St. Ninian Cathedral in Antigonish is the Episcopal seat for the Catholic Diocese of Antigonish, which includes Antigonish, Pictou, and Guysborough counties on the eastern Nova Scotia mainland, and the entire Cape Breton Island. This see was first created in 1844 as the Diocese of Arichat with the seat at Arichat in southeastern Cape Breton. From the beginning, however, the bishops usually lived in Antigonish and in 1886 the see was officially renamed the Diocese of Antigonish, making the parish church of St. Ninian the official cathedral.

       

The present stone cathedral is the third church to serve the needs of the people of Antigonish. The town started its ecclesiastical history as a mission of St. Margaret’s Parish, Arisaig. St. Margaret’s, the first Catholic parish in this county, had been founded in 1792 by immigrants from the Scottish Highlands. In 1810, the first Catholic chapel in town was built southwest of the present Bank of Nova Scotia building. This was under the patronage of St. John, but in 1812, it was renamed St. Ninian, and the parish got a resident priest in 1815. To serve the growing population, under the stewardship of Rev. William Fraser in 1824,  new St. Ninian Church, 72 feet long, 45 feet wide, with a spire of 110 feet high and capacity of 800 people, was built. Its location was on Main Street near the site of the present John Paul Center and Farrell’s Ultramar service station. This building served the community for fifty years.


Father Colin F. MacKinnon was appointed bishop in 1852. In October 1865, when the parish had 400 families, Bishop MacKinnon presented the idea of a new stone church to a meeting of parishioners who approved the plan. Finances were discussed and two possible sites were considered, one being that of the present St. Martha’s Hospital, and the other the present location of the cathedral. On October 22nd, 1866, Bishop MacKinnon turned the first sod for the excavation trenches and the hauling of stone from the quarries at North Grant and Brierly Brook began early in January of the following year. On May 16th, 1867, Ronald MacGillivray, stonecutter of Hallowell Grant, signed an agreement with Bishop MacKinnon and Father Hugh Gillis, the pastor, to build the foundation and the walls up the window ledges.


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