genealogy Group Library.
The Marriage Registry has been broken into parts because of its large size. Surname start & ending initials, for each part, are listed here.
RC Parish Marriage Registry Part C . Et to Ge
RC Parish Marriage Registry Part D. Gi to La
RC Parish Marriage Registry Part E. La to Ly
RC Parish Marriage Registry Part F Ma to Po
RC Parish Marriage Registry Part G Pr to Yv