Click here to edit subtitle

Iona Academy/The Bishop's House

The text below was originally written in May 2015.

July 15 2015 update: Iona Academy has been SAVED. It will NOT be demolished!!!

It has been brought to my attention by several people that Iona Academy in St. Raphael's faces the threat of being demolished. I'm hoping this article will raise awareness, help educate the population, and hopefully, stir the fate of this historic building in a different direction.

The old Iona Academy sits across the street from St. Raphael's Ruins, on Kings Road. Kings Road, historic itself, was the major route between Montreal and Toronto until a new highway was built alongside the St. Lawrence River back in the 1920's. Today, Kings Road is a beautiful picturesque country road.

Similar to Kings Road, Iona Academy and the property it is built on, is historic. The grounds surrounding Iona Academy literally date back to the early 1800's. The lane leading towards the old Academy is original. This lane graces through the old parade grounds, which were first used by military units in 1812.

During the same year, this is the house Officer Alexander Macdonell stayed in. He is the only known person to have been a member of both the first and second Glengarry Fencibles.

The History of Iona Academy

Iona Academy was built in 1808. It's original function was to serve as a presbytery to the community. In 1818, it became the first publicly supported Catholic school in Upper Canada. John Sandfield Macdonald, later a leading player in pre-Confederation Canadian politics and the first premier of post-Confederation Ontario, attended this school. In 1826, Reverend Alexander Macdonell founded the College of Iona, which is considered the first post-secondary institution in all of Ontario. In 1924, the presbytery expanded, allowing Iona Academy to become a combined boarding and day school. Two symmetrically proportioned east and west wings were added to the original structure. In 1913, it operated as a high school staffed by teaching sisters of the Holy Cross. In 1981 the Academy was converted into Mount Carmel House Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center, where approximately one thousand people were treated. In 1996, the center would close its doors due to the lack of government funding. Since 1996, the building has housed a couple of small groups, but for the most part, has remained unoccupied. 

Alexander Macdonell

After being ordained a priest on February 16, 1787, Reverend Alexander Macdonell decided to spend his life in Canada. Reverend Macdonell formed the Glengarry Fencibles in Glasgow. He served as chaplain of the Fencibles. He was the first Catholic chaplain in the British Army since the Reformation. 

When the regiment was disbanded, Reverend Macdonell appealed to the government to grant its members land in Canada. In 1804, 160,000 acres were provided to them, in what is now Glengarry County. 

In 1812, Reverend Macdonell raised another regiment, the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles, which came to the defense of Upper Canada during the War of 1812. In 1815, he became the first Roman Catholic Bishop at St. Raphael's Church. In 1819, he was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Upper Canada, which in 1826 was erected into a bishopric. In 1826, he was appointed to the legislative council.

Reverend Macdonell founded dozens of churches and schools in Ontario, as well as organized the Glengarry County settlement. In 1846, he established Regiopolis College, in Kingston, Ontario.

Clerical Appointments

- January 12, 1819 - appointed as Vicar Apostolic of Upper Canada, Ontario

- January 12, 1819 - appointed as Titular Bishop of Thabraca

- December 31, 1820 - ordained as Titular Bishop of Thabraca

- January 27, 1826 - appointed as Bishop of Kingston, Ontario, Canada


- The town of Alexandria in North Glengarry, Ontario is named after him.

- In Guelph, Ontario, a Catholic secondary school was re-named Bishop Macdonell Catholic High School in 1962, and Macdonell Street at the foot of Church of Our Lady Immaculate is named in his honour.

- Macdonell Street in Kingston, Ontario is also named after him.

Iona Academy in it's current state. // Photo Credit: Matt Thompson.

Iona Academy is one of the most important buildings in all of SD&G because of it's local and national historical significance. Iona Academy and the property it sits on, has a number of things connected to it. This building plays important roles in SD&G's religious history, military history, and educational history. I believe this is a part of our history that we cannot afford to lose.

Several architects from Ottawa have traveled down to the former Iona Academy site, and they all state the same general consensus. The building is in amazing shape for it's age, despite getting constant care like it should. The main focus would be to keep the integrity of the roof, making sure that water does not get inside.

Restoring this building would be a big project, but it is possible.

What needs to happen? (In my opinion)

First and foremost, I believe Iona Academy needs to be designated as a national historic site, because that's exactly what it is. This will add a "layer of protection" to the property, and I know this can easily be achieved because St. Raphael's Ruins were declared a national historic site in 1999.

A new, viable use needs to be found for this building. "There are communities across Canada dealing with “retired” buildings—some grand, some less so—that stand vacant, no longer used for the purposes for which they were built. Often they are threatened with neglect or demolition. The challenge for the many people committed to seeing these sites preserved is finding a new, viable use to which they can be adapted. A good conservation strategy begins with good planning."[1]

Lastly, I believe this buildings story needs to be told.

I knew this building was historic, but I didn't know how much history it actually had until I researched it to write this article for you. The more I learned, the angrier I became that this building could even face the possibility of being demolished. This is the reason I have written out the buildings history for you. I hope you will share this information, and help me stand up to save and protect this building for future generations to see. Iona Academy has stood tall and proud for two hundred and seven years, and I refuse to be the generation that demolishes a site with this much historical significance.

Photo Credits and Sources:

[1] Lanken, Dane. "The Bishop's House." Heritage Sites (2006): n. pag. Rpt. in Heritage Canada. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Heritage Canada, Magazines. Web. 8 June 2015.

Picture of Alexander Macdonell, courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.