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.
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.
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?
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.