Seen here, a lonely county church, Brush Hill Reformed, standing vigil on a remote Alberta crossroads. It’s a century old and not unexpectedly, is showing its age. No one comes here anymore, there are no services. It’s been a while since that happened. The place is boarded up, unused, it’s weathered and empty. Look in the dictionary under forgotten and this church will be pictured. Ditto for the word “sad”.
Still there is the occasional visitor here, now and then, passers-by barrelling down the dusty road to who knows where, that on seeing it get curious. They might slow for a double take, maybe even stop. Some no doubt break out the phone for snap shot. Can’t blame them for being taken in I suppose.
Then there’s those strange types, camera always within easy reach, who roam the byways in search of abandoned places worthy of being documented (all of them in our books). That’s us. Abandon it and they’ll come. A photogenic place like this is hard to resist. Can’t pass a county church. That’s a subject that always needs to be explored. World coming to an end…sorry we’re not ready, we’re busy shooting a church.
Most settlers came to the immediate area in the early 1910s. A number came here from Germany. It’s those who built Brush Hill Reformed, completing it in 1916. It’s of simple construction, not so much plain, but uncomplicated, humble and anything but pretentious. It shares features common to country churches, rectangular form with a prominent bell tower, moderately pitched shingled roof and walls that hold arched windows. It’s aligned perfectly in an east/west direction. The building creaks in the wind but seems solid. Warmed by early morning sun, mist rises from it.
The church remained in use until the late 1980s or thereabout – records aren’t completely clear – when declining membership forced its closure. Rural areas are loosing people fast so this it’s hardly a surprise. Old timers die off and the young ones flee to the city.
Since then the church has been boarded up. The interior is completely empty. We suspect the bell has been removed. An historic marker was erected on the site after closing – “Cairn erected July 1995 in memory of the Pioneers who built the Brush Hill Reformed Church in 1916 on this site.”
Down the road a bit is the Brush Hill Cemetery, which unlike the church, is still used and is well kept.
It’s a pleasant little place to spend eternity, a small plot of land, bordered by trees and fields, in an area of rolling plains. There’s some interments going back to the early days, where as others are more recent. Many of those here share common family names. We see that a lot in small cemeteries like this where local are often closely related.
A small replica of the Bush Hill Church has been built on this site.
The term reformed is defined as “bringing about a change” or “changing one for the better”. Reformed churches were breakaway groups in a sense, leaving an earlier denomination due to disputes or dissatisfaction with directions or ideologies, or any number of other reasons, to form their own. They’d didn’t like what was going on, so split away.
These types of churches are common in Germany and of course where ever German settlers plopped down roots (interestingly most settlers in the area were Ukrainian, Brush Hill being the exception). If someone from a German Reformed church has something to add, we’d love to hear from you. I think we could define better with help from an expert.
Brush Hill was never a town to speak of and more a central point in an otherwise broad farming area.
Hosting Team BIGDoer this adventure was noted film photographer Robert Pohl. This is his part of the world and he took us on whirl-wind tour of some of his favourite haunts. Seen were many old farm houses, churches of various denominations, some open, some closed along with a shuttered historic village (all visited with permission). Some stunning stuff up that way. Stay tuned for more reports from this trip! Want host us like Rob? You know what to do.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: November, 2016.
Location: Minburn County, AB.
Article references (and thanks): Historical Society of Vegreville, Robert Pohl, FindAGrave.com.
If you visit, please show show the church respect.