A look at the History of St. Gregory’s

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Oshawa has one Catholic cemetery, St. Gregory’s, which is today located along Simcoe Street North, just north of Beatrice Street. It was originally located beside St. Gregory’s Church, around Simcoe St. N. and Adelaide (then Louisa), but was moved to its present location around 1893 to facilitate expansion of the Church.

The original St. Gregory’s Church, to the left, the cemetery can be seen; from the Oshawa Museum Archival collection

Samuel Pedlar and Dr. Kaiser both trace the origins of this parish to the 1840s when the first church was constructed, but prior to this, Catholics in the area had their religious services in McGrigor’s School House or with travelling priests in parishioners’ homes. Funds for constructing the first church were supported by community members, such as Patrick Wall, Daniel Leonard, Denis Duella, Michael Curtin, Sir Arthur Santry, Richard Supple, John O’Regan Sr., and Captain Dunn. Throughout the years, the parish grew, and improvements took place, such as church enlargements, building of a separate school, presbytery, and stable and driving house, and aesthetic improvements.

Nearly 50 years after the construction of the first church building, the parish saw the need to expand once again and began fundraising. The cornerstone was laid in 1894, and the new building was dedicated in June 1895. It was noted that two men, James Daley and Patrick Wall, were at the dedication of both churches, half a century apart. 

From the Oshawa Museum archival collection

The windows of the church were made by McCausland & Sons, the plans for the structure were made by Post & Homes, and much of the interior oak woodwork, like the altar, pews, pulpit, and organ, were made by Oshawa’s RS Williams. It was made in the French Romanesque style and can accommodate 500-600 worshippers.

St. Gregory The Great, 2021

To facilitate the building expansion, the cemetery was removed to its present location, first acquired by Father JJ McCann in 1876, comprising of approximately four acres. New trees were planted at this cemetery in 1878, a gift from W. Glen, MP. In 1893, Father MJ Jeffcott contacted family of those laid to rest at the original cemetery and co-ordinated the removal of bodies and headstones to the ‘new’ cemetery. The last of the bodies and headstones from the original cemetery were moved in 1927.

St. Gregory’s Cemetery, 2021

St. Gregory’s would remain the only Catholic Church in Oshawa until Holy Cross was constructed in the 1930s. The growing communities in Ontario County also necessitated the opening of a new cemetery, and Resurrection Cemetery was opened in north Whitby in 1964. St. Gregory’s Cemetery and Resurrection are both administered by the Toronto Catholic Cemetery Association, and records for St. Gregory’s are located at Resurrection.


References

Samuel Pedlar, Samuel Pedlar Manuscript (unpublished manuscript, 1904), made available online through the Oshawa Public Library, accessed from: https://news.ourontario.ca/oshawa/3578787/data

D.S. Hoig, Reminiscences and Recollections : an interesting pen picture of early days, characters and events in Oshawa, made available online through the University of Toronto, accessed from https://archive.org/details/localhistory_2IW

“St. Gregory’s,” Whitby Chronicle, 28 Jun 1895, p. 8

Souvenir Booklet of Church of St. Gregory The Great, Oshawa Ontario, June 1988

“Holy Cross celebrates 40 years in Oshawa Sunday,” Oshawa This Week, 23 Jun 1979, p. 31

Student Museum Musings – Stained-Glass Windows into the Past

By Mia V., Summer Student

Since my last update, I have been continuing to research and work on the design for next year’s exhibit on the resettlement of displaced people and immigration stories in Oshawa. Following the threads of research has led me to the significant network of Ukrainian churches that were found in the city. Despite sharing the designation of Ukrainian, it was clear enough that they all belonged to different branches of Christianity – one was Eastern Catholic, others were Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist, and… two were Orthodox? Herein lay the confusion, since both Orthodox churches co-existed in time and on the very same neighbourhood block.

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“Oshawa’s Churches: Greek Orthodox;” image appeared in Oshawa Daily Reformer, 30 June 1927, p 25.

The ground on the corner of Bloor-Ritson was first consecrated for an Orthodox church in 1916. This church was alternately called Russian, Ukrainian, and Greek Orthodox in street directories and newspapers. Often the key descriptor of Orthodox was omitted and it was only called Greek – making it easy to confuse with the Greek Catholic church from just a few streets over. In fact, the Ukrainians of the (Greek) Orthodox Christian faith first called the Bloor-Ritson church home. The name confusion did not stop there, however, since the full name of the church differs greatly in translation. The Ukrainian would be “Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God.” However, in colloquial English it was known most often as “St. Mary’s.”

PicMonkey Image

This Ukrainian Orthodox church was built by an early wave of Ukrainian immigrants to Oshawa, many of whom came from the area of Bukovina which borders (and finds itself partly in) Romania. Since religious life was inseparably intertwined with cultural and social life, the choice of a parish was central to how one would find friends and generally engage with their culture. Fortunately, Oshawa had many options.

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“Oshawa’s Churches: Greek Catholic;” image appeared in Oshawa Daily Reformer, 30 June 1927, p 25.

Just a few streets over was the Ukrainian (Greek) Catholic church. In 1935, the majority of the congregation followed their priest into the Orthodox Church after his dispute with the presiding bishop (surrounding his ordination and time of marriage).

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Just a few months later, the first building for the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church was built on the same location where it stands today – on the corner of Bloor and Simcoe streets. All of this is to say that, for several years, there were two Ukrainian Orthodox churches on Bloor Street. According to one participant in the Museum’s ongoing oral history project, both churches were consistently full, and members of each parish would attend the same events. It certainly seems there was need for both of them in this period in order to help service the influx of Ukrainian immigration to Oshawa after World War II.

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“Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God in Oshawa, Ontario;” image appeared in Богослуження православної церкви: Підручник для недільних шкіл [Services in the Orthodox Church: A Sunday School Textbook], 1956.
In 1953, St. Mary’s was enlarged and rebuilt completely, on the same location as before. It now had, as the Toronto Star called it, “Byzantine-style domes” and overall resembled “a castle in a kingdom of bungalows.” Eventually, however, numbers dwindled significantly. Deciding against joining St. John’s from down the street, the aging congregation chose to accept no new members and sold the church only on the condition that they could still use it. Their designated service is in Ukrainian once a month, with a priest driving in from Scarborough.

In 1987, the church was sold to the Greek Orthodox community – making the church genuinely Greek for the first time. In 2012, the Greeks sold the church to the Romanians since they needed more space for themselves. This is, in fact, another kind of full circle since the original founders of the church would have been from the Ukrainian-Romanian border region of Bukovina.

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Focusing on this one church, then, provides a great window into the past from which it is possible to see the interactions between the various Ukrainian religious communities and other cultural communities in the city. The way that the church changed ownership provides great insight into immigration trends as well – from the earliest Ukrainian, to the Greek, and the Romanian here in Oshawa.


References

Gerus, Mitrat Fr. S. Богослуження православної церкви: Підручник для недільних шкіл [Services in the Orthodox Church: A Sunday School Textbook]. Winnipeg: Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada, 1956.

Leong, Melissa. “Time takes its toll on congregation.” Toronto Star, April 13, 2003.

Momryk, Myron. Mike Starr of Oshawa: A Political Biography. Ottawa: Canadian Museum of History and University of Ottawa Press, 2017.

Additional research from the Oshawa Museum archival collection.