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Sainte-Famille Church History

By the end of the Nineteenth Century, the Catholic community had grown to a point where a new parish, church and school were required to meet the needs of the French Canadian and Irish residents of Ottawa East Village. In 1900 a delegation met with Monsignor Duhamel of the Archdiocese and requested a new parish for the area. He enlisted the support of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and in that year the Saint-Famille (Holy Family) Parish was created. This new congregation acted as a focal point for Catholics in the area and was instrumental in the creation of a separate school board, Holy Family School and a new church.

Ste-Famille Church was the second official church built in Ottawa East. Official because the church actually began in temporary quarters in the Oblates venerable "White House" situated next to the Scholasticate. It also served as temporary quarters for the newly created Catholic School. The church was built on what is now Oblate Avenue, just off Main St. across from the present-day Sacré-Coeur Convent. Built in 1902, the building was replaced in 1959 with the new structure on Glenora Ave.


The White House - original site of the parish
Ste-Famille (Holy Family) - built in 1902
From inception the parish conducted services for both French and English-speaking Catholics. That situation continued, as with the Holy Family School, until 1930 when the English-speaking parish of Canadian Martyrs was created. There is much more about this story found here in the Canadian Martyrs Church section and the story of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate found here.

It is indeed fortunate that Thérèse Therrien and Valérie Sirois wrote a detailed chronicle of Ste-Famille Parish for the Summer 1995 edition of the Mainstreeter. That article is reproduced just below.


Sainte-Famille Parish
by Thérèse Therrien and Valérie Sirois

Reprinted from the series Churches of Ottawa East, Mainstreeter, Summer 1995.
Some pictures and links have been added from the collection on this CD-ROM.

Many might be surprised to discover that the community of Ottawa East can add yet one more church to its already impressive list, but it can and a very special one at that. Rather than being right on Main Street, Sainte-Famille Church is discreetly nestled away on Glenora Avenue.

It saw the day on the crisp and bright afternoon of October 25th, 1959. Following a blessing ceremony by Archbishop Joseph Lemieux, parishioners and friends celebrated the construction of a new church, a project that took three years from start to finish.

This was a turning point in the parish's history. Did you know that our registry can boast of records of the first baptism, wedding and funeral dating back as far as 1901? Ottawa East was still a village when Bishop Duhamel responded to a request from 105 Catholic families - 55 French Canadian and 50 Irish - to open a separate school and erect a parish to be administered by the Oblate Fathers. Sainte-Famille became not only a religious, but a social rallying point for the Franco-Ontarian community.

The first chapel, school and parish hall were briefly housed in the White House, a modest wood Rear view of the White House and Scholasticateconstruction located beside St-Joseph Scholasticate (Deschatelet), which was demolished in the fifties. In September of 1901, a school opened on Main, close to Hazel. The construction of a church on Oblate Avenue took six months, from April to October 1902. For the next ten years, all sorts of fund-raising activities took place - sugar bushes, summer picnics, horse rides and other parties. A quote from a July 1902 newspaper illustrates one of these activities: "One of the most pleasant festivities of Dominion Day was a Strawberry Festival to assist Holy Family Church in Ottawa East ... It was a continuous performance from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. ... The scene of the picnic was a large and shady grove, forming part of the grounds of the Oblate Scholasticate on the banks of the Rideau River. The framework of the new church rising up a little to the right of the scholasticate was gaily decorated with flags ... There are a number of French-Canadians in the Parish, so the Tricolor was in evidence, but the Union Jack was the prominent note of decoration, having a good accessory in the green flag with the Irish harp." (Editor's Note: The complete article has been reproduced here)

For three decades, Holy Family Parish developed as a bilingual parish and became exclusively French in De Mazenod School - still standing on Main St.1930. With the opening of De Mazenod School in 1934, this marked the beginning of half a century of continuous growth. However, transition did not come easily for all. In many families, spouses had roots in different linguistic groups. For years after, several chose to be registered in both Canadian Martyrs and Sainte-Famille parishes, enabling worship in one's mother tongue.

Until 1956, the Parish remained under the direction of the Oblate Fathers. Then came a radical shock. The late Charles Bruyere, journalist, described it as such: "Puis en 1956, on peut imaginer la stupeur, la consternation qui s' emparerent des anciens paroissiens de Sainte-Famille, lorsqu'ils apprirentque les bons Peres Oblats allaient, pour des raisons jamais divulguees officiellement, remettre la paroisse qu'ils avaient fondee entre les mains des auto rites diocesaines, qui devaient en confier la direction au clerge seculier". *

With this transfer from the Oblate Fathers to the diocesan secular clergy and the arrival of Father Jean-Paul Poirier, a new era began. Sainte-Famille was the first to have a Parish Council where the leaders of the various committees met monthly to advise the parish priest collectively. In the seventies, as many as eight committees played an active role. One of their many accomplishments was the celebration of the 75th anniversary on May 2, 1976 and the writing of the 80-year history of Sainte-Famille, on which the historical portion of this article is based.

The winds of change associated with the sixties were deeply felt in the Church and Sainte-Famille was no exception. Throughout the seventies and eighties came a series of meaningful experiences and transformations. Financial difficulties in the early 80s put at risk the very survival of the Parish. This lead to a significant turning point. A group of parishioners categorically rejected the thought of selling the building and organized an ad hoc committee to address this urgent issue. Innovative solutions reflecting the determination of the community were found. With the help of Father Gratien Girod, with the Parish since 1981, came the birth of a pastoral project which would ensure the survival of a francophone parish. Looking back now, administrative and financial restructuring undertaken at the time has contributed to the creation of a vibrant community life.

Since then, two outstanding themes have motivated us to grow - hospitality or the French word, ACCUEIL, and sharing or PARTAGE. These have been and remain our guiding principles. When one belongs to Sainte-Famille Parish, one embraces respect for the other's differences. Above all, this is reflected in the sharing of our church with a strong and growing Spanish speaking community of people from nine or so different countries.

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