In an Old Churchyard: God's Acre

As a Christian Community, we must always be mindful of our current mission and plan for the future with that in mind. However, at Anniversary time, we can also revel in some of our rich history, enjoy reminiscing and learn from examples of outstanding Christian achievements in our past. I will guote from an Edgar Andrew Collard article, published in The Montreal Gazette on Saturday, June 6th, 1981, entitled, In an Old Churchyard: God's Acre.

Not many old churchyards survive in Canada. Long ago most burials began to be made in large cemeteries detached from any church. Saint Stephen's is in the old tradition of God's Acre - the burial land close to the church itself.

In this tradition, anyone going up the path to the church door walks between rows of burial stones. Something about this close relationship of church and graves creates a consecrated peace, a feeling for the come and go of human life, a sense of the living and the dead as being not alien and divided, but united in a sacred companionship.

Saint Stephen's churchyard is one of the most historic in Canada because it is more than parochial. Lachine, in early days, was a starting-point on one of the world's great routes of travel. Travel on the Saint Lawrence was interrupted by the Lachine Rapids. All immigrants coming upstream and headed west beyond Montreal had to trans-ship. From Montreal they went overland nine miles to Lachine. From Lachine, they set out again by bateau or steamboat for the west.

Hazards for immigrants lay all along the route of travel. Saint Stephen's churchyard was the unintended destination of many who had set out for farther places.

Mr. Collard continues by outlining how typhus victims and steamboat disaster victims ended up in our churchyard. His second sub-title is, Tough Fur Trader, and he continues....In Saint Stephen's churchyard, at the northeast corner, is the grave of an old Nor'Wester, William MacIntosh. He was known as "notoriously tough and able". He had to be, to survive the vigours of the West and the struggle against the Hudson's Bay rivals.

In 1819 he and other Nor"westers were seized on the Saskatchewan River by Hudson's Bay Company men and imprisoned. MacIntosh, being sick with dysentery, was not guarded as closely as the others. Sick though he was, he eluded observation and dashed into the woods.

They searched for him in every bush. Nothing was found except a note he had left behind. It Stated he had decided to commit suicide by drowning - "having tied a stone about my neck to keep me at the bottom". Actually, he was on his way to the post of the North West Company at Fort William.

After the North West Company failed in 1821 it was absorbed by the Hudson's Bay Company. This tough and experienced trader then became a highly-valued Hudson's Bay Officer. He was given the rank of Chief Factor.....MacIntosh retired from the fur trade in 1837. He settled in Lachine.

It was a natural place for an old fur trader.....the Hudson's Bat Company had at Lachine its North American headquarters. The building sttod only a few feet away from Saint Stephen's, where the Chapel of Sainte Anne's Convent is today.

MacIntosh died in 1842. His grave near a wall of the church, was pehaps the most impressive in the churchyard. It seems to have been one of the few (if not the only one) to be surrounded with an iron railing.

Saint Stephen's churchayrd was not closed for burial until 1915. Since that time only cremated remains have been interred there, [on the approval of the Church Corporation]>

When Saint Stephen's Church was built in 1831, it was intended to be "a conspicous object for miles up Lake St-Louis". Today it cannot be seen from the lake, or even from the waterfront road. The building of Ste-Anne Convent, especially its high east wing, now hides Saint Stephen's from view on that side.

The visitor will find Saint Stephen's by leaving the waterfront and going up Twelfth Avenue, the first street east of the Convent. He will come upon this old church and churchyard with dramatic suddenness.

Editor's Comment:Mr Collard worded the above so well. We are continually surprised by people who finally discover us for one reason or another and say they never knew we were here - even residents of Lachine!!

The year 1822 marks the inauguration of Anglican divine service in Lachine. This was begun through the efforts of the Reverend Brooke Bridges Stevens. Stevens, a military chaplain stationed at the Fort on the St. Helen's Island journeyed to Lachine to minister to the needs of the men stationed at the King's post in Lachine. A stone marker from that period is still to be found outside the church today.

From 1822 to 1831, The Reverend Mr. Stevens and the Anglican inhabitants of Lachine worked to create a permanent house of worship that would serve the needs of the growing community of fur traders, military, farmers, and immigrants building the Lachine Canal. Little did the first parishioners know that the inauspicious beginnings of St. Stephen's Lachine would have an important role to play in the development and history of the Anglican Church in Montreal, and its spread through the western part of Canada.

St. Stephen's was the first to be established in Montreal, after the Cathedral. It is the oldest Anglican church on the island. Most of the parishes of the West Island of Montreal can trace their heritage to St. Stephen's: St. Paul's Lachine (1897); St. Mary's, Kirkland (1912); St. John the Baptist, Pointe Claire (1914); and St. George's, Ste. Anne de Bellevue (1916); and also St. Phillip's in Montreal West (1891). Even some of the older churches in Ontario and Manitoba have some connection with Lachine. Let us not forget that Lachine was the point of depature for the early fur traders, and most of the immigration to the west. Bishop George Jehosophat Mountain embarked on the first episcopal visitation to the Red River Mission (Winnipeg), Rupert's Land on April 16, 1844. His thirty eight journey is a notable part of the history of the Anglican Church in Canada.

Long before women could be ordained, St. Stephen's raised up a woman at the turn of the century, who became a deaconess. Elizabeth Wilgress served in the North West Territories for fifteen years in that capacity. In 1981, St. Stephen's was the first church in the diocese to accept a woman as their rector. The Reverend Lettie James led the way for women's ordination, being herself the first woman to be ordained in the Diocese of Montreal.

It should be noted that the then Archbishop of Rupert's Land, the Right Reverend Michael Peers, was the celebrant at a French language Eucahrist celebrated in St. Stephen's Church on November 10, 1984 - which Inaugurated the use of the Livre de la-Prière commune in Canada.

A further account of the history of St. Stephen's is available via

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