The quaint little village of Big Valley Alberta is great place to visit if you like historical structures. Among the buildings worth exploring are a traditional wooden grain elevator, roundhouse remains, a lovely train station, and a unique little place of worship located on a small hill overlooking town. It’s the “Blue Church”, or the “Blue Church on the Hill”, St. Edmund’s Anglican, which will be the subject of this report.
This wonderful picturesque building was constructed almost a hundred years ago – 1916 according to a plaque that hangs on one of its outer walls. At the time it was built Big Valley was a dynamic and happening boom town established only a few years earlier. It was a busy division point for the Canadian Northern Railway and that company employed many. The future looked bright indeed!
A growing town needs spiritual help and to address those concerns the Anglican Diocese established a church here, financing it using funds donated from England. At the time, the Anglican Church in Canada (sometimes called the the Church of England in Canada) had close ties with the Church of England, a relationship that would last for many years.
As originally constructed, the building did not have a steeple and the main doorway was west-facing. Prevailing winds tended to cause problems with snow build up and so with the addition of a bell tower in the early 1920s, a new protected east-facing doorway was put in place at that same time. The church was originally stuccoed, which was later changed to siding. The whole time it was painted in a soft cream colour.
Early on Big Valley was dealt a huge blow and in the early 1920s the financially shaky Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) merged with rival Grant Trunk Pacific (GTP) and with that the once busy divisional point here was eliminated. The trains still visited, but the line’s importance was greatly diminished. None the less the town hung on and it was still a fairly busy place with lots of farms in the area, and even some coal mines to help take up some of the slack. The heady days of only a few years earlier however, were now behind it.
As time passed the town’s population declined. People moved away and businesses closed, a cycle that was repeated many times. By the mid 1960s, the small congregation was not big enough to keep the church afloat and it was closed to regular service at that time.
Neglected, but still used occasionally, the exterior was repainted in the mid 1970s. The legend says that funds were lacking to purchase the materials needed, so they used what ever they could source, in this case some unwanted paint donated by a local lumber yard. It’s further said that many people were unhappy with the new bold colour, although over time, it came to be accepted. Today it’s the that bright blue that made it famous – it’s the “Little Blue Church on the Hill”, a well known local landmark.
Even today, the building does see occasional use for special events or weddings. It’s cared for by the Big Valley Historical Society and is a Provincially protected site, open for viewing when the tourist trains are into town, or at other times by appointment. I know I want to go in next time we’re there – we missed doing so this pass as the guide was busy elsewhere.
In researching this article we have seen a number of pictures of the church that show some white stones arranged on the hill in front that spell out “St. Edmund’s”. These letters were not present on our visit and it’s not known when they were removed, or even put in place for that matter.
St. Edmund, also known as Edmund the Martyr, was a king in ancient East Anglia (present day eastern UK) and he is the patron saint of pandemics and of kings. Much of what we know of him is clouded in mystery and legend, not surprising given it’s been twelve centuries since his death. He was reportedly beheaded at hands of the Danes for his refusal to renounce Christ. During the Middle Ages, Edmund was the patron saint of England as well, but he was later replaced by St George. Some Catholic Diocese in the area that was once East Anglia also recognize St. Edmund.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: September, 2013.
Location: Big Valley, AB.