Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church and the Founding of the Galway Hall
January 1, 2024
By Guy Scott
Many of the earliest settlers along the Galway Road were second generation Irish-Canadians. They were devout Roman Catholics. The nearest priests were found in Downeyville or Ennismore, which hampered regular attendance of church services. The first services were held by Father Coyle, from Downeyville at the home of Patrick Collins on the Galway Road. When the log school house was established (1863 – SS#4 Swamp Lake School), it became the home for the local congregation. The school grounds also became the burying grounds and a number of internments were made on the site. But the school was only a temporary home, and the parishioners began planning a true church.
Originally a log building was planned, but it was decided a frame church would be more appropriate. Lot 5 in the 11th concession was designated as the site for the church. Mass was celebrated at the new Immaculate Conception Church on Christmas 1882. An adjoining cemetery was consecrated in 1887. The bodies were brought from the schoolhouse and reinterred in the cemetery, or at least most of the bodies. The Galway Church was a mission of the Fenelon Falls parish. The priests lived at Fenelon Falls until Father O’Leary, who had a desire to live in the country. In 1901, the Fenelon Falls manse was sold, and Father O’Leary bought a lot from the Buckley family across the road and built a new white brick house, which is still standing.
The next resident priest, Father Galvin, preferred the town life to country life. In 1910, St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church was opened in Kinmount, and two years later a new brick manse was built beside the new Church. There was ‘dissent’ from the Galway adherents, but the Galway manse was sold and since that time, the priest has resided in town.
The dual churches worked well for several decades. Then in 1930, disaster struck. On Easter Sunday night, the recently renovated Immaculate Conception Church was destroyed by fire. The Galway parishioners were devastated. Rebuilding seemed out of the question, and the members of Immaculate Conception church moved to St. Patrick’s in Kinmount. The cemetery was gradually disused and new burials were made at St. Patrick’s cemetery in Kinmount. All that remains of the Church is a cement slab that was the entrance.
Father O’Leary was an ambitious man and had formed a branch of the Catholic Mutual Benefit Association (CMBA) and built a parish hall beside Immaculate Conception Church. The hall served as a community hall and hosted many events over the years. After the Church burned, the hall continued in use as a community hall. By the 1960s, the Galway Community Hall was in need of repairs and the congregation offered the structure to the township for use as a community centre. The hall was reopened in 1967, in time for Canada’s Centennial. By the 1990s, the Galway Hall was once again in need of upgrading. The Township decided to demolish the old hall and build a new one. The present Galway Community Centre (with several upgrades and additions) was the result. The Church and the parish hall led to the site becoming a ‘community centre’ in many senses of the term. Besides the hall, the old church lot now hosts the Galway platoon of the Township Fire Department and the local Roads Department. If you look on a map, the Community of Galway is located on the old church lot. The community was originally called Mount Irwin, but that term has almost disappeared with the closure of both the post office and school of the same name, and Galway, now centred at lot 5, is the new community centre.