Since beginning the research on my family history, I have discovered that both my maternal and paternal sides have deep roots in Huronia. Last weekend was ‘Doors Open’ in the region and I was able to visit some wonderful locations with a family connection.
In Penetanguishene on the shores of Georgian Bay, the English set up an Anglican Church in a sea of Catholic and Huron history. In 1836, St. James On-the-Lines was named for the ‘lines’ or communication roads between Fort York and Penetanguishene. It is gorgeous and beautifully restored building with a few unusual features due to its military origins, including the fact that aisle width is considerable in order to allow the military to enter ‘four abreast’.
In a brochure that was available to visitors on site, the history of the property and a wonderful list of fascinating people and facts about the church’s history were shared, including a touching story:
There are several interesting epitaphs to be found in the cemetery. A notable one is of a child who died of diptheria, for whom pall bearers could not be found, as they were afraid of contagion. However, some Roman Catholics were found who would accept the duty. The epitaph reads:
Dear Brother, o’er your body here I weep,
One week after with you I sleep.
Four kind Papists here me laid,
The Rev. G.H. the service read.
Somewhere on these grounds lies the remains of my great, great grandfather, James Kennedy. He was killed in an accident on the French River in 1899, leaving a wife and children. I imagine they had very little money as I could not find a trace of his grave. When I asked, I was told many flat stones had sunk below grade over time. I know that after his death, his family was scattered to the winds. My great grandfather, James Jr., was left parentless at the age of 12, when his mother remarried and her new husband denied his house to James’ four children.
James Jr. returned to Huronia and found a home with a kind Catholic family. He was so moved by their care for him that he converted to Catholicism, the religion under which my Irish grandmother was raised. We don’t know exactly where the farm was, nor do we know the names of the kind people who took in my great grandfather. But we do know that he inherited a farm in that area and lived there briefly with his young family in the late twenties or early thirties. I hope to find the farm and the missing siblings of which we have only found one and her descendents in New York State.
At the second building on our tour, we visited what was once the meeting house of Catholic men previous to WW1 and is the now ancestral home of Terry Fegarty whose family took it over and have lived in it for three generations. Between 1914 and the end of 1916, this tiny house on Cherry Street in Waubaushene served as the Catholic Church after the original church building burnt to the ground. My grandmother was born in early 1916 (she turned 95 this last winter!) and it is likely that the room in the photo at left was where the altar stood was the location of her baptism.
I came across a number of people that knew members of my family during the visit. I am hoping I be able to spend some time there this summer – perhaps even find a building that housed my family to open the next chapter in painting.