Jan 252017
 
Sacred Heart Cemetery Forty Mile

This is about as remote a place one will ever visit. The land is level and almost featureless, fields of grain stretching off in every direction to the horizon, all connected together by an orderly grid of township and rural roads. And there’s the sky, the big, big sky. It goes on forever here in Forty Mile County Alberta. In the south, across the US border, the SweetGrass Hills are these odd, out-of-place bumps on the otherwise flat prairie.

A real scarce commodity here is people, the only signs of life being the occasional farm that’s passed. Your nearest neighbour lives in another time zone. It’s a long distance call to speak with them. Pizza’s delivered in under a week or it’s free. The next bus…is never. You get the picture. Dead centre of it all is Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Driving down a dusty road, you’ll see, there, off in the distance. It looks so alone. This is today’s subject. Grab your camera and let’s take it in.

Sacred Heart: a lonely country church and cemetery in a forgotten corner of the province. Researched, written and photographed by Chris Doering and Connie Biggart. (BIGDoer/Synd/Hermis)

There’s sadly a paucity of information available on the place and what we did find was a bit vague and unclear. We made the calls, sent the messages, asked around and still uncovered little. As such the write up here is a bit lacking in details, but we’ll do our best. I suspect more info will come to light as this post gets seen and shared. Maybe we’ll have an update.

Scroll down for photos and to comment.

The church dates from early 1910s, and was built concurrent with the region being opened up to settlement. The general area was called “Faith”. No town, it was simply a reference point, the name given the nearest crossroads. Many of those who made this area their home came in from what was then Eastern Germany (now part of Poland) and German speaking regions of western Russia. Some came way of “Faith” South Dakota.

Stuccoed in an understated shade of soft yellow, the building is rather simple in form and sits atop a small knoll. Looking around there’s nothing to see. Nobody’s about. We explored the place for some time and not a single car passed, the only noise the always present wind.

Sacred Heart Church is larger than one might expect given the small local population, which even in the early days, when it was at its greatest, was never all that much. It’s aligned so the front faces directly west. The cross atop the steeple has shifted and is falling over.

It’s said weekly services were held here into the 1970s, and less frequently thereafter into the 1990s. We could not find any recent signs of it being used, but it’s likely opened up from time to time for maybe funerals or special services and the like. It is being kept up to a degree so has not been totally abandoned.

Out back is a little cemetery. It’s a sad place, not because it’s a such a bad spot to spend eternity – I can think of a lot worse places to be buried – or that it’s been totally forgotten – it is maintained – but that many of those interned here died at a very early age. Looking around, it would appear an oddly high percentage perished at birth, or at best survived for no more than a year or two. Gosh, not a fair run at life there. Most are from the early days, reminding us how difficult and unforgiving life was back then. It was not odd for a child to not make it to adulthood a century ago. Must have been dam hard for parents to move forward when this happened. Lots of broken hearts back then I bet.

Most of the interments seen are from the 1910-1920s. The newest was from the mid-1990s. Many of those here share common family names. Of the some fifty plus people buried, a number remain unrecorded and either have no headstone or one that is unreadable. They’re forgotten to time.

A large metal gate welcomes you to the Sacred Heart Church Cemetery grounds. If you visit please pay your respects to those here. Try and imagine the life and time’s of these people. What were they about? Think what they went through. Remember them, think of them.

Off in the south are the SweetGrass Hills (sometimes Sweet Grass is two words), well into Montana, but looking close enough to almost reach out an touch. A scared site for the Blackfoot People, they rise a fair distance above the surrounding plains looking almost like islands in a sea. They’re a real anomaly geographically wise and can be seen for some distance in all directions. They’re stunning to look at.

Randomness. We’ve been getting a lot of hate e-mails lately. Most begin with a blitzkrieg volley of insults in regards our skills, often how much better photographer-x is than us. Of course, we always agree. We know most of the names mentioned and wish we could do half as well. We’re not in denial, at best we’re passable. Still, there’s no need making it personal or hurtful. And it does hurt even in spite of our thick skins and zero need for an ego stroke. We’re not in it for the glory, we’re not in it for the fame, we’re not in for the money – there is none. We’re here to document things. That’s it. We’ll never be perfect, but we’ll do it anyway. Now come on, that deserves a smidgen of respect, doesn’t it?

We love old churches…
St Peter and Paul.
St Henry’s Catholic Church Twin Butte.
St Edmund’s Church Big Valley.

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: October, 2016.
Location: Forty Mile County, AB.
Article references (and thanks): Hermis Alberta, FindAGrave.com, Jason and Becky Sailer.
Please show respect if visiting the site.

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Sacred Heart Church

Charming Sacred Heart Church, Southern Alberta.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church

The building is approximately a century old.

Sacred Heart Roman Catholic

Given the always small population of the area, it’s a good sized building.

Sacred Heart Church Forty Mile

Little details…

Sweet Grass Hills

The Sweet Grass Hills of Montana in behind form a backdrop.

Sacred Heart Cemetery

The cemetery out back.

Sacred Heart Church Cemetery

A high percentage of graves belong to children.

Sacred Heart Cemetery Forty Mile

Internments are from the 1910s-1990s.

Cemetery Sacred Heart Church

Another young one.

Chris from BIGDoer.com

The clouds threatened – so engrossed I hardly noticed.

Forty Mile Sacred Hearth Church

The cross atop the steeple is falling over.

Forty Mile Sacred Heart Catholic Church

The building was last used regularly some decades ago.

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18 Comments on "Sacred Heart"

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Jean Dunsford O''Rourke
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Jean Dunsford O''Rourke

These photos are beautiful . Thanks so much for sharing these amazing stories. A wonderful piece of our past.

Member

I have been here myself and you captured it perfectly. It is a lonely remote place. You answered a question I had about Faith, I had thought it might have been more than just a place name.

I am surprised to read about the hate mail. Those of us that go out to visit places like this do it solely because we like doing it. Going to places like this is sometimes not easy and it can be time consuming. I read this site to learn some things and gain an appreciation of other things. Those of us that are fans should post a bit more to show that we like what you do. I am always looking forward to your next post.

Heather
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Heather

Wow. I can’t believe people complain about your photography on a free blog. Besides I think your pictures are fine!

Brendan Wendy Harty
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Brendan Wendy Harty
Thanks for doing writings and pics. We used to go to this church untill it closed. The group of 3 larger Headstones are our grandparents. Frank and Mary Harty.There was a burial of ashes in the cemetary about 8 years ag. Quietly done by his family and some of us cousins. They came from calgary to do the proper burial. We our family ownes the land to the west and SW of that church. I was baptised there in 1951 and our daughter Baptised in 1984. I have done several wood carvings of this church as it was the center of our religious world.I believe it shut its doors with still 20 some people going in late 1990s.Most all of the people in this area are related and were of Russian German decent and came from the Dakotas in the early 1900s.The Church was named after the area of Faith… Read more »
Paul von Huene
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Paul von Huene

Not for publication. I am sorry to hear that you are getting hate mail. I really enjoy your posts, information and photos. You bring back a lot of memories. I appreciate what you are doing.

Anita Nicholas
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Anita Nicholas

Thank you for posting these. The Harty’s, our relatives were Germans from Russia. They came from a village near Odessa. They first went to South Dakota and then to southern Alberta.

I will pass this post on.

Andrew Gladden
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Andrew Gladden

I greatly appreciate the work both of you do in researching an photographing for your posts. It must take quite the effort to dig up information on some of these out of the way, yet very interesting places. Being from the eastern half of the country I don’t have the opportunity to explore the scenic or historical western locations that you do, so its nice to have a window to that world through my computer screen! Keep up the good work guys.

Jason Sailer
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Jason Sailer

A fun day exploring with two great people – one of my favorite prairie pilgrimages…

As per your second point, you know my thoughts on it 😛 To heck with these negative people – recording/interpreting/and sharing the past through visits to places like this is far more important than “likes” on Facebook or what someone thinks, or even worse heavily editing photographs (like some people we know). I myself had some rude comments when I posted a history on a particular church in Saskatchewan – at first they bothered me, but then looking at the profiles of the people who made the rude comments made me realize that these people are shallow and ignorant and are a burden to the people like us who do this. It doesn’t pay well, but the places we find and the stories behind them are well worth the long drives!

Crystal Rarick
Guest
Crystal Rarick

Just wanted to say what a great article you had about the “Sacred Heart” church. I grew up on one of those random farms down the road from that Church. My parents took me there every Sunday. My maiden last name is “Harty” which i see you have a photo of a gravestone with one of my many relatives in the cemetery. We have many photos of the inside of the church as well! Thank you for recognizing this remote area, and bringing back many memories. Amazing photos. I have shared your article on Facebook where many of my family members who also attended that church will also appreciate your article!

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