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Holy Cross Mission of Wikwemikong

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Manitoulin Island was inhabited by Odawas prior to the presence of Ojibway and Pottawatomi communities. In 1648, Joseph Antoine Poncet, S.J., a French Jesuit, arrived on the island. In the following decades, however, the Jesuit presence on the island remained insignificant. In the early part of the nineteenth century, the British Crown wished to develop the area as a settlement for all First Nations people in order to free land for ensuing colonial encroachment. The 1836 Manitoulin Treaty between the British Crown and Ottawa and Ojibway representatives stipulated that the area would be the property of all First Nations who wished to reside there. However, few Indigenous communities were ready to abandon their ancestral land and move to Manitoulin Island.

On July 9, 1844, Jean-Pierre Choné, S.J., arrived on Manitoulin Island, which was at that point mostly inhabited by Ojibwas, Odawas, and a few Catholics. The arrival of French Jesuit priests to the area marked the beginning of their northern missions. While the area was known to the Jesuits, Choné became the first Jesuit Superior at Wikwemikong. The Holy Cross Mission was then established at Wikwemikong. Nicholas Point, S.J., came to Wikwemikong in 1847 and led the mission for seven years. Wikwemikong became the focal point of the Jesuit missions throughout Northern Ontario.

The church of the Holy Cross Mission is the oldest Catholic Church in Northern Ontario. Construction began in the late 1840s, and was largely done by Anishinaabee men, women, and children. The individuals who built the Wikwemikong church were mostly Bemanakinong, Wakegijig, Gabow, and Kenogameg (Kinoshameg) First Nations families. In 1954, a fire destroyed the Church; only the stone walls remained. The church was gradually rebuilt.

At Wikwemikong, the Jesuits managed schools and were active in various community activities. In 1994, the Holy Cross Mission celebrated its 150th anniversary. Since its inception, it served as the centre of the Jesuits’ northern missions in Ontario. Accordingly, Jesuit missionaries active in other northern missions, such as in the Gore Bay parish, Batchewana, Little Current, Killarney, Spanish River, and Lake Huron North Shore, reported formally and informally to the Holy Cross Mission at Wikwemikong.

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