Glengarry Fencibles Trust

The Glengarry Fencibles Trust, a registered charity, is an incorporated not for profit citizens’ group formed in Glengarry County, Ontario. Its purpose is to promote the preservation, rehabilitation and re-use of the Bishop’s House of Glengarry, a historic building in the Glengarry County village of St. Raphael’s, Ontario. The building consists of a large stone house built in 1808 (reputedly, the builder was François-Xavier Rocheleau), and larger, matching stone wings added in 1924 (Raoul Joseph Gariépy, architect) when the building housed the renowned school, Iona Academy.

…to promote the preservation, restoration and re-use of the Bishop’s House of Glengarry

The 1808 stone house was built as the home of Rev. Alexander Macdonell, a major figure in early Ontario history, parish priest of St. Raphael’s from 1804 to 1815 and later the first bishop of Ontario. Rev. Macdonell established the College of Iona in this house in 1817, the first college in Ontario. The Bishop’s House is across the road from the celebrated National Historic Site, the Ruins of St. Raphael’s, the towering walls of the former St. Raphael’s Church, built by Rev. Macdonell 1815-1821, lost to fire in 1970 and subsequently stabilized and preserved.

The Glengarry Fencibles Trust, initially the Bishop’s House Committee, has campaigned for the preservation and re-use of the Bishop’s House since 2004. It has done repairs and maintenance on the building, commissioned studies and reports, and led public support for the building. In April 2015, the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall applied to the Municipality of South Glengarry to demolish the Bishop’s House, which South Glengarry municipal council unanimously rejected. In August 2015, The Glengarry Fencibles Trust acquired the Bishop’s House and in March 2016, took possession. By then, the Trust had been able to raise $100,000 for a cost-sharing grant with Parks Canada for buildings under threat on national historic sites. With the resulting $200,000 work began in January, 2017 on a new modified-bituminous roof.

In the years since, Glengarry Fencibles Trust has been deeply honoured to receive financial support from both our private supporters and the following organizations/levels of government:
Ontario Heritage Trust, the McLean Foundation, Farm Credit Canada, South Glengarry Township, Parks Canada (for masonry in 2020), the Jackman Foundation, the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, the SD&G Regional Incentives Program, and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

You can see photos of the ongoing restoration in the Gallery.

Officers for Glengarry Fencibles Trust

Brenda Baxter – President, Summerstown

Allan Macdonell – Vice President, Green Valley

Krista Mrzena – Treasurer, Williamstown

Teresa McLeod – Secretary, Alexandria



Tish Humphries – Williamstown

Ranald MacDonald – Green Valley

Alistair MacDonald – Alexandria


St. Raphael's

St. Raphael’s

St. Raphael’s is a small village in an agricultural district in eastern Ontario’s Glengarry County. It was established more than 200 years ago, and early on, showed promise of becoming a great city. The settlement began in 1786 with the arrival from Inverness-shire, Scotland of an almost entire parish of Highlanders. They were joined in 1804 by the energetic and ambitious Rev. Alexander Macdonell — later the “Big Bishop.” In 1808 he directed the construction of the Bishop’s House, a big, three-storey stone building that was both his headquarters and Ontario’s first college. In 1815-1821, he built St. Raphael’s Church, the “great church in the wilderness” that could hold a thousand people and was to be the centrepiece of the coming metropolis. But the village never grew. Rev. Macdonell was named as Ontario’s first bishop in 1820 and eventually moved to Kingston. The great church, alas, burned in 1970. But thanks to generous contributions from the municipality, citizens, and the key donation in 1974 from the Ontario Heritage Trust, its towering stone walls were stabilized and preserved. The Ruins of St. Raphael’s was designated a National Historic Site in 1999. St. Raphael’s was the birthplace of the celebrated Sandfield Macdonald brothers. They grew up in the era of the Big Bishop, attended school in the Bishop’s House, and found success as business, political and social leaders. John Sandfield Macdonald (1812-1872) was prime minister of Canada 1862-1864 and first premier of post-Confederation Ontario. D.A. Sandfield Macdonald (1817-1896) was a major canal and railway contractor, federal cabinet minister and lieutenant governor of Ontario 1875-1880.


Rev. Alexander Macdonell

Rev. Alexander Macdonell (1762-1840), known as the “Big Bishop,” is among the towering figures of pioneer Ontario. He came to Canada from Scotland in 1804 as parish priest of the settlement of St. Raphael’s, Glengarry County, but his ambitions stretched far beyond. He established schools and parishes across the province, campaigned tirelessly on behalf of settlers, became Ontario’s first bishop in 1819, and established the Diocese of Kingston in 1826, the second diocese in Canada and the forebear of all other dioceses in Ontario. In 1831, he was named to the Legislative Council of Upper Canada. In Scotland, in the 1790s, he raised a company of Glengarry Fencibles and served as its chaplain. In Canada, during the War of 1812, he raised a second company of Glengarry Fencibles, and served as its chaplain. The town of Alexandria, Glengarry County, which he founded in 1819, is named in his honour, as are Bishop Macdonell High School and Macdonell Street in Guelph, Ontario, and Macdonell Street in Kingston. In 1924, the Canadian government identified him as a National Historic Person of Canada. Sir John A. Macdonald, who had a keen perception of men’s worth, declared that Britain gave no more useful man to Canada than this Reverend Missionary.

Bishop Alexander Macdonell

Glengarry County

Glengarry County is the easternmost county in Ontario, bordered on the east by the province of Québec and on the south by the St. Lawrence River. It was among the first European-settled areas in Ontario, and retains to this day the flavour of its early Highland settlements. Its population today of about 24,000 is a harmonious blend of Scottish, French-Canadian and diverse other origins. It is principally an agricultural district, of family-operated farms. In pre-European times, what became Glengarry was hunting and gathering territory of Iroquoian Natives living along the St. Lawrence. The first large-scale European settlements, beginning in 1784, were of Loyalist Highlanders from the Thirteen Colonies. Immigration directly from Scotland began in 1786 with the settlement of St. Raphael’s. French-Canadians from Québec arrived in numbers in the late 19th century, and Dutch and Swiss farmers, among others, in the mid-20th. Alexandria is the chief town (population 3500). Other centres include the pioneer villages of Lancaster, Martintown and Williamstown, Apple Hill,  Maxville (originally Macsville), Glen Robertson and Dalkeith.

Glengarry County

The Bishop's Church 1821

Stuart McCormick (1905-1992)Glengarry Artist

Additional Reading

With permission

Letters concerning the chaplaincy of then Fr. Macdonell
St. Raphael's Church: The Cradle of Catholicism in Ontario
By Sea By Land - The Big Bishop: Alexander Macdonell of Kingston

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