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"Remnants of Community"

                                                                a solo exhibition by Simon Wroot

Three Churches abandoned


St. Gabriels Catholic Church,

(Evangelical Free Church in foreground)

   In the early 1900s the Catholic population of the Etzikom area was small but growing.  By 1919 Mass was regularly being celebrated by Fr. Bidault in the hotel, school, or private homes, and 5 lots were purchased from the CPR for a church site.  Although there were only 3 families in the parish, Bishop Kidd encouraged the establishment of a Mission church.  The property in a former lumber yard was purchased, a foundation was created for the office building which was moved onto it and volunteers renovated it for use as a church.  On Oct 16, 1927 St. Gabriel’s Church was blessed by Bishop Kidd.  The priest lived in Nemiskam until 1935 when he moved into the Etzikom hotel, then  in 1941 he moved into a rented house in Foremost, and continued to serve a number of mission parishes in the area.

 In May of 1946 the Church was completely destroyed by a cyclone!  Later the old Doondale schoolhouse was bought for $1 and moved onto the old foundation.  Once again volunteers renovated the building, creating a new St. Gabriel’s, which was blessed on Aug 9th 1949.  Once again the population dwindled and the church was periodically closed, but then opened again in 1972.  By 2000 the population of Etzikom and area was dropping rapidly, so the congregation asked the diocese to close the church.  The last service was held on Dec 3, 2000. It was hoped to keep it as a historic site, but this could not be done, so it was unsuccessfully put up for sale.  The remaining parishioners have had to live with the sight of a badly deteriorating building that used to be the heart of their spiritual community.


Dorothy United Church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic,

Dorothy has two little churches an adjacent lots.  On the left is the Catholic, to the right, the United.

In 1939, the coal mines were still in operation, and Catholics in the area wrote to the Bishop to request services.  In 1940 the first mass held in the area since 1922 was celebrated.  A Mr. Hodgson then donated a sum of money to establish a church.  A building was found; the old Wilford School was purchased for $50 by the diocese and moved onto its current site.  It was renovated by volunteers, and the first mass was said on Sept. 29th, 1944. The last mass was celebrated on October 22nd 1967, and the church closed. It only lasted for one generation,  as the young grew up and moved away.

The United church started life as a farmhouse from Finnegan, just downstream on the Red Deer River. It was bought for $50 from Mr. Swanson in 1930, then volunteers with horses and small trucks hauled it on wheels it to Dorothy.  The hill down into the village looked too steep for the horses and trucks, so the wheels were removed and the building skidded down and raised onto it’s basement.  The ‘Ladies Aid’ fund-raised with numerous ‘bees’, raffles, and bake-sales.  The completely volunteer effort turned it into a church by 1932.  The last service was held in 1961.

Both buildings were abandoned  to the pigeons and local children. 

In about 2002 a few long-time area decided to restore both buildings, and started by digging out 4 truck loads of pigeon manure.  Since then, with volunteer help, donations from a few businesses, and a lot of bake sales and raffles the restoration is proceeding.  These faithful new pioneers are continuing to show the drive and commitment that the settlers had 100 years before, by giving both buildings a 3rd life.


Roland School, SD 2892

Roland school , used as a school, church, community hall, and polling station, was named after the son of an early pioneer and school supporter Joe Thorgerson.  Built 12 miles south of Consort in 1913 and opened on February 10th by Miss Flack who had 10 pupils.  Miss Lila Cole became teacher in June of 1920.  The school was permanently closed in 1933.  The school had only 5 pupils, as did the school in nearby Sounding Valley, so the two districts were combined.  An old cook car was purchased and became the new school called Bennet.  It was apparently decrepit and unsanitary but lasted until 1939.  When closed it became a community hall.  In the 2000s the school was fully restored, and was the only school in Special Area 4 still on its original site and on its original foundation.

Country schoolhouses were the political, social and religious centre of the community, as well as the seat of learning   Many travelling preachers used this available space for services, and no one really minded if the service was Anglican, Catholic, or Methodist,  but there were drawbacks.  An appropriately  reverent atmosphere was hard to achieve, The farmers, already uncomfortable in their best clothes, and being nearly choked by their neckties, had to contort themselves in and out of their children’s desks.  The teacher’s desk had to serve as a pulpit.  As a worship centre there was the blackboard filled with absorbing information about detentions, assignments and other things.  When these country schools closed, a crisis was experienced by many people.  They didn’t want to go to the town church, partly because the farmers felt an antipathy towards the  ‘town slickers’. It  was chiefly due to a feeling of  strangeness in the church building, which didn’t have the blackboard, the cramped seat, and the informality that he was used to.