The Roman Catholic Church presence in Waubaushene dates back to the town’s beginnings as a lumbering centre in 1861. In that year William Hall established a mill on the shore line east from what is now Pine Street. As a result residences, including mill-workers houses, and Catholic and Protestant churches were built.
The original facility for Catholic worship was a small chapel built before 1870 by Father Theophile Francis Laboureau, based in Penetanguishene, who would come by water to conduct masses in both Waubaushene and Port Severn. Subsequently Waubaushene was served by priests from Midland who visited from time to time.
The original church was torn down in 1882, and replaced by a new church built in 1883 at 46 Hazel Street, on land granted by the Georgian Bay Lumber Company in exchange for the first church property. As the town grew, particularly after the establishment of the Company in 1871, a new and larger church was required.
Renewed interest in and devotion to the Jesuits Jean de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant, martyred at nearby St Ignace II, led the Archdiocese to grant the Waubaushene mission to the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). The first Jesuit parish priest, Father John Baptiste Nolin, was appointed in 1906.
As a site for the new church, Father Nolan bought an elevation of land bordered by the present-day Pine, Elm, Cherry and Thiffault Streets. The Society built a complex of buildings on the site, including the new church, opened in 1906, the rectory (priests’ residence), a chapel, a music hall, and a stable and carriage shed. A meeting hall for the Catholic Order of Foresters was sited on Thiffault Street, opposite the present library.
Prior to the opening of the Martyr’s Shrine in 1926, the Waubaushene mission served as the focal point for Jesuit activities in the area. Before that time prevailing opinion located the martyrdom site of St. Ignace II at the summit of the hill on the east half of Lot 4, Concession 7 (now Gervais Road), about two kilometers south of the former CPR right of way. There, in 1907, Father Nolin built a wooden chapel, the original Martyr’s Shrine. As many as 1,000 pilgrims would come for Sunday Mass there.
However, subsequent investigations relocated St. Ignace II to a site off Rosemount Road; in 1925 the original Shrine was dismantled. In the following year, the present Shrine opened on the Wye River, across Hwy 12 from Ste. Marie.
In addition to providing church services to local parishioners, the Waubaushene priests were responsible for serving the missions at Mount St Louis, Port Severn, Christian Island, and several other posts in the area. In 1914 the Waubaushene staff included Father Nolin, two other priests and a religious brother.
On the night of November 13-14, 1914 all of the buildings of the Waubaushene mission, except for the Foresters’ hall, were destroyed when a fire broke out in the rectory. Father Nolin was asphyxiated and died on November 16.
The Forester’s hall was saved by placing wet planks against its outer walls and by throwing snow on its roof. The hall was subsequently used as a chapel for Catholic Church services until the church was rebuilt and opened for Christmas, 1916.
In the late 1920’s the Church sold off 6 lots along the Cherry Street side. The Foresters’ hall was moved by horse team and logs to the corner of Cherry and Elm Streets, where it was converted for residential use and remains today.
The present church was opened on Christmas Day, 1916 by Father Bouvrette, pastor. The rectory on the left was built in 1949. The school adjacent to the church to the north was opened in 1956 as St John’s Separate (Catholic) School. It was subsequently transferred to the Public School Board as Pine Street Elementary School (now closed). The church is now staffed by Diocesan priests
| The Present Church and Rectory