There is a small rural church on the borders of Mississauga, which appears somewhat out of place amidst the modern suburban that has developed in close proximity. Located on the west side of Ninth Line, just north of Britannia Road, St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Mission Church has been a fixture here for generations, long before Mississauga expanded up to its front door.
The first church on the property, a log structure, was built in 1823, although the congregation which once called the church home has origins that date to 1819. According to the Halton-Peel Branch of Ontario Ancestors, during the autumn of 1819 two Irish Catholic settlers, Bartholomew O’Connor and Charles O’Hara, walked over 40 miles to the town of Dundas and persuaded one Father O’Reilly to come to the “Catholic Swamp”, or “Diamond” as it came to be called, to celebrate mass.
This first mass, and the first meeting of the early congregation, was held at Charles O’Hara’s log cabin, which was located near the northwest corner of the intersection of modern Eglinton Avenue and Ninth Line. Visits by priests to the area continued until 1823, when the settlers of the area, who were mostly Irish Catholic, were able to build their own log church. One acre of land was donated by Daniel Hyland for the site.
In the early years of this chapel, mass was celebrated about once every four months. The Church was one of the earliest established Catholic Churches in a wide area, and Catholics from as far away as Georgetown, Brampton, Burlington, Malton and Port Credit would travel to the little church for the services.
The log chapel served the community until about 1850, when it was replaced by a new building. It is this building which survives today. The building was enlarged around 1882 and sheathed in brick. In 1982 it was moved back 50 feet from Ninth Line.
In the cemetery beside the church you will find the resting places of many early Irish Catholic settling families. The earliest recorded cemetery stone dates to 1833 and recalls the passing of 15 year old Elley Skelly (likely Ellie Skelley). According to tradition, her family walked from Malton to this church to bury their young daughter in a Catholic Cemetery, this being the first consecrated Catholic Cemetery in the surrounding area.
There may be earlier burials which are no longer marked with visible stones dating to the 1820s and 1830s. Other cemetery stones commemorate some of the young men of the community who worked on the construction of the first Welland Canal between 1825 and 1829. Also in the cemetery you will find family names such as Hyland, Kelly, McCarron, McConville, Nunan, O’Connor, and O’Hara, amongst many others – family names from many of the early Irish Catholic families of the Catholic Swamp.
The little church continued to serve its congregation until the late 1990s, when services began to dwindle and the congregation was eventually amalgamated with Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Milton.
The Church continues to evoke memories of this community’s pioneer roots, and helps to remind us of the former crossroads community of the Catholic Swamp and the farming families who once gathered here to celebrate mass. The quiet graveyard remains as testimony for those who worked so hard on what was once literally, physically and socially the periphery of two townships.