150 Years of History in the Hills

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the May 31, 2017 issue. Reprinted with permission.

This is the eleventh in a continuing series of photo essays celebrating our Gatineau Valley history and heritage during Canada's sesquicentennial year. The series was created by the Gatineau Valley Historical Society, in collaboration with The Low Down to Hull and Back News; parishioners with Old Chelsea's St. Stephen's Church prepared this article.

The church, the steeple, the people

It's like spotting an old friend when you are driving late on a stormy night and the towering steeple of St. Stephen's Church in Old Chelsea comes into view. There is something comforting about seeing that steeple, even for folks who live elsewhere. That steeple seems to have been there forever. It's a sturdy, secure constant in what is otherwise an ever-changing world.

150 Years of History in the Hills
A baby's baptism by the late Father André Gauvreau, pastor of St. Stephen's from 1983 to 1991. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Gibeault

St. Stephen's Roman Catholic Parish was founded in 1840 by the Bishop of Lower Canada and originally served 130 families primarily of Irish origin. The stone church on Old Chelsea Road was completed in 1883, replacing a smaller wooden structure. Built primarily from donated wood and stone, the church shows the influence of both Baroque and Quebecois parish architecture.

The bell and steeple, so wellknown today, were added in 1895. The interior of the church is painted with ceiling and wall frescoes and has 13 large stained glass windows, including one of the church's patron saint, Stephen. The cemetery to the east of the church reveals names of many well-known Chelsea families including Hendrick, Kelly, Mulvihill, Dufour, Dunlop, and Ryan.

St. Stephen's Church and its grounds have always served as a community gathering place. The site of annual horse pulls and church festivals gave way to community fairs and more recently the Chelsea market. The acoustics inside the church have supported many a classical concert and the annual Christmas ecumenical service celebrated by Chelsea's Catholic, Anglican and United Church parishes. Many of the church's current francophone and anglophone parishioners are also community volunteers.

Residents and visitors who would like to discover the church's interior can do so on Saturday June 3, 2017, as part of the municipality's Chelsea Days. They can also visit the renovated former rectory next door which houses La Fab, the Chelsea arts, cultural and heritage centre.

This spring St. Stephen's launched a fundraising campaign to help pay for major restoration work to the roof, masonry, windows and foundation. By raising at least $80,000, the parish will secure a matching grant of over $168,000 from the province. To learn more about how to help preserve this historic landmark please visit www.st-stephen.ca.

150 Years of History in the Hills
The steeple on the church is an Old Chelsea landmark that has been lit up every night for several decades - a welcoming beacon seen from afar. Its illumination was the brainchild of the late Father André Gauvreau, during his tenure as pastor. Here it is being removed for a restoration project that ended up taking several years, circa 1995. Photo courtesy of Larry Dufour.
150 Years of History in the Hills
A welcoming parish-members of St. Stephen's, 2016. Photo courtesy of Sheilagh Murphy.

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