We were coming home from a long weekend of fun. I had just turned off of the TransCanada Highway onto Morley Road, both to escape the Victoria Day traffic as well as because Waze always suggests that route when navigating home from the mountains.
Emily was browsing her Facebook news feed on her phone. Suddenly she let out a gasp and said “Oh. My. God.” I quickly glanced over and could see she was visibly shaken by whatever it was she had read.
“What is it?”
She hesitated and took a moment to compose herself. “Don’t drive off the road when I tell you.”
“Tell me,” I implored. My mind was racing, wondering what it was she read that had such an impact. Had someone we known died?
“McDougall Church burned down. It’s gone,” she said.
Immediately I felt ill. I completely understood why she had reacted the way she did. Here we were, just minutes away from driving past the little white church on Highway 1A when we learned it no longer existed. It was like a tablecloth being pulled out from under a set of dinner dishes by a magician. Except, this was a rookie magician just learning the trick — nothing was left standing and everything was in chaos.
Sure enough, the charred remains soon came into view. A blackened wall still standing. Gone was the small bell tower, the pristine white walls with green trim standing proud and strong against the prairie sky. All gone.
We talked about the church most of the way home. How we both always expected it would be burned down at some point. Given its location, it seemed inevitable; easily accessible by road yet far enough away to be free from watchful eyes of passerbys. Being the oldest anything always seems to make things a target for those with no appreciation for history or who cannot wait to destroy that which others enjoy.
We spoke of the volunteers who worked tirelessly to maintain the church, to run the tours, to tend to the grounds. I thought about Sarah Harvey, whom I had met on a couple of occasions during presentations at the church. Her passion was palpable, her knowledge of the church and of Morleyville always growing and being shared. What must she have felt? Knowing how much the loss rocked us, we couldn’t fathom what she must have felt like when she heard the news.
While I can’t recall the first time I visited the church, it seems like it had always been one of my favorite places to visit. When Emily first started coming to Canada to visit me, it was one of the first places I took her, eager to share the experience. When I wanted to practice night photography, the church was the first place I thought of going. When we wanted to go out to watch a meteor shower, the church was the place I suggested immediately. Making the trek out to Dead Mans Flats for our monthly curry dinner? Yes, I always took the route down 1A so we could see the church, to check in on our old friend, to reaffirm that what was always there was still there, majestically set against a backdrop of mountains that had to be seen to be believed.
Farewell little church.
Previous postings about the church:
Revisiting McDougall Church (February 10, 2017)
Perseid Meteor Shower (August 13, 2016)
Historic Calgary Week 2016 (August 2, 2016)
Historic Calgary Week: McDougall Church (August 8, 2013)
Fedeyko, M. (2017, May 22). A Piece of History Burns Down. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from https://cochranenow.com/local/a-piece-of-history-burns-down
CBC News. (2017, May 22). Oldest Protestant church in southern Alberta destroyed by fire. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/mcdougall-stoney-mission-church-fire-destroyed-1.4126736