Two and a half hours of driving through the peace inducing hills of Ontario’s farm lands led us to a spectacular sight which left me agreeing with the word choice of Fr. Matoga, a Jesuit missionary who fist visited northern Ontario in 1853 to minister to the new settlements of the region. Upon seeing the valley in today’s Bruce County, he described it as Formosa, the Latin word for beautiful. Even more beautiful was the sight of Formosa’s hilltop Church of the Immaculate Conception which towers over the valley as its guardian and protector. After a delicious luncheon, Fr Gordon gave us the grand tour of this gothic masterpiece. The inside was just as breathtaking, if not more.
He explained to us that it was completed in 1883, largely by the volunteer labour of parishioners, to serve a growing community of predominantly German settlers.
What was fascinating was finding out how the church was built. It began as a small wooden structure that required two expansions to handle the increasing number of immigrants flocking to the area. Fr. Archangelus Gstir oversaw the expansion in 1861, making a monetary appeal to King Ludwig I of Bavaria. The latter sent 2000 Thalers and later, an additional 1000 when Fr. Gstir began the process of building a larger stone church. The shell of the new church, was built overtop the original one. Despite construction, the wooden church remained in use until the roof of the stone structure was finished. Once complete, the wooden building was dismantled and removed from the inside out.
Today, the stone church stands just as strong and tall as the day it was completed and seats an impressive 1200 people. For all you Canadian literature lovers, you may or may not be aware that the story of the church construction is used as a fictional backdrop in Jane Urquhart novel The Stone Carvers
(the details of which have garnered much controversy among the locals -that’s insider information from Fr. Gordon!)
At the end of our church tour, we were lucky to catch a glimpse of another one of Formosa’s famous points of interest: The Annual Christmas Craft Show, featuring over 45 exhibitors! That’s two floors of fun filled Christmas excitement! And how did we get from one floor to the next? Why, by means of an elevator operated by our tour guide himself! As always, Fr. Gordon never ceases to respond to the call to serve in ways that continue to inspire. Although we were sad to see him go this past spring, we are overjoyed to know that he his protected by the solid foundations of Canada’s ‘northern cathedral’ and kept warm by a loving community who appreciates him (almost!) as much as we do. Thank you Fr. Gordon, for a most memorable fall weekend.