In this report we look at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in the tiny community of Courval Saskatchewan. Very photogenic, it is one of a handful of buildings still standing in what is essentially a ghost town, While needing a coat of paint and some other repairs, it’s otherwise in an overall reasonable condition. I don’t think it’s been used for quite some time but someone still stops by to mow the lawn and check on things. You can see that.
We’ll explore the building and grounds while a storm brews above us. The skies threatened, but thank goodness only a few drops fell. The boiling clouds added an almost spooky and melancholy element to the photographs we shot.
Given there is so little to be found on this structure, this report is going to be lacking in some ways. We’ve scoured books and online sources and gleaned very little from it all. We also spoke with locals and while all knew of the church, few knew much else about it.
The church was built in 1928. We know that much, a faded plaque on its steeple tells us so. It’s not known if there was an earlier Catholic Church at this site, or elsewhere in Courval, but I’d say one of the two possibilities is a good likelihood. There was after all a large percentage of Catholics in the area (Francophone settlers, mostly from Quebec), going back to around 1910 and the Church was always an important part of that culture.
It’s not known when the building was last used. It does not appear totally abandoned but rather is in some sort of limbo from what we could see. Someone it taking car of it, to a degree. It’s locked up tight, thanks goodness. That will keep the birds, elements and vandals out. I looked through a crawl space window at the building’s foundation and underside bits and they looked fine.
Located in back is the “grotto” (Grotte et chapelle – cave and chapel), a symbolic religious display often found at Catholic Churches. This structure, according to a plaque, was added in the 1960s.
St Joseph’s is surprisingly large church for such a small population base. Recall, there was a disproportionate number of Catholics in the area. I am not certain if there were ever any other churches in town of other denominations. If so, presumably they would have had small congregations.
Seen near the front of the church is a bilingual monument dedicated (in 1964) to Courval’s early pioneers. Note all the francophone names, which are still common in the area to this day.
We found a duck’s nest on the grounds and inside we counted ten eggs in total. The parents were not seen, but probably were close by watching us. It was cool out, so we made a quick retreat so they would return to keep their clutch warm.
The Courval area was settled about a hundred years ago. Today the “town” has what looks to be, based on our tour of it, a population comprised of one single family. In 2001, according to a census, ten people lived here. At the peak, and this is only a guess since there is precious little to be found in regards to the subject, there was perhaps several dozen people living here at most, plus more living on farms nearby. A circa 1930 map shows the town was two blocks square, double what it is today.
The railway came through Courval in the early 1930s and was abandoned some six decades later. It was a sleepy grain branch line once belonging to the CPR (its Shamrock Subdivision).
Seen near the church is the remains of an old grain elevator. Its lineage is not known. At the peak there were four such buildings in Courval – the two last closed in 1984 and 1990 respectively – and presumably this is what’s left of one of them. Research is ongoing and we always welcome input from our readers. I’d be curious to know why the structure was partially demolished then simply left behind.
I was not able to find much evidence of the old rail line nearby. It’s like it never existed.
Also spotted nearby, right across the road from St Joseph’s in fact, is an interesting old farm truck. This is a mid-1950s R Series model (R180 to be exact) from International Harvester. This make to truck was quite popular in rural Saskatchewan – you could buy an IH trucks at the the same place you bought and serviced your tractor. A larger rural dealer network assured the company a steady stream of customers.
The R Series line of pickups (R110 to R180) were made from 1953-55. Larger models continued in production for a time after.
If you like churches, go here…
Calgary then and now – First Baptist Church.
Claresholm then and now – Latter Day Saints Church.
St Edmund’s Church Big Valley Alberta.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: May, 2014.
Location: Courval, SK.