Plan a day trip to visit a historic church

Manitoba’s small towns have many culturally significant houses of worship

Deloraine’s former Presbyterian Church was only used for 21 years as a church.

Feeling housebound? With present-day limitations, consider alternatives. A rural drive can be a pleasant diversion — to view the scenery or visit some of our historic churches. 

The buildings may be closed, but usually we can walk around them and explore nearby cemeteries. Depending on where you live, there are one or more historic churches close enough for a day trip. Take your lunch with you or plan to get some takeout, so as to limit interactions. 

Residents of southeastern Manitoba could visit Old St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church located west of Gar- denton (south of Steinbach, on PR 209), in the RM of Stuartburn. This church was built by immigrants from what is now western Ukraine. 

Completed in early 1899, it was consecrated later that year — the first permanent Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada. It became the focal point for Manitoba’s oldest Ukrainian settlement. At first it was served by a Russian Orthodox mission, but later joined the Greek Orthodox Church of Canada. The belfry, domes and porch were added later. 

St. Michael’s continued in active use until 1935, when another church by the same name was established in Gardenton. After that, services were held at the original church only a few times a year, including an annual pilgrimage service. Commemorative plaques were erected at historic St. Michael’s and the church was renovated in the early 2000s as part of the Manitoba Prairie Churches Project. 

The original St. Michael’s Church near Gardenton. photo: Donna Gamache

It was designated as a provincial historic site in 1974 and a federal historic site in 1990. During renovations, an interesting discovery was made. Hidden under the altar were two pages of a journal placed there in 1899, listing 44 volunteer builders. 

A walk around the cemetery behind the church reveals old gravesites be- ginning in 1898. An interesting display shows who is buried in each, if the name is known. 

If you live in west-central Manitoba, drive north of Oakburn on Highway 577 to visit a different St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church. This one, in the village of Olha in the RM of Rossburn, was built in 1904 and is a municipally designated historic site. A wood-frame building, it has a distinctive cruciform shape blending architectural influences. Twin towers adorn the front and there is a high central dome and Gothic windows. The inside is elaborately decorated. Beside the church is a bell tower and cemetery. Walk around to view the beauty of the grounds and, if it is open, stop at the Olha General Store across from the church. 

Another St. Michael’s, this one in the village of Olha. photo: Donna Gamache

While at Olha, drive about five kilo- metres south to the Ukrainian Pioneer Mass Grave Site overlooking Patterson Lake. A large white cross and commemorative monuments mark the burial spot of 42 children and three adults who died of scarlet fever soon after arriving here in 1899 from Ukraine. 

For those living in southwestern Manitoba, plan a visit in Deloraine to a building that still looks like a church but has not been used as one for over 100 years. What an interesting history it has. Situated at 220 S. Railway Avenue W., and now called the Prairie Skills Centre, it was built as a Presbyterian Church and completed in 1897. Legend has it that the pastor challenged parishioners to bring in stones from their fields every week. Over a three-year period the church was constructed in the Gothic Revival style using stones and brick. However, the building was only used as a church for 21 years. When the Presbyterian and Methodist churches joined to form the United Church, the Methodist Church was chosen for services. 

The site of a mass grave of Ukrainian pioneers lost in a scarlet fever outbreak. photo: Donna Gamache

Since then the building has had multiple uses, first as a hall and recreation facility. Then, for nearly 20 years, it was renamed Falconer Collegiate and used as a high school after the local one burned down in 1935. Later the empty building was bought in 1959 by the town of Deloraine and the RM of Winchester. Over the following years it was used for various administrative offices and even as the town jail! 

By 1991, when the offices found other locations, the town was ready to demolish the building. A group called Prairie Skills Inc. took it over and began renovations which are still in progress. The basement is in use but the main floor is not. Prairie Skills Inc. conducts various programs for rural Manitobans, primarily centring on helping them find jobs and training opportunities, but presently only through remote means due to COVID-19. 

The building was designated a municipal historic site in 1992. Although not used as a church for long, the high corner tower and beautiful arched, cathedral windows still proclaim its religious background. 

These few are just a sample of the many historic places to explore on day trips throughout Manitoba. To help find ones near you, visit the website of the Manitoba Historical Society at www. mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/index.shtml. 

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