In 1842, when Father Michael Power, a Haligonian born of Irish parents, was consecrated as the first bishop of the newly formed Diocese of Toronto, he faced an enormous challenge. The Toronto Diocese, largely forgotten by Rome at that time, covered a vast area. Spanning the western area of Upper Canada, the diocese included Manitoulin Island to the north, London to the west, Niagara to the south and Toronto as the home base. He was the spiritual Father to fifty thousand Catholics with three thousand of them living in Toronto. The diocese was lacking in key areas. In a 1842 letter to Bishop Kinsella of Ireland, he wrote, “I have but twenty clergymen throughout the whole county…. I have neither colleges, nor schools, nor men.” One of his first actions was to gather the clergy at St. Paul’s Church in Toronto for a retreat and synod at which he issued strict rules for the conduct of his unruly priests and governance of the diocese. At this time, he consecrated Toronto Diocese to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Bishop Power travelled extensively throughout the expansive region. Realizing the need for a nucleus – a central point – for the diocese, he set about the work of building a cathedral and bishop’s palace. Construction of St. Michael’s Cathedral began in April, 1845. He did not live to see its dedication on September 29, 1848.
In the 1840s the famine in Ireland caused mass immigration to Canada. Ninety thousand immigrants landed at Quebec City in 1847 and many of them continued the journey to a new life in Toronto. Overcrowded and unsanitary condition on the ships as well as spoiled, inadequate food resulted in outbreaks of typhus en route to Canada.