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The ruins of St. Michael’s Catholic Church – One of the few remnants of a lost village

June 2020

South-west of the Town of Chesley, on Concession 14 of Brant Township, sits a lonely church bell tower, topped with a cross and framed by two matching windows on either side, with the remains of the foundation walls jutting out the back. These are the remains of St. Michael’s Catholic Church, and one of the few remnants of the former milling hamlet of Vesta in Bruce County, a community first settled in 1856 that straddles the townlines between Brant and Elderslie Townships.

Originally called Springvale, the name of the hamlet was changed to Vesta in 1859.

The brick church was built in 1883, on land donated by Hugh Ferguson, a settler originally from Ireland. It replaced a small log church that had served Vesta since 1864.

Although Vesta never saw its population go much over 100 residents, the hamlet featured a store, tavern, carriage shop, cooperage, barber shop, post office, sawmill and blacksmith shop, along with Methodist and Roman Catholic churches for worshipers.

There was also a school and later, an Orange Lodge and a Methodist church.

In the early 1900s, the sawmill closed and most of the residents slowly left the area. The hamlet gradually reverted back to being farmland.

St. Michael’s Church continued to be used until 1952, and then just periodically for special services. A fire in the early 1990s destroyed all but the bell tower. The church was never re-built.

What remains of the church was stabilized with metal sheeting on the back side of the front wall supporting the bell tower. The cemetery, grounds and ruins continue to be maintained by descendants of the Ferguson family, who remain in the area.

A historical plaque was mounted out front of the church.

The two-room brick schoolhouse also remains, standing on County Road 19, around 1.5 miles south of Vesta. This schoolhouse replaced a smaller one that was right in Vesta, which was demolished years ago.

Sources: https://www.ghosttownpix.com/ontario/intros/vesta.html, http://www.chesleysinn.ca/st-raphaels-ruins/,

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.

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