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The historic ruins of St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church

August 2019

St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church, a castle-like limestone church, has stood tall in rolling hills of Glengarry, Ontario, for 200 years. Built by Scottish immigrants between 1815 and 1821, the massive stone walls were once capped by a large timber roof that allowed it to be without interior columns, providing an unobstructed view for parishioners.

St Raphael’s was one of the earliest Roman Catholic churches to be built in what was then known as Upper Canada.

A fire in 1970 destroyed the roof, including the bell tower, and the interior, but the exterior walls were so sturdy, they survived the fire but in a weakened state. Stabilization measures were undertaken in 1973, 1986 and 1999.

One of the church’s original bells, cracked during the fire, is situated on a stone pedestal inside the ruins.

The church was declared a national historic site in 1999 and is now a popular tourist attraction, run by the Friends of the Ruins of St. Raphael. Cultural events and even the occasional church service are held within the walls.

Adjacent to the ruins is St. Raphael’s Cemetery, consecrated in 1801.

Sources: https://www.saintraphaelsruins.com, https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=14123

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/the-historic-ruins-of-st-raphaels-roman-catholic-church/


  1. Nadine bedard

    I’ve been looking every where online… But no answer, maybe you can help? How did the fire start?


    1. Bruce Forsyth

      Hi Nadine,

      I guess you weren’t able to find the right web sites as there are a lot of them out there, but not all of them tell the story very well. There have been various theories, but the one that seems the likely culprit is the following: In May 1962, the borough’s fire company undertook a controlled burn of garbage in the town dump, located in an abandoned strip-mine pit at the south-east end of town, in an effort to clean up the dump in preparation for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. Unfortunately, the fire was not fully extinguished and an unsealed opening in the pit allowed the fire to enter the labyrinth of abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia.

      This is an excerpt from an article that I wrote on this web site – https://militarybruce.com/the-town-that-was. At the bottom of this article, you will find some links to other articles and documentaries on line.

      This information has been expressed by several residents of Centralia, past and present, so it would seem to be accurate.

      I hope this helps,


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