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Kearney’s History and Heritage

Photo of Main Street Kearney

Kearney’s History and Heritage

History of Kearney:

Quoted from the book “Kearney: 100 Years”

The town of Kearney is located at the west edge of Algonquin Highlands in the southeast portion of what is now known as the Almaguin Highlands. By road, it is 36 kilometres north of Huntsville, and 22 kilometres southeast of Burk’s Falls. Being about 250 kilometres north of Toronto, it remains officially designated as part of Northern Ontario.

When originally incorporated in 1908, the town consisted of 489 acres at the east edge of Perry Township. It now encompasses 529 square kilometres and engulfs all of Proudfoot and Bethune Townships plus the majority of Butt and McCraney Townships.

Kearney sits upon the portion of the Canadian Shield and its bedrock outcroppings, revealing some of the oldest rock formations on earth. The massive glaciers of repeated ice ages ground away taller formations leaving innumerable hills and valleys, the latter flooding to form lakes.

The area, for centuries is believed to have been a communal hunting and fishing ground for the surrounding indigenous First Nation tribes of Huron, Ojibwa, and Algonquin. There have been stories of 18th and 19th century trappers being lead north up the Ottawa River and west on the Mattawa River by the native guides.

Kearney’s true history begins around 1860. In the 1860’s and 70’s, Canada and much of the world was going through a major economic depression, and many families were struggling with life hoping and searching for a new place to start.

In 1868, the new province of Ontario felt it could assist these citizens as well as many new immigrants by passing “An Act to Secure Free Grants and Homesteads to actual settlers on the Public Lands”. However, the “free grants” did come with conditions: the settler had to remain on the land for at least five years, during which time at least 15 acres had to be brought under cultivation. The government’s objective was permanent settlement of the area and that is indeed what happened.

One of the first businesses in the area was the “flying post”. A flying post was an outpost where fur traders would come to trade furs for supplies and equipment. These temporary trading posts were very common throughout the Ontario Wilderness, and they have lent their name to Flying Post Lake near Sudbury and the Flying Post First Nations reserve west of Timmins.

Although commercial trapping had been going on in Ontario, the first known Kearney Flying Post was built in 1878 by William Kearney and Arthur J. O’Neil. The post was relocated in 1879, to the southeast corner of what is today the intersection of Highway 518 East and Main Street.

St. Patrick’s (Heritage) Roman Church

Built by Irish lumbermen and under the guidance of Father Thomas F. Fleming, the impressive stone church at Kearney was completed in 1904 (four years before Kearney was officially incorporated). It was dedicated to Saint Patrick in a solemn ceremony by Bishop R.A. O’Connor.

It was constructed from hand-gathered fieldstone,” says Patti Gilchrist, chair of the church’s restoration committee. “When the Irish came to this community, there were a significant number of them and they decided they would build this church.”

In 1986, St. Patrick’s Roman Church was officially designated as a Heritage site, and restoration of the windows was completed in 1987.

St. Patrick’s Roman Church served as an active church until 2004, when a structural issue forced its doors to close. For six years St. Patrick’s was empty, but the restoration committee was determined to return the church to its former glory and finally the doors were re-opened in August of 2010.

Today, the original tin ceiling remains as well as the original stained glass windows including one that depicts Saint Patrick. 

St. Patrick’s Roman Church is located at 89 Rain Lake Rd and is the only heritage building in Kearney. 

For more information, St. Patrick’s Roman Church can be contacted at: (705) 636-5334 

St. Patrick’s Parish Picture Gallery

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