The only other event I was able to attend over the weekend was an interpretive walk at McDougall Memorial United Church. The presentation was about 90 minutes long and covered information both on the church itself, the mission which was also here, and the town of Morleyville.
I have been to this site multiple times over the years. I’ve been here during the day, during the night, in winter, in summer. However, this was the first time I ever had the opportunity to actually go inside the church itself. I was very happy to have this chance as it gave me new insight and information.
First, allow me to clear up the biggest misconception, one I know I was originally guilty of too. As in the photo above, the church is most often photographed from the side with the bell tower. This is actually the rear of the church. I doubt there is any other church out there which is photographed from the back as much as this one. The bell tower was not original to the 1875 construction and was added on later. The door you see in the photo above does not actually allow entry into the church, it only is for accessing the bell tower.
This actually makes perfect sense when you think about it. The front of the church faces the river. Prior to the construction of the Ghost Dam, this spot near the river was the only good crossing point so it makes sense the church would have been situated facing the route most people would use.
Another interesting tidbit about the construction of the church is visible from the inside.
At the rear of the church there is a circular opening clearly visible. This spot was supposed to originally contain a stained glass window. Rumour has it that the window was actually manufactured in Edmonton but either prior to shipping or during transit to the site it was either lost or broken and thus no window was ever installed. Once the bell tower was constructed there was no point in adding a window here as the tower would block this opening anyway.
Something else I learned is that George McDougall is not actually buried at the church, despite the headstone located there. (You can see it in the first picture above.) He is actually buried in the cemetery across Highway 1A but that land is owned by the Nakoda and thus not accessible to the general public.
I was also surprised to learn the church contains a balcony.
The interior of the church is fascinating and the building itself is almost all original. The church was abandoned in 1921 and was left to the elements until the 1950s when efforts were made to restore it. One attendee told a story of visiting the church prior to the restoration and explained there was no door, no windows and how when he stepped in the birds all flew out of the openings. Everything was covered in bird droppings. There were also stories about horses using the church for shelter during the abandoned era.
Rain and thunderstorms limited the amount of exploration people wanted to do of the grounds, but a group of us did take the opportunity to wander down towards the river and the foundation of the mission house. Apparently up until the 1950s there were remains of many buildings on the site but “clean up” efforts resulted in most of the wood being gathered and burned and the foundations filled in. However, as you wander the site you can still see depressions and a difference in the vegetation which allows one to see where various buildings were situated.
I never have spent much time on the grounds during my visits but I plan on doing more exploration in this area from now on.
For more reading on the history of the church, check out these links as well as my small Flickr gallery: