In focus

Saint-Charles: peak and decline of an emblematic parish

The parish of Saint-Charles is founded in 1908 through a decree by Archbishop Duhamel. It is entrusted to the Montfortian Fathers, who are already in charge of Vanier’s Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes Parish.

The history of the Saint-Charles Parish merges with that of its first resident priest, Fr. François-Xavier Barrette, who takes the reins in 1912 and leaves only in 1961, one year before his death. The parish of Saint-Charles develops on his initiative. Church, presbytery, parish hall, schools and parish organizations (including the Cercle social Saint-Charles in 1931, Scouts in 1932, Cubs in 1939, Ligue du Sacré-Cœur in 1940, and the Zouaves in 1955) are the fruit of Fr. Barrette’s incessant work to give the French-speaking community of Vanier a solid foundation. He even goes so far as to finance and buy houses to attract Francophone families to the vicinity of his church. Besides being a dedicated parish priest and community builder, Fr. Barrette is an ardent patriot, one of the founding members of the Ordre de Jacques-Cartier, a “secret” society founded in 1926 in Vanier to advance the interests of Catholic French Canadians. He is appointed bishop by Pope Pius XII in 1954.

Three parish priests succeed him from 1961 to 1980, ensuring a certain stability within the parish during those years. But the exodus of Francophones to the suburbs will soon be its undoing. Added to the growing ethnic and religious diversity of the Vanier population is a general decline in religious practice among Catholics in the region. A study commissioned in 2008 by the Archdiocese leads to the dissolution of the Saint-Charles Parish. The church, built when the parish is established, is put up for sale. Parishioners seek heritage building designation for the church under the Ontario Heritage Act, with a view to protecting the exterior of the building and giving it a new life. Saint-Charles Church remains a testimony to the struggles Francophones face in making Vanier a place for French life.