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Tuesday August 18th, 2015

Posted at 12:00pm

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Following the 12 noon mass Wednesday at St. Alphonsus Church in Downtown Windsor, a provincial plaque will be unveiled paying tribute to Dean Wagner and the First Coloured Mission in Canada.

After the coming of the railroad, the city of Windsor changed as a result of the rapid increase in population, and people living in Windsor had to walk, ride horses or travel by horse and cart to attend Sunday Mass at Assumption Church. So Bishop De Sharbonnel, the Rev. Pierre Point of Assumption and Bishop Pinsoneault (first Bishop of London) approached Mr. Ouellette (a farmer from Ouellette Ave and Park Street to Goyeau Street) to discuss the matter.

After a lengthy deliberation with Mr Ouellette, Mr Goyeau and Mr. Mcdannel QC., a frame barn like structure was built, facing Goyeau St. In 1857 some Jesuit priests from Assumption Church came to celebrate Mass at St. Alphonsus Church. All weddings and funerals however, took place at Assumption Church. St. Alphonsus Church was dedicated in 1857. Many people believed that it was built to accommodate the Old Great Western Railroad employees. The Vicar General, J.M. Bruyere and Father Joseph Bayard often participated in the work of this Church. However, the Very Reverend James Theodore Wagner was appointed as Pastor of St. Alphonsus Church on June 1st, 1865.

In January of 1887, Father Wagner formed this Mission to assist the Coloured Americans who poured into Canada following the War of 1812, and also after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. By this Act, every escaped person who was still under the jurisdiction of the United State could be caught and sent back to the United States. ‘The Voice of the Fugitive’, a Newspaper published in Sandwich by Henry Bibb, carried an account of the people who needed immediate assistance.

A school was opened in the Old Church Hall, and the Sisters of Holy Name took charge of teaching the coloured children who were not welcome into the regular schools. In the Spring of 1871, the Cornerstone was laid for a new church building which was completed in 1873. This Church was the first one to be consecrated by the Diocese of London. Dean Wagner made several visits to Europe to raise funds for the Church and his Mission. He met with the Pope and the Emperor to discuss his Church and its Mission. He returned with many gifts which were used in an auction to raise funds.

Dean Wagner was determined to do all that he could to meet the needs of his congregation and his Mission; so he communicated with the R.H.S.J. in Montreal, requesting a donation of funds for an Orphanage in Windsor. They sent him two dollars and fifty cents, and told him of their desire to have a Hospital built in Windsor. After much deliberation with Mother Bonnau and Sister Josephine Paquet of Montreal, and many others in Windsor, Hotel Dieu Hospital was built and dedicated by 1889. The Orphanage and the new School for the Coloured Children was opened 1890. Approximately sixty six children were baptised and received into St. Alphonsus Church.

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