Catholic Parishes in PEI (c. 1885) by Rev. Alfred E. Burke

Please see the Contents page for information on this and other historical sketches of PEI Roman Catholic parishes, as compiled by Father Alfred Burke circa 1885.

The Mission of St. Alexis, Rollo Bay

When in 1755 the dastardly edict went forth, which commanded the expulsion of the Acadians from Grand Pre on the shores of the Bay of Fundy, six families more fortunate than the others managed to keep together. They suspected the treachery underlying Captain Murray's proclamation so escaped the Cuetapen (snare) which was set for them at Grand Pre. They did not repair to the church, but concealed themselves in the woods and from their hiding place saw their homes in flames and their flocks scattered. Having prepared some large canoes called Piroghes or dug outs, they made their way across the gulf to the Ile St. Jean and landed at Pointe Prime. These people were John and Ambrose Bourque and their families; Joseph Pitres and family, Honore Michael, a blacksmith and wife, no family, Leblanc and family, Chaisson and family. When they landed at Pointe Prime Mr. Chaisson addressed them "in many happy words," they then knelt and gave thanks to God for having delivered them out of the hands of their enemies, and for bringing them to a place of refuge.

After which, so tradition says, they "made the best feast they could, to cheer everybody." Finding after a short sojourn at Pointe Prime that they were not safe from the English who at that time frequented Port La Joie, they took their canoes and paddled up to Bay Fortune where they were joined by five or six families from St. Peter's Harbour.

These people had been suffering from the measles when their unfortunate countrymen were shipped from St. Peters, and being too ill to be moved, escaped expatriation. A few families of Chiveries, D'Aigles and others who were concealed or lived at Savage Harbour removed later to Little River, to the south of Bay Fortune (now Little Pond Parish).

During the first few years that these Acadians spent in Bay Fortune they refused to take the oath of Allegiance and were regarded as prisoners of war. Every spring officers from Port-La-Joie would come in the name of the King to take an account of the seed that they had sowed and in the Autumn these same licensed oppressors would arrive to relieve the poor Acadians of their hardly won crops, leaving them barely sufficient to sustain life throughout the cruel winter. Some of the women of Baye de la Fortune determined o evade the unjustice; as fast as the grain was threshed they would conceal a portion of it in their clothing and carry it away to the woods, where they would hide it and thus secure an extra store. After some years, seeing that there was no other course open for them they submitted to the inevitable, took the oath of Allegiance and were graciously permitted to have undisputed possession of the fruits of their industry. They however, made proviso that they should never take up arms against the king of France.

Over thirty years had come and gone when a new calamity befel these poor Acadians who would seem to be specially loved by the almighty, judging from the frequency with which he laid his christening hand upon them. In the year 1798, the proprietor of Township Forty Three, William Townshend and Englishmen came to claim the land surrounding Bay Fortune from which he proposed to evict the Acadians in order to establish a protestant colony of Dingwells and others who were at the time settled at St. Peters but who had laid longing eyes on the "Naboths vineyard" at Baie de la Fortune. The Acadian settlers refused to acknowledge Mr. Townshend's claim to the land on the ground of their being possessed of a letter of recommendation from the British Officer who had administered to them the oath of allegiance. This paper specified that they were reinstated in their property as securely as when they held it under Louis XVI.

Mr. Townshend however took a different view of the matter; he resorted to law and having more resources at his command than the poor Acadians, gained his case and obliged them to leave Bay Fortune. The greater number went to Cape Breton but about fourteen families, Bourques, Pitres, Chaissons, and others removed to Rollo Bay where they purchased lands from the late John Cambridge upon which they settled in the year 1801 or 2. Two families of Longue-apee went to Souris, where the Chivaries of Little River removed some years later. The old burial ground at Bay Fortune is still discernable on the property of Mr. Charles Aitken.

There had been in the time of the French occupation a Catholic Church at Bay Fortune, it fell into ruin and was never replaced by the Acadians. Travelling missionaries frequently held stations in the settlement in the house of who was a blacksmith without family Honore Nuchel. The first priest of whom there is mention made as having served these Acadians is Monsieur Magdand, then came a Monsieur Tedru whose letters to the Bishop of Quebec may be seen in the archives of the diocese of Charlottetown.

After Mr. Ledru's departure the next priest, to visit Bay Fortune was the Abbe de Calonne, who, sent by the Bishop of Quebec to make enquires as to the state of the Church in Ile St. Jean, established himself near Port La Joie, on what is now called the Warren Farm, whence he started on various missions throughout the Island.

Soon after his arrival it chanced that one Germaine Chiasson of Baye de la Fortune fell ill of the small pox - A messenger was despatched to Port-la-Joie and he priest set out to administer the consolation of religion to the sick man. There was no "royal road" to duty even for the brother of a first minister of France. Through dense forest and treacherous bogs, over meadows on which the then summer sun beat pitilessly, across bays and streamlets, on foot and by canoe the good priest pursued his weary way. When he arrived at Chaisson's house he found the sick man almost smothered, for want of air, and proceeded to give a lesson in hygiene by opening all the doors and windows. Having revived his patient, he heard his confession and remained with him until his death which occurred shortly after. This Germain Chaisson was considered quite a scholar in his day and was also a very good man, one who made a point of collecting the inhabitants of the settlement and reading the prayers of the church, to them on Sundays and Holy days when they were without a priest. Naturally he was much esteemed and all his neighbours, Protestants as well as Catholics flocked to his funeral. The abbe de Calonne seized the opportunity to preach a very clear and practical instruction over his grave, one which made a deep impression upon all who heard it, and of which their descendants make mention to this day.

After the Abbe de Calonne came the Abbe Gabriel Champion and then Father McEachern, afterwards Bishop under whose direction was built the first little log chapel in year 1804. At this time there were but eighteen families in the parish and they all assisted in the building of the little church which was but thirty feet in length by twenty in breadth and twelve feet high. It was dedicated to St. Alexis by Bishop Plessis in the 17th July 1812. It stood down close to the shore beside the old burying ground where sleep the pioneer settlers of Rollo Bay. There are no very old tombstones to be seen in this ancient cemetery, those placed there in early days were made of old red sandstones and have crumbled away. A tall cross and a neat white fence mark it off as a place consecrated to the faithful dead. The second church of the mission was built in 1824, the builder was one Bartlett Dumphy.

The third and present church of Rollo Bay was built in 1853 by Lawrence Murphy and Lawrence Peters. It stands on rising ground over looking one of the fairest landscapes of Prince Edward Island. Here the coast line is broken by two beautiful bays, the points of land that separate them being high and well wooded in parts, while the farms thereon give evidence of careful cultivation and great fertility. The church is sixty feet in length by forty two in width; the height of the wall is twenty one feet. In 1870-2 a chancel vestry and tower were added to it. The High Altar which came from Montreal is delicately through profusely coloured in blue and gold with touches of pink, grey and brown. The frontal is of carton pierre, a representation of the Last Supper in bas relief. Upon the altar are statues of Our Lady and St. Joseph which are painted to harmonize with their background, and on either side brass brackets support adoring angels.

Above the altar is a very fine stained glass window representing the Holy Family. The Holy Water Font is of carved free stone; upon a temporary altar erected to the Blessed Virgin stands an old but richly gilt tabernacle which along with a set of vestments, candlesticks and consor came from France to French St. Peters in the year 1840. They were ordered by Father John McDonald of Glenaladale who at that time served in the eastern end of the Island, and were brought over from St. Pierre in the schooner of Captain John D'Aigle.

The cemetery of Rollo Bay is by some persons considered to be more beautiful than any in the Island. It lies to the east of the church and is shaded by many graceful white birch trees. In the center is a cross in memory of the mission of 1844.

This parish possesses several relics of the past, which are carefully treasured, one is a chalice presented in the days of the first log chapel by the Abbe de Calonne.

The stem of this chalice is of silver, the cup is solid gold. Another is an ancient missal rich in beautiful engravings, bearing the inscription:

Ex Officina Plantimiana
Balthasaris Moreti

The dearest treasure of Rollo Bay church however, is its bell. Long ago in the last century when there was no Mr. Phinsoll to protect the rights of those who go down to the sea in ships, the English government being determined to get rid of the French inhabitants of the then populous little town of St. Pierre situated upon the harbour of that name, decided upon a plan akin to that taken by the Sultan when he quietly drops obnoxious individuals into the Bosphorus, and sent three hundred of the French adrift in an leaky vessel avowedly with the intention of transporting them to France. Before leaving, these poor people as was the usual custom of the Acadians, buried such things as they considered too sacred to fall into the hands of the English, among these was their church bell. In the year 1870 a Mr. Barry of St. Peters Harbour while ploughing in his field, struck some object that gave forth a metallic sound, and which proved to be the bell of the old church of St. Pierre which had lain unharmed in the earth for over one hundred years. Mr. Barry presented his treasure trove to the parishioners of Morell who exchanged it for a new bell, with the people of Rollo Bay. The old relic was rapturously welcomed by the descendants of its first owners and was killed by kindness.

Everybody wanted to ring it, and everybody did ring it, in consequence it was broken and had to be recast. In 1882 it was placed in the tower of St. Alexis Church, where it rings the Angelus as of old to the great joy of all the faithful of the mission.

The bell bears the following inscription:

Jesu + Marie + Joseph +
P. Cosse m'a fait, - Michelin 1723. In 1870 Je fus retire des ruines d'une
Eglise d'un Ancien Village Acadien I.P.E.
En 1882 les paroisieus de Rollo Bay me firent refondre par meneely et Cie de West Troy
N.Y. en souvenir de leurs ancetrees de L'Acadie

The missionaries who have served the parish of St. Alexis. Since the time of Bishop McEachern are:
Rev. Jean Louis Beaubien
Rev. Joseph Etienne Cecile
Rev. Antonie Gosselin
Rev. William Bernard McLeod
Rev. John McDonald
Rev. Pius McPhee
Rev Francis McDonald
Rev. Dougald M. McDonald
Rev. Donald Francis McDonald
Rev. Edward Walker D.D.

The Rev. D. Walker was the first resident priest and has built a charming parochial residence. Rollo Bay is one of the prettiest settlements of Prince Edward Island; the fair white houses of the settlers nestling amid smiling gardens under grand old trees overlook the bright water, and the bold headlands of Cape Rollo, Cape Able and Cape Eglington on the West, while to the east the country stretching away to picturesque Souris, forms a varied panorama of prosperous farms, richly united forests and beautiful streamlets, such as delight the hearts of the angles and the tourist.

There is now no vestige of the trials through which the pioneer settlers passed; their descendants live in peace and plenty, drawing harvests from land and sea, and adhering strictly to that faith for which their forefathers suffered in the cruel days of old.

First Settlers of the Mission of
St. Alexis
Rollo Bay

Paul Pitres
Joseph Pitres
William Pitres
Joseph Bourke
Simon Bourke
L'Aunaint Chaisson
Raphael Chaisson
Jean Longue Phee
Jean D'Aigle
Charles D'Aigle