Heritage Village, Vineland, Ontario

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The first introduction of Christian theology in Vineland predates the arrival of the Mennonites by 160 years.  The honour goes to Father Daillon, a French missionary who travelled among the Neutral tribes to spread the gospel.  He was followed by Father Brebeuf in 1636 and Father Galinee in 1669.  In 1678, Father Hennepin, a Franciscan missionary left us his travelog of the wonders of Niagara Falls.  The first Catholic Chaplain at Fort Niagara was Father Grespel.

The first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe  advocated establishing the Church of England by law as the official religion of Upper Canada, as was the case in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. In 1792, writing from Navy Hall, Niagara  to Secretary of State Henry Dundas (London) he spoke of the "great opportunity that is now open, of forming the Character, Temper, and Manners of the People of this infant Colony to British Habits and to British Principles".

The problem was that refugees fleeing the American Revolution could not support an Anglican church financially, nor did many want to, believing in separation of church and state. The troops stationed at Niagara, and converted Iroquois allies, were Catholic.

In 1794 a land grant was issued by Governor Simcoe to the Irish Priest Father Edmund Burke in his capacity as Chaplain to Catholic soldiers. The first local Catholic Church, St. Vincent de Paul, Niagara-on-the-Lake, was not built until fourty years later. By this time, the Niagara Mission of Father Gordon included  some 817 Catholics spread over a thousand square miles, including Smithville and St. Catharines. By the 1840's, writings by Egerton Ryerson ended hopes of  "Anglican establishment" and ensured religious freedom and equality as fundamental rights in Ontario.

The term "Bible Belt" was invented by H. L. Menckenwriting in the American Mercury, February 1926; in reference to the mid-west and southern USA populated by fundamentalist Christians.  No such restriction applies here as shown by the diversity of churches we have now.  Fortunately we enjoy the separation of church and state in a multicultural Canada.  Our region, once a Mennonite refuge, is now home to a wide spectrum of worship but still dominantly Christian. But demographics are changing, like in the rest of Canada.  Surveys by Statistics Canada show that the third largest group now identifies with no religion.

This year (2010) the District School Board of Niagara was sued at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal by a Humanist for allowing Gideons International to hand out New Testaments to Grade 5 students over the last 12 years.  The Board reacted by allowing all religious organizations to distribute material outside classroom hours.  This did not satisfy the plaintives who are pushing for separation of church and public education.  The region's earliest pioneers would have agreed.

 Churches depicted are just a sampling from the region.

 Further Reading

See also the webpage  The Mennonites



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