With some care, this old kirk may survive to see its 200th birthday. Built in 1836, it is a lesser known, if not unknown, estate belonging to the United Church of Canada (Pastoral Charge of Argenteuil), but it began life as a Presbyterian church.
Its design is that of a typical Scottish country parish building, and it gets its somewhat offbeat designation from the patron saint and founder of Glasgow, Scotland, who can also boast a cathedral to his name. Located on a beautiful rural site along the Ottawa River, halfway between Grenville and Carillon, St. Mungo's resides in the town of Cushing, Brownsburg-Chatham municipality, Québec. All of this is important to its initial discovery, as well as the fact that the property is on Route 148.
The drive along the north shore of the Ottawa River is spectacular. Here, local farms are interspersed with forest, and you get the impression that nothing much has changed during the past century. The highway and the occasional marina and campground are really the only modern reference points, until you reach the expansive and impressive Carillon Dam.
St. Mungo's itself sits sedately back from the main road, about midway between a horse ranch and the water. The lawn spreads out about her like an expansive green skirt, and the few nearby properties keep their distance, not quite daring to climb onto her lap.
St. Mungo's first pastor, the Reverend William Mair, came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland, and took charge of the parish in 1833. However, burials can be traced to the grounds as far back as 1800. There are about a hundred graves in the cemetery, and no room for more. The last burial took place in the 1940s, if you do not count a recent minister's wife, who was laid to rest there in the 1990s.
By 1896, over 250 members of the religious community had been buried in the crypt of the Motherhouse, and it was full. The bodies of nuns who died in the winter were kept inside the windmill until the ground thawed. Finally, a small plot of land was consecrated to be a cemetery. It is in an idyllic rose garden on the hillside that dominates the island. Even at that, limited space required that the graves contain at least two bodies, attested to by the names on the white marble tombstones.
Some mystery is associated with this same hill on the west side of the island. It is oval-shaped and has a steep slope, rising about 100 feet above the water level of the lake. Historians once suggested that the hill might be more than the work of a former ice age. That humans could have contributed to its formation is supported by its ressemblence to similar, albeit more diminutive, mounds which have served as burial grounds. The idea that the hillock could have been the work of a lost people was borne out during an excavation in 1854 that recovered 18 skulls within approximately 18 square feet, along with many other bones and weapons.
Photo credit: Gilles Douaire QUÉBEC, CANADA
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