Religion and faith - Ontario Heritage Trust

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Religion and faith

The story

From Champlain’s visit to Huronia in 1615 to the establishment of francophone communities in northern Ontario in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, religion and faith have been central to both a cultural and architectural understanding of the French presence in Ontario.

Who

Aboriginal nations | missionaries | explorers | settlers | families | religious officials | architects

What

The significance of religion and faith to the establishment and development of French missions, settlements and communities in what is now Ontario.

When

17th century to the present

Where

Throughout Ontario

Why

To persuade Aboriginal people to adopt Roman Catholic beliefs | To encourage French settlement and community building | To provide social services, such as education and health care, to French settlements and communities

Religion and faith exist at the heart of the story of French exploration, colonization and settlement in what is now Ontario. As French explorers journeyed into the interior of the province to establish alliances with aboriginal nations and to create networks of trade, efforts were also made to convert aboriginal people to the Catholic faith.

Jesuit missionaries arrived in the province in 1634 and founded the mission-village of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, near present-day Midland, in 1639. Devastation from war and disease resulted in the deliberate destruction of the settlement in 1649. Missionary work was also accompanied by exploration, trade and the formation of alliances with aboriginal nations. Following the destruction of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, these activities moved farther into the interior of the province.

This early exploration, trade and missionary work laid the foundation for the eventual establishment of French-speaking settlements and communities throughout present-day Ontario. The Catholic Church played a central role in the character and development of these settlements, serving as a hub for community and family life. Institutions – including schools, hospitals and credit unions – were also established around the parish.

The cultural significance of the Catholic Church is also accompanied by a rich architectural legacy that exists throughout the province. A search of the Ontario Places of Worship Inventory will provide information about the architecture and history of many of the churches that have been constructed in French-speaking communities over time. Their physical presence serves to convey the importance of religion and faith in the history of the French experience in Ontario.
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