Wednesday, June 1, 2011

St. Paul's United Church Anniversary

In our most recent issue of the ANWC Historical Society Journal, we accidentally omitted an article describing the 100th anniversary of St. Paul's United
Church in Grande Prairie. Here is an article describing the congregation's history edited by Rev. Gord Waldie from a piece written by Mark Malek.If you would like to submit an anniversary article for next year's issue of the Journal, please contact editor Debbie Marshall at

St. Paul's United Church, Grande Prairie: 1911-2011

The roots of St. Paul's, Grande Prairie have been weaved into the stories of Clairmont, Sexsmith, DeBolt and even Valleyview; with the Presbyterian Mission of the 1900's and the ministry of Sandy and Agnes Forbes. Both committed to Foreign Missions and confident, " in him who was unmistakably going before us;" in 1909 Alexander Forbes drove a stake into the knoll where our church stands and wrote, "Presbyterian Church;" later named: McQueen Presbyterian Church, with a log building being built and dedicated in 1911.

As the region opened, so too the opportunities for mission and having established the ground work in many of the settlements throughout the region, Sandy and Agnes returned from Fort Saskatchewan to begin work in earnest. At one time, pioneers, missionaries and one of the few sources of medical help, they looked after the spiritual and physical needs of everyone. The Edmonton Women's Home Mission Society offered financial support for the young men and women who served as doctors, nurses and even druggists. A hospital was constructed and kitchens to care for the sick. A number of "firsts” followed: baptisms, weddings and funerals; a library in the church. As the number of settlers grew from Scotland, Eastern Canada and the United States, so did the work of the church and many remember of those who worked alongside Sandy and Agnes to meet the new arrivals. Each person strengthened the fabric of the community by the challenges and opportunities they shaped. In the church, there were more members to serve as Elders and teach Sunday School, relieving Sandy of the responsibility. The women gathered as much for fellowship, as together improving for many their health and the standard of living. In 1921 the "Canadian Girls in Training" group was started and continues to this day.

When Church Union birthed the United Church of Canada, Rev. Forbes disagreed with the guiding principles of this new denomination and his ministry in the region came to an end. However, his legacy remains in the naming of a school and the Presbyterian Church; the relocation of the original log church near our museum and their homestead becoming a provincial historic site.

With Union, McQueen Presbyterian became St. Paul's United and a new church building was constructed near the original log church in 1925-26. As with many congregations in the North, St. Paul's has been served by both clergy and lay people, some coming as missionaries with larger districts to serve; others of more independent mind who were successful in what we now call 'church planting' and gathered their followers into the work of St. Paul's because they were attracted to the denomination's mission and ministry.

Through the Second World War and the post war boom we remember particular men and women who gave extraordinary service as we responded to the growing number of children, making space for Sunday School with new buildings, for social events supporting one another during those bleak times; using the radio, to stay in touch with the region; their art and craftsmanship creating both pulpit and table to enrich our worship.

The 1950s brought pressure for space and a new Christian Education building was constructed while the log church was used for A.A. and worship space for the Lutheran congregation. A new manse was purchased and as the need arose a second person was called to help our clergy. As our buildings aged and the congregation grew, discussions of a new church building began. Undeterred by debts for the manse, C.E. Wing and organ, the congregation constructed the present building in 1956-57. Of particular note is that one of the men who helped clear the land for the original log building in 1911 was present in 1956 to turn the sod for the new sanctuary. Along with this St. Paul's had a radio ministry – broadcasting services on a local station from 1942-1960.

Our service to the community continued. We took responsibility for the Wapiti Lodge; housing for rural high school students, which later became a shelter for those who found themselves homeless. AA groups have been meeting at St. Paul's for 60 years. A new set of "firsts" were celebrated: candidates for ministry, new groups for our growing young adult members, newsletters and even 'envelope' stewardship campaigns.

In 1961 we celebrated 50 years of unbroken ministry to the Peace Country; an October day remembering our past with 'frontier food' and shared memories. It was only a resting spot and in the ensuing decades of church growth, beloved musicians retired, our efforts to stay in touch grew, making the newsletter an important resource and organizations matured: The United Church Women was formed and a new men's group: "As those who Serve," AOTS; came to be. Pictures of our 'new members classes' and the size of our CGIT groups fill a whole page! Notable leaders; Moderator's past and present gathered here with the Presbytery and we have even hosted the Alberta and Northwest Conference!

The list of clergy, laity, students and candidates for ministry who have served us are still remembered and their pictures are at the entrance of our church. Our mission continued: encouraging the establishment of the United Appeal campaign which funds need groups today and the meals-on-wheels program. In our stewardship, we have opened our doors to countless groups and gatherings; each one meeting a need.

Sixty years of service followed 50 and we reached another milestone: The construction of the new C.E.Wing in 1986; made possible by a grant from "Ventures in Mission," a Mission and Service Fund sponsored program.

In the decades that followed we have sought to respond to our city and our growing faith and have lived through a series of 'ups and downs': Members chose to transfer to the Presbyterian church in response to our national support for the ordination of gay men and women. We held our first summertime Vacation Bible Schools and bought the 'new' red hymnbook. We became a "smoke-free" building; 'cam-corded' worship for later broadcast and started an Outreach fund to help those having 'fallen through the cracks." We bought our Handbells, began the Healing Touch group and painted a Labyrinth on the floor of the lower hall; each one, beginning an important ministry. We participated in endless rounds of talking about restructuring for ministry and sponsored the Doberlani (from Kosovo) and then the Lemu (from Ethiopia) families to Canada. We approved a new policy for same-gender marriage and shared in a variety of adult learning possibilities. Humour and fun have never been overlooked: From hearing a confusing story about "green and blue people"-- to blow torches being used to thaw out a leg carrying too much blood thinner -- to 'trap lines' being set for our spring mice, the lives and jokes from all have been woven into our memories.

Candidates for Designated lay and Diaconal ministry have been nurtured here and endless amount of food, especially beef, have been consumed! Motorcycles and even dogs have had the run of the building; continuing to bring both a healing and a uniqueness that is St. Paul's United Church.

Heritage Cemeteries in Alberta

Sheila Johnston, Chair of the Heritage Cemeteries Ad Hoc Committee has recently submitted a report detailing the activities of this group. The Committee is dedicated to researching and preserving the history of "forgotten" Alberta cemeteries established decades ago by the denominations that eventually formed the United Church of Canada. Many of these pioneer cemeteries are no longer used and have become overgrown and neglected. Here is Sheila's report of the activities of the group that is determined to reclaim the memory of these historic sites:

In 2010 we helped support the work of the Alberta-Ukraine Genealogical Project which documented (photographed and recorded all available data) on eleven cemeteries in their East Central Alberta area with United Church (or our ancestor denominations) roots. This included the Wahstao Mission Cemetery (Methodist 1908) which prompted the work of our committee. (A DVD of this documentation is now in the Conference Archives.)

Our plans for 2011 include support for the documentation of a few more "UC Roots" cemeteries in this area, compilation of a list of cemeteries within the Conference with "UC Roots," and the installation of an interpretive plaque in the Wahstao Mission cemetery. Thanks must go to the members of the committee--Oliver Seward, Donna Krucik and Don Mayne, as well as our extraordinary volunteer in the area, Gran Gillard. If you know of a cemetery with UC Roots in your area, please pass the information to the secretary of your presbytery, to be forwarded to our committee.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Conserving Heritage in the United Church

By Tim O’Grady

If you ever get a chance, take a drive on the Bow Valley Trail (Highway 1A) west of Cochrane. Arriving at the south-western tip of Ghost Lake, among the rolling foothills and in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, you will see one of Alberta’s historical gems: McDougall Memorial United Church. Built in 1875, this small white church, with its simple wooden frame construction and central entrance and bell tower, is one of the most picturesque churches in Alberta. It is operated by the McDougall Stoney Mission Society, among whose activities include holding commemorative services, interpreting the history of the mission and Morleyville Settlement, and hosting special events such as weddings. While undoubtedly of incredible significance to Alberta’s history, McDougall Memorial United Church is not the only church to have been officially recognized as an historical resource. However, it is somewhat unusual, in that it no longer serves as a church full-time. Fifteen United Churches have been recognized as historic resources in Alberta and most continue to function as active, dynamic buildings for their congregations. This article will explain how heritage is measured and recognized, and will provide practical advice on how to conserve your church’s heritage value.

A note to our readers in BC: this article is written from an Alberta perspective. The government of British Columbia has a heritage program similar to that in Alberta. For more information on conservation in British Columbia, contact BC Heritage or visit

What is Heritage?

A great deal of ink has been spilled attempting to define heritage and differentiate heritage from history. In terms of built heritage (like churches) the difference is fairly simple: history is everything that occurred in and around a site, whereas heritage is how a site manifests its history to a contemporary viewer. Defining heritage can be difficult, and some would say rather subjective. Therefore, an evaluation method has been developed to weigh heritage value based on two considerations: historical significance and integrity. There are several broad categories of historical significance recognized in Alberta that could apply to a site. These include:
• Theme: Does the site embody a particular historical theme important to the community or province?
• Person/Activity/Event: Is the site directly related to a particular person, activity or event of historical importance to the community or province?
• Design/Style/Construction: Does the site embody a significant design, style or construction?
• Information Potential: Does the site represent significant historical information that is not available through any other means?
• Landmark: Has the site served as an important landmark in the community?

The second consideration is historical integrity; basically, how close the site is to its original state. In order to qualify as a historical resource, the site must be in its original location and maintain its original design, environment, materials, workmanship, feeling and associations.

The majority of United Churches 50 years or older (built before 1962) likely have some historical significance. While a site need only have a single heritage value to be considered an historical resource, most have more than one. For example, most of the sites already recognized have been identified as historic for both their architecture and their relationship to the theme of settlement in Alberta. However, some, such as the Ralph Connor Memorial United Church in Canmore, have been linked with significant historical figures (in this case, the author Charles William Gordon, a.k.a. Ralph Connor). Rosedale United Church near Wainwright is another uncommon example. It was built in 1933 and does not exhibit an easily identifiable style, but is valued in the community for its vernacular design.

To determine the heritage value of your church, you’ll have to do some research. If your church has an archives that’s a great place to start, but even a local library, or the Alberta and Northwest Conference Archives in Edmonton will no doubt have important historical information. Look at the history of your church and your community, as well as at some of the larger historical themes in Alberta. Are there significant people associated with your church, or have any important events occurred there? Is it a good example of an architectural style, design, or type of construction? Is it considered an important landmark in the community? If you wish to pursue some form of official recognition, the more information you can provide on your site’s history and heritage value the easier the designation process will be.

Levels of Recognition

There are several levels of historical recognition: municipal, provincial and federal. Municipalities have the ability to recognize sites of local significance in two ways: through listing on an inventory of historic buildings and through municipal designation. Listing on an inventory means that the site qualifies for designation as a Municipal Historical Resource (MHR), but the site has not been yet designated and is not legally protected, nor does it typically qualify for associated benefits. Designation as a MHR is done by the municipality through a bylaw and will only be done through the consent of the owner. Municipal designation legally protects a site from demolition and inappropriate alteration. According to Section 28 of the Alberta Historical Resources Act (2000), a municipality is subject to providing compensation for designating a building. This compensation will vary depending on the municipality, and can include conservation advice and financial incentives. For specifics on benefits of designation as an MHR contact your municipality. Designation as an MHR in Alberta also makes the site eligible for conservation grants through the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.

Provincial recognition applies to sites which have demonstrated heritage value at a provincial level. There are two types of provincial recognition in Alberta: Provincial Historic Resources (PHR) and Registered Historic Resources (RHR). Both recognize heritage value, though only PHR are legally protected from demolition and inappropriate alteration. Sites recognized as RHR should seek municipal designation if they want legal protection and better access to grant programs.

Sites with a demonstrated value at a national level are eligible for federal recognition. Currently in Alberta there is only one site associated with the United Church that is recognized at a national level – Rundle’s Mission in Sundance Beach on Pigeon Lake. Federal recognition as a national historic site is an honour to be sure, but does not provide legal protection, and there is as present no federal heritage funding program.

Protecting Your Church’s Heritage Value

Whether or not to pursue formal designation for your church is a something only your congregation can decide. Although designation requires that some restrictions are placed on the building, the intent is not to preserve it as a museum. Managed change is a useful way to think about conservation. Not everything must be kept, only those elements that relate directly to the building’s historical significance. These features are known as Character Defining Elements, and they should be retained whenever possible. When doing renovations, less is more. Can something be restored rather than replaced? Only replace material as needed. Rather than replace an entire wooden window for example, replace only the rotten section. If an element is so deteriorated that replacement is necessary, always replace material in kind. For example, if you are replacing wood siding, use new wood siding, not metal or vinyl. If you are having old wooden windows removed, replace them with new wooden units, rather than aluminum or vinyl. If you have to make changes to elements related to identified heritage values, do so in a way that will be reversible in the future. For conservation advice, contact one of the province’s Heritage Conservation Advisors.

Properly conserving your building, whether through designation or just responsible stewardship can have positive impacts on your congregation and your community. Protecting your church’s heritage will add to your congregation’s sense of pride and identity. Your building’s heritage can make it a destination church, attracting new congregants as well as serving as an attractive events venue, thereby increasing church revenues. Historic churches also tend to be prominent in both size and location, and conserving their heritage value will ensure your congregation maintains a high visibility in the community.

The conservation of your church’s heritage can also have a positive impact on the community. Conservation projects have been shown to foster community revitalization, encourage heritage tourism, enhance local cultural life, and add to the distinctive character of the city and community. Finally, heritage conservation is an environmentally sustainable choice which fits well with the United Church of Canada’s stance on environmental issues.

The United Church, as well as its Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist predecessors, had an enormous impact on the history of Alberta and British Columbia. This influence is seen not only in history books, but on the contemporary landscape as well. As owners of significant historic sites, as well as active partners in the community, congregations should take pride in their resources. They should understand why their site has heritage value, and they should conserve that value for their own benefit, as well as that of the community and future generations.

Tim O'Grady is a member of the Alberta and Northwest Conference Historical Society.