The near century old Notre Dame de Savoie Catholic Church, weather-beaten, abandoned and forgotten, stands at a lonely prairie crossroads. Last used for services some fifty years ago, the building has seen few visitors since then – only the occasional passing coal mine or oilfield worker, farmers or history enthusiasts such as ourselves who seek the building out for its wonderful charms.
The church groans and moves in the wind and given its severely deteriorated state, I doubt it has much time left. A good snow fall or storm and I bet she’s done. Like all things alive or not, there is a life cycle and this building is surely near its end.
Kitty-corner but not seen in this report (due to bad lighting) is the cemetery of the same name. It’s not abandoned and is in good shape, in sharp contrast to the sad little church.
The building dates from 1915/16 and was funded by the local Francophone Community. It was not the first Catholic Church in the area but was the first that was permanent in nature. Ones before it were rather temporary affairs.
The structure seen here remained in use until the mid-1960s. At that time a new, larger and more modern church was built a few kilometres away. That building, by the way, no longer exists and was torn down to make way for a strip mine. Coal is still extracted in the area and anything in way is simply flattened and hauled away – case in point with the new church.
Coal mining has encroached on the Notre Dame de Savoie Church, a pit coming within perhaps a half a click of the building. Given there is a cemetery between it and the mine, I guess it won’t this that does away with the building. Nature has the task well in hand.
We last visited the church in the 1990s. At that time there was an alter in place which since then has vanished. The building was pretty rough back then, but has deteriorated a lot since.
Looking in, cautiously, as it’s not what I would say a safe structure to explore, it’s disappointing to see that the only thing recognizable inside is one row of beaten-up pews. The windows lack any glass. Like any building open to the elements, it suffers under a barrage of rain and snow. And birds, which quickly take up resilience and poop everywhere. It’s sad to see a place that was so full of spiritual life, so devoid of it today. Jesus has left the building…
The steeple has recently collapsed – a photo found by this author from a few years back shows it still standing back then.
Connie finds an old biffy out back buried in the underbrush, proof positive that every one regardless of their spiritual orientation, has to pee at some point. In behind it is a large flat spot, perhaps the parking lot for cars (and earlier buggies).
The day of our visit was an ugly grey one, with a heavy wind – a suitable sombre environment I guess. The building visibly moved with each gust.
The closest community to the Notre Dame de Savoie Church was Cordel (never really a town but more so a small cluster of houses). It was obliterated due to coal mining. The nearest real community today is Halkirk to the south and Forestburg to the north. Check out the Diplomat Mine site if you’re in the area.
Standing near the church and at that intersection I can’t help but be reminded of the Faustian legend where a deal is made with the devil, often at a crossroads, in order to gain love, money, success or any number of other wants and desires. A modern incarnation of the story, which fits in well with how this place feels, has the mysterious blues musician Robert Johnson making just such a deal at just such a place. He went on to be well known for his guitar skills, and it was said the devil supplied them.
I realize that story plays out in the deep south of the US, but the setting here is so conceptually perfect – the remote and lonely crossroad – the forgotten church – a cemetery – it all fits nicely. I sold my soul at the crossroads!
I so enjoyed photographing this building that I plant to return, hopefully before it falls, which I can’t help but think is certain. I’d love to try blue skies next pass…eh, Mother Nature?
A big thanks to Doris Cordel who works for the town of Halkirk and helped me with this report. She’s connected to the Cordel area and is one of many people from there with that same last name. She put me on track when I went astray with my research and I am in her debt for saving me much time.
To see some other reports posted from the immediate area, follow these links…
Prairie Sentinels – Alliance Alberta.
Bigfoot and Brutus (from afar). Draglines that work at the strip mine.
Diplomat Mine shovels and draglines – 1997. A mining machinery display.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: August, 2014.
Location: Near Halkirk AB.