By Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
The Protestant Episcopal Congregation of the parish of Lachine was founded in 1822 by the Reverend Brooke Bridges Stevens, a military chaplain, stationed at the Fort on the St. Helen’s Island, who journeyed to Lachine to minister to the needs of the growing community of fur traders, the soldiers stationed at the King’s post in Lachine, the farmers, and immigrants who were building the Lachine Canal. However, an actual church was not built until 1931, when a wealthy landowner, William Gordon, donated a quarter acre of his land near the canal to the congregation for the construction of a place of worship to serve the Anglican community.
In the donation contract, signed before Notary Griffin, the following restriction was written: “It Would Belong to the congregation specially for its church and graveyard and Wholly Solely (and) for ever.”
The first chapel, like the current presbytery, was built of stone and Victorian-inspired. It was a small building, without chancel, furnished with a large pulpit and square, high backed pews, with wooden tablets on each side of the Altar, containing the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the ten Commandments. Remnants of this first building still can be seen in the central part of the modern-day church. St. Stephen’s opened for worship on December 24, 1834. It is the oldest Anglican Church on the Island of Montreal still standing on its original site, and the origin of many parishes in the west of the island, including those of Saint-Anne-de-Bellevue, Beaconsfield and Pointe-Claire.
The church is surrounded by its “God’s Acre “, bearing a crop of tombstones of all shapes and sizes. The oldest tombstone, at the northeast corner of the church, was erected to the memory of William McIntosh, a Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Co., who died in 1842, and to his wife, Isabella Gladhue, and his son William. At the southwest corner of the graveyard are the unnamed graves of twelve ship fever victims, who died, for the most part, in a temporary hospital near Stony Point. Reverend Wm. B. Bond, dug most of the graves and buried the bodies with his own hands, while the typhus epidemic was at its height, and no was willing to perform the duty of undertaker or gravedigger. All the victims were immigrants from Ireland except two, one of whom came from Cheshire, England, and the other from Upper Canada.
Churchyard burials continued until 1915. Since that time, and on approval of the Church Corporation, only cremated remains have been interred there.
In 1927, the Protestant Episcopal Congregation of Lachine, having financial difficulties, decided to sell the church and cemetery to a developer who wanted to demolish it and use the site for a different purpose. During a search of the title, the lawyers became aware of the donation contract signed in 1831 by the Congregation and the donor, William Gordon, which contained the clause of use, that the congregation had no right to sell, and that the church and cemetery must occupy the premises forever. The sale was canceled.
Unlike in 1831, the church cannot be seen from the lake. Ste-Anne’s Convent now hides Saint Stephen’s from view, but visitor’s will find it at 25, 12th Avenue, the first street east of the Convent.
Sources: St. Stephens Anglican Church / City of Montreal / “Lake St. Louis, Old and New” – By Desire Girouard, Montreal, 1903 / The Montreal