Under powder blue skies and wispy white clouds, amid endless fields of bright yellow Canola, we find ourselves at the door of St Peter and Paul Church. Quaint, charming and oh so picturesque it can be found on a lonely Alberta crossroads. We’ve come to explore it, photograph it, learn something about it. Join with us as we tour this fine old building, inside and out, and briefly touch on its history.
The area here, southeastern half of the province, was not heavily settled until the 1910s. The church dates back to that time, specifically 1918, although a cemetery on the same grounds predates it by a year or so. It was built on donated land and financed by local farmers and homesteaders, many of Polish descent, who made up the (Catholic) congregation here. It was said to have cost some twenty five hundred dollars to construct, so equivalent to $45k today, give or take.
The structure is wood framed on a full concrete foundation. An upper balcony occupies the space over the interior main entrance. Woodwork is understated yet elegant. A confessional stands to one side up front near the Altar. The building is on an east-west alignment. Windows are the traditional Gothic-arch style, with stained glass that gives a subdued yet colourful glow to the interior.
Most prominent on the exterior is the tall bell tower (belfry). Mention is made that the present bell (further suggesting there was an earlier one) came by way of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1940s. Was it off a locomotive, is not clear, although it is hinted at. As train-buffs this strikes us as particularly interesting. We imagine it coming off a retired steamer. Whether that’s true or not, well, that’s another thing.
The grounds are surrounded by tall hedges – not just decorative, they’re a good wind-break – and the whole area nothing but farmer’s fields stretching off to the horizon in every direction. The most popular crop in the area is obviously Canola, which on our visit was in full bloom, the striking yellow flowers wonderfully contrasting with the blue sky.
The rear of the building, which inside comprises the Altar space, is an addition, not new built but rather an old school building (Grant School District from not far away) moved here in the 1940s and tacked into place. Even though it’s somewhat different architecturally, it fits in well with the larger structure. Speaking of school, the basement of the church was earlier used as one for a time in the 1920s.
The first person baptized at St Peter and Paul was the year it opened, the first wedding a couple years after. Services, it seems, were held fairly regularly (sometimes said as weekly, other times bi-weekly). The priest generally commuted in from other towns and boarded with a local farmer.
The congregation actually grew over the years, hence that “school” addition in back, before dropping off quickly in the 1960s. The church since then has only been used for funerals, certain religious events and the like. In spite of limited use, it’s extremely well kept up, inside and out. It looks to be cared for, it looks loved. We’re impressed!
The cemetery is still in use. The oldest grave we could find was from 1917, so a year before the church itself was completed, the newest, from fairly recently.
Country Churches like St Peter and Paul, were once common across the plains. Today, not so much but we still find the occasional one here and there. Some are closed up or abandoned, but many still see use, generally limited but use none the less. We’ve certainly visited our share and this one stands out as one of the more impressive examples, photographically wise, we’ve yet encountered. Simple, definitely not ostentatious, yet stunningly beautiful. The camera loved it!
Catholicism is and has been traditionally the largest single religion in terms of followers, in the entire country. There’s some twelve or thirteen million members scattered from coast to coast (highest concentration: Quebec).
St Peter played an important role in the early days of Christianity and was one of the Twelve Apostles of Christ. St Paul, or Paul the Apostle was a teacher of the Gospel in the first century. An interesting observation, this author has noticed many Catholic Churches similarly named. Not sure why the two tend to hang out together.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: July, 2016.
Location: Eastern AB.
Article references and thanks: Book: Times to Remember, Catholic Diocese of Calgary.
You can visit the grounds of St Peter and Paul Church – interior by permission.