Built in 1885 and 1904 respectively, St Paul’s and St Patrick’s are some of the oldest churches in Calgary, and some of the oldest buildings in town period. When constructed they were not even with the city limits, not even close, and were located in the independent community of Midnapore. Sitting beside and easily visible from busy MacLeod Trail, I doubt few people driving past them realize the histrionic significance of these two tiny structures.
The first building we’ll visit is St Pat’s which was built as a Roman Catholic Church and served in that capacity until the the early 1980s when the congregation moved out. Afterwards, other church denominations used the building from time to time but none seemed to last long. They represented those of the United, Anglican and Lutheran faiths. At other times the building sat empty and was subject to neglect to vandalism.
For most of that time the church was still owned by the Catholic Diocese and leased out to whomever used to the building, but for a period in the late 1990s and into the early 2010s a nearby funeral home held the title instead. During that time, there was fear the building would be demolished to make way for a new mausoleum but fortunately that did not happen. The Catholic Church has since taken back the property.
In the early 2000s St Patrick’s became a recognized historic resource. That in itself does not completely assure that a building will be preserved, but it does help put the pressure on those who wish to destroy history. Sometimes a building can still come down in spite of these rules.
What the the Alberta Government has to say regarding historically recognized buildings…
“Owners of Provincial Historic Resources are obligated under the Historical Resources Act to be good stewards of their heritage properties. No person can destroy, disturb, alter, restore, repair or remove any historic objects from a Provincial Historic Resource without approval in writing from the Minister of Culture and Community Spirit.”
Even with this recognition, in the last decade little was done to the church and it continued to deteriorate. It was like no one cared. Vacant, vandalized and unloved for years, in 2011 a new congregation moved in, St. John Chrysostom Russian Orthodox, who cleaned things up. They use it for their regular services to this day.
This new user of the building has mounted a Russian style cross on the steeple. These have multiple arms, one of which is always tilted up to the left. It’s been suggested that the lower crossbeam represents a footrest, to which the feet of Jesus were nailed. There are many explanations why the cross is slanted, one of them states that the arm broke as he died. Also seen above the entrance is a very Russian or Orthodox style representation of Jesus. Outside of these changes however the church looks pretty much built.
Some work has been started on the building, but there is still a lot left to do. It sure could use a coat of paint, but I bet that’s on their to-do list. Let’s hope it’s brought back to its former glory and let’s hope it continues to be used for a long, long time.
The legendary Father Lacombe, known for his tireless work as a missionary, was the first parish priest at the church and he served from the time it was built until his death in 1916. The nearby Lacombe Home was his last major undertaking, a shelter for orphans and the poor. This historic complex may be the subject of a future report here. Volumes could be written about Lacombe, that’s for certain.
A stones thrown away from St Pat’s is St Paul’s Anglican, similar in appearance to it’s neighbour but somewhat smaller. When built, a hundred and thirty years ago, Calgary was a small dot on the map well to the north of the church. The whole region then was a sparsely populated wilderness, quite a contrast to how it is today.
The majority of the building we see today is as built, but some changes have been made over time. The steeple was replaced in the 1940s, and the building was lifted and placed on a new concrete foundation in the 1980s. The church bell is apparently a couple hundred years older than the building itself and was brought over from England at some point in the first few decades of the twentieth century (reports say 1920s or 1930s). What happened to the original bell is not known.
Until the 1950s, the Anglican Church was known as the Church of England in Canada.
According to a sign, regular services are held in the church. That congregation also has a much larger and newer second church building in the area (from late 1990s) which is their main facility. It’s nice that in spite of outgrowing the little chapel, they still found a use for it. The structure has been recognized for it’s historic value and given the love and care that been shown to it, should be around for some time to come. It, like its neighbour, is very photogenic and we hope to return time and again to shoot it more.
Both St Paul’s and St Pat’s were built in the Carpenter Gothic style, characterized by the steep pitched roof, front entry porch, and rows of arched style windows. Many houses of worship across Canada, of many denominations, were built in a similar fashion. It’s the archetypal small town church. When built they were in the community of Midnapore, which was not annexed by Calgary until the early 1960s.
St Paul’s holds a few titles, most notably it’s the oldest Church in Calgary. It’s also one one of a handful of pre-1900 buildings of any type left standing in town. St Patrick’s is the oldest Catholic Church in Calgary. St Paul’s is partially surrounded by a cemetery but deep snow prevented us from getting a good look at who’s buried here and how long they’ve been interned. Maybe we’ll return when the days are warmer.
As mentioned St Pat’s was briefly used by an Anglican congregation at some point in the modem era (1980s-1990s?). Was this an overflow church for the neighbouring St Paul’s Anglican or another congregation altogether? Hmm, that’s interesting – two Anglican Churches side by side. (Update September 2016: refer to the comments section for a clarification of this).
Both churches were built on land original donated by members of the Glenn family, some early settlers in the area. You can see both these building from MacLeod Trail but access is from side roads. If you visit these sites, please show them respect.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: February, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.