In the early 1830′s, in response to the growing number of Catholic families in the Malton area (Toronto Township) a church mission was established on the land between the Fifth Line and the Banks of Etobicoke Creek Tributary.
The faithful had come to farm the fertile soil that they found in Toronto Townships and to raise their families in the peace and freedom of this new land.
These pioneers came primarily from Ireland but also from England, France, Germany and Austria.
Father Edward Gordon based at St. Paul’s Parish in Toronto, served the Catholic farming population by traveling from community to community and built the first wooden Church on the mission site.
In 1837, for the sum of five shillings, two acres of land were purchased from Bernard and John McGuire for the use of “a Church, graveyard and presbytery”. This was the customary set up for 19th century Catholic Missions.
Father Gordon was succeeded by Father Peter Polin who served the community until his sudden death on April 8, 1837. Father Polin was buried under the altar of the first mission church.
Father Eugene O’Reilly then took on the rural ministry until 1856. The first mention of a rectory is the construction of “a priest’s house at the Fifth line” by Father McNulty in 1856. This Rectory was also lived in by Fr. Flannery from 1861-1866.
For over 60 years the mission church was a vibrant centre for the Catholic Community. In the 1850’s over 400 faithful attended Mass regularly. The first Confirmation at Elmbank was celebrated in 1835 by Bishop Remi Gautin. Bishop Michael Power also visited the mission in its early years.
In its close to 100 year existence the mission was known by several names: the Fifth Line Church, Elmbank, St. Bernard’s, St. Patrick’s, St. Kevin’s, St. Peter’s and Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In 1885 the wooden Church was replaced by a red brick building under the direction of Father Edward Cassidy and consecrated by Bishop J. J. Lynch.
The Cemetery situated next to the Church grew naturally with time. In the 1930’s it was recorded that there were upwards of 300 graves in the Cemetery.
At the turn of the century the missions population began to decline. There are no records of mass being celebrated after 1915. In time the Church and Rectory were dismantled leaving only the Cemetery. Families continued to use the Cemetery until 1937.
In 1938 the land was purchased by the Toronto Harbour Commission for the new airport. The Cemetery remained untouched until 1991 when the needs of the airport necessitated its consideration for re-location.
After prayer and discernment it was finally decided in 2000 to move the remains of the faithful and re-locate them in a distinct area of nearby Assumption Cemetery in Mississauga.
On August 27, 2000, a final mass was celebrated at the Old site.
This new home for the faithful departed of the Elmbank Mission will stand as an everlasting remembrance of the lives of our earliest Catholic ancestors .
May they rest in Peace.
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