Located next to bustling MacLeod Trail, tiny St Paul’s Anglican Church ranks as Calgary’s oldest. In fact, when built, it wasn’t even within the borders of the city (well then, a town) and was well south, the community eventually growing around it over time. Ir dates back some hundred and thirty years, when the whole province (well then, a district within a territory) had a population that was counted in the thousands. Outside scattered first nation’s groups and occasional pockets of settlement here and there the vast expanse of land in the region was home to pretty much no one.
Still, even a small population needs a place of worship.
Filling the need, St Paul’s was built in 1885. The location was then rural, very rural, a spot on the vast open plains some dozen or so kilometres south of Calgary, itself only a established a few years earlier with the coming of the Canadian Pacific Railway. A few ranches dotted the area then, today it’s a dense residential neighbourhood. Just to the north is the Fish Creek Valley, a vast city park and green space.
The building is constructed in the Carpenter Gothic style, a common design for small rural churches in this part of the world. In form it’s typified by a steep pitched roof, lower front entryway, entry-area steeple and bell tower, pointed arch windows and an overall modest rectangular cruciform (cross-shaped) footprint. It’s simple in design and construction reflecting the small budget (this one’s said to have costed $800) and limited materials available to builders at the time. Many elements of the building, especially the interior, are original. In size, we believe it’s the smallest in town.
Inside a central walkway off the front entry porch leads to the sanctuary and is flanked by rows of seating. An organ is shoe-horned into a small cove. Space is very limited. Wood panelling is deep and rich, the tones warm and inviting.
The stained glass dates from the 1920s to 1970s and replaced earlier windows which were much simpler in form. Their glow illuminates the chapel softly and regardless of your beliefs, they’re truly moving. A series depicts the stages of Christ’s life, another is a memorial to those in the congregation who fought and died in World War One. One the wall, a plaque list the several dozen Clergy who’ve ministered at the church over it’s long history.
The land St Paul’s sits upon was donated by a local farmer. Historic MacLeod Trail, today a busy boulevard, but then a muddy meandering horse and cart path frequented by early travellers and traders, passes in front, its destination, the south part of the province. Access to the church is from side roads however. Old photos show the building in the early days alone on the plains, with nary a tree or shrub to be seen. In the early days it also functioned as a school and sometimes meeting hall.
The bell has an interesting story and came donated from England (in the 1930s) and is said to be several centuries old and once having hung in a small town church there. The steeple is not original and has been replaced twice, first in the 1940s (different design) and again more recently with one in appearance more like the first. In the 1980s the building was given a concrete foundation. Recently St Paul’s has been given Alberta Provincial Historic Resource status. For a time in the modern era there used to be a second building on the property, a hall brought in from another church with seating for overflow crowds.
A small cemetery is located beside St Paul’s. Included in those interned here are a former pastor who once served the church, many early settlers from the area and a number of their descendants. Looks to be a pretty exclusive club! One or two graves are some of the oldest within the Calgary area. Sadly, with that busy road out front and the LRT and CPR tracks just behind, it can be a noisy place at times. Strangely, it’s still peaceful, the grounds, the church both an oasis of calm in spite of the din.
The first services held at St Paul’s were in the fall of 1885, the first baptism and funeral the following year, and the first wedding the one after that. I wonder how many of each have taken place since? Services are still held, from time to time and it can be rented for weddings and the like. As Calgary’s oldest church it still sees lots of love. The congregation has a much larger and more modern building not far away for normal day to day use.
When established, St Paul’s was associated with the Church of England within Canada. Later, in the 1950s, the denomination would adopt the Anglican name, officially Anglican Church of Canada.
Midnapore was annexed by the city of Calgary in the 1960s. The church has has stood all the while, as the city grew around it. To those passing by on the busy road, which it’s easily seen from, it must look out of place, this little rural church among all those new condos, all that retail and residential sprawl, wide strips of asphalt, high tech autos, the modern LRT transit system (there’s very little “old” in the area). Hopefully to some it’s a reminder of where we came from.
When the church was establish the local area it server had a handful of people, the general area, Calgary included, hundreds, and the entire Alberta District, a huge area, some couple thousand. Compare that to over a million people who live in Calgary alone in 2016. Quite the contrast. The little church saw Alberta become province in 1905, a huge influx of people over the years, changes in transportation, technology and so on – if it could talk!
The Anglican Church of Canada dates back hundreds and hundreds of years. It’s one of the largest established religions in the country.
St Paul, or Paul the Apostle, was an important figure in early Christianity, travelling the Holy Land and preaching the gospel as a missionary. He lends his name to many churches across the land.
Located right next door to St Paul’s is St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church (used today by a Russian Orthodox congregation), a relative youngster in comparison to it neighbour and dating from 1904, and in behind Lacombe Home, today St Mary’s College, a facility that formerly helped the poor and downtrodden of the area. Both are on BIGDoer.com’s radar.
The church has a website…
Historic St Paul’s Anglican Church
The congregation’s website…
St Paul’s Anglican Church
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: October, 2016.
Location: Calgary, AB.
Article references and thanks: Pastor Fergus Tyson, Midnapore Church of England Society, HistoricPlaces.ca.
St Paul’s can be viewed from the church grounds.