Thousands came to Midland, Ont., to honour Canada’s martyrs on June 29, 1930, the day they were made saints. Photo from City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail

The Register Archive: Thousands pay tribute to Canada’s martyrs

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  • September 20, 2018

Sept. 26 is the feast day of Canada’s martyrs — St. Jean de Brebeuf, St. Noel Chabanel, St. Antoine Daniel, St. Isaac Jogues, St. Jean de Lalande, St. Charles Garnier and St. Gabriel Lalemant — who worked among the Huron-Wendat people in the 1600s. They were canonized in Rome by Pope Pius XI on June 29, 1930, but the occasion also drew large crowds to Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ont. The Register recounted the scene of that special day in this excerpt from the July 3, 1930 issue:


While the great ceremony of canonization for the Canadian Martyrs was taking place in Rome, the Martyrs’ Shrine at Fort Ste. Marie, near Midland, Ont., the stamping ground of those intrepid Jesuit missionaries, became a mecca of worship. Between 10,000 and 15,000 people from all parts of Canada, principally Ontario, were present to pay tribute and honour in unison with that of the entire Christian world.

The day was ideal. Lowering clouds dominated with a scorching sun intermittently shedding its strong rays upon the heads of the people. The hills, the valleys and the trees looked beautiful, rich in greenness of these summer months. The long stretch of Georgian Bay and the River Wye looked on in admiration at the transition of the past 300 years. They saw the martyrs of long ago, laboured with them, sustained them and cheered them on with their murmuring sound and the rush of waters, and today these same waters flowing in the bosom of that sacred country, in contentment, recall to the thousands of worshippers the story of the heroic deeds and faith of those dauntless men.

Of the vast crowd present at the Martyrs’ Shrine, the principal gathering was a pilgrimage from the city of Toronto, which came by special train under the auspices of St. Michael’s Cathedral. Thousands more came from the same city by automobile, while Simcoe County, in which the scene of activities lies, generously drew from its many towns to honour its martyred sons. Upon the arrival of the pilgrims’ train a procession was formed which reached from the point of debarkation up the long hill to the church. 

It was a most impressive sight to see this long line, in massed formation, march while singing as it wended its way to the altar at which Pontifical Mass was to be sung by His Grace the Most Rev. N. McNeil. 

His Grace vested in the basilica proper and from there with his retinue of officers set out for the “calvary” upon which Mass was to be celebrated in the open. The route was long and difficult of ascent and as His Grace climbed the hills, passed between the long lines of the faithful that flanked his path, one could not but feel that this venerable archbishop was indeed privileged in the fact that he was treading in the footsteps of those who 300 years before had hallowed that very soil with their blood and who today were being honoured in Heaven and upon Earth for their intrepid deeds.

Upon reaching the summit, His Grace rested a little and then commenced Mass. All down the hillside was a veritable swarm of worshippers devoutly assisting at the sacrifice. 

At the conclusion of the Mass the Rt. Rev. J.A. O’Sullivan delivered the morning sermon, which was broadcast over CFCA and to the crowd present by means of magnavox arrangement. His effort was an excellent accomplishment in which he eulogized the newly canonized saints, their deeds and the place they must necessarily occupy both in the Church and in the hearts and lives of Canadian citizens.

During the afternoon Rev. Michael J. Carroll of Orangeville, Ont., delivered a masterly oration on the faith of the Canadian martyrs. He compared the heroism and sufferings of those missionaries of long ago with the deeds and achievements characterizing the heroes of the world and showed how their bravery even surpassed the courage of their worldly rivals.

“Death has been endured by many a hero in defence of the cause which he has championed, but death with the torture endured by the Jesuit martyrs would have caused worldly heroes to quail and retreat before its dreadful ravages,” he said. “Sublimity of mind and of purpose aided by the light of faith — the mainspring of their heroic deeds — inspired the martyrs to forge on to their goal. To describe the sufferings of the martyrs would be beyond the power of words and description, for only the minds of the savage could conceive the devices and form of torture to effect the suffering they endured. History fails to record, even in the persecution of Nero and Diocletian, a cruelty equal to theirs. 

“But faith led them,” said Fr. Carroll. “It inspired them to leave their homes and dear ones in far-off France and become the ‘Hounds of Heaven’ to pursue the savage and make him captive for the beloved Christ.”

In conclusion, Fr. Carroll exhorted his hearers to measure the value of their faith in the glorious achievement and reward of the martyred Jesuit priests and companions — the first Canadian canonized saints.

Following the sermon, the Way of the Cross was made by the pilgrims, led by Rev. C.W. James, at the conclusion of which Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was given in the basilica by Rev. Fr. Baurrette, S.J., St. Michael’s choir participating. Veneration of the relics of the martyrs followed. The pilgrims entrained at six o’clock and one by one the automobiles bearing their pious devotees disappeared from out the grounds and along the dusty roads into the distance, until the shadows of night fell heavily upon the sacred hills of Martyrs’ Shrine. 

Thus was closed another chapter in the history of Canada — another, the most glorious page in her history, the canonization of her martyred sons, saints of God.

(To explore more from The Catholic Register Archive, go to catholicregister.org/archive)

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