At times like this, when some some tourist attractions are closed, or we are uncertain about crowds, a country drive can be a pleasant diversion for those who are feeling house-bound.
There are many spots we can drive past and/or stop for a brief visit, even if we cannot physically go inside buildings. Old churches are one such attraction, and south-central Manitoba has many of these. Usually it is possible to walk around the church grounds and nearby cemeteries. If you plan a route beforehand, you can see several on one drive.
Begin your tour in the village of Holland on Highway 2 at the Emmanuel Historical Church on Barr Street. Formerly an Anglican Church, it was built in 1893-4 with the spire added in 1898.
Although now deconsecrated, the church is a fine example of early Prairie architecture and is a municipal heritage site. Inside are commemorative plaques and beautiful stained glass windows. It is normally open during summer, from 9:00 to 5:00.
From Holland, a short drive south on highway 34 and west on highway 245 will bring you to the village of Bruxelles, to visit St. Gerard Roman Catholic Church.
This parish began in 1892, with the present church constructed in 1918. (The village was named after Belgium’s capital, where the first priest came from.) Walk around the grounds and cemetery here. Read the plaque commemorating the parish’s 100th anniversary and educational work of the Ursuline Order of nuns which provided education here for 75 years. Go into the tiny chapel built in 1931 by parishioners in thanks for the recovery of their daughter. Also on the grounds are small decorative plaques for a Way of the Cross.
Just a few miles southwest of Bruxelles, is the village of St. Alphonse. Here, St. Alphonse Roman Catholic Church and Cemetery is a beautiful spot to visit. This church was built in 1886 and is classed as a Manitoba historical site. The steeple and wings were added in 1930.
The community, first settled in 1882, was originally called Decosse but renamed St. Alphonse the following year. It became a centre for both French-Canadian and Belgian pioneers. Besides the church, various schools and a convent were built on the grounds, and in 1922 a grotto was constructed.
Visitors can explore the grounds and cemetery, and read information on several monuments. From the back of the cemetery, the St. Alphonse Centennial Cross is visible, about two kilometres away, atop Elodies Hill. This cross was erected in 1983 to celebrate the parish’s centennial.
From St. Alphonse, a few miles south brings you to the village of Mariapolis (RM of Lorne). Look for Our Lady of Assumption Roman Catholic Church, also called Église de l’Assumption de la Bienheureuse Vierge Marie. It, too, has both French and Belgian influences. The alternating bands of black and white on the upper part of the church create a striking effect.
Construction of this church began in 1908, replacing a smaller one that was converted to a parish hall. By 1910 the new church was used for regular services, although some details such as the exterior brickwork and parts of the interior were completed later. In 1991 a small grotto was added near the front, celebrating the Mariapolis Centennial. The church is now a municipally designated historic site.
From Mariapolis, driving west on highway 23 and then south on highway 5 will bring you to the village of Cartwright. Here are two historic churches, both located on Curwen Street. Christ Anglican Church is a beautiful building constructed in 1899, using local multi coloured fieldstones. Due to fire, the interior was rebuilt in 1910, at which time a vestibule and stained glass windows were added. The church was designated a municipal-heritage site in 2003 but was closed the next year for safety concerns. Fundraising began, and over the next few years the church was completely restored.
Located nearby is the Cartwright United Church, listed as a Manitoba historic site. Built in 1899 as a Methodist Church, it later became a United Church when the Methodists, the Congregational Union of Canada and about 2/3 of the Presbyterian Church of Canada merged in 1925. An annex and basement were added in 1928, and a Christian Education Building in 1988.
These few are just a sample of the many historic churches to explore. Many have been refurbished as part of the Manitoba Prairie Churches project — a five-year undertaking that was established in 2003 and provided funds to 28 rural and small-town churches in Manitoba.
For additional sites or for more information and pictures, try these websites:
- Manitoba Historical Society: Manitoba Prairie Churches Project
- ReidReidReid: Churches
- A good source to help follow rural roads is Manitoba Backroad Mapbook, available at many filling stations or at mcnallyrobinson.com.