St. Bernard Mission Church retains its original architectural integrity.

PHOTO | DANIEL JODOIN

St. Bernard Mission Church retains its original architectural integrity.

July 25, 2011
GERARD NICOLET
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

GROUARD — The St. Bernard Mission Church Restoration Committee has initiated a major project involving the restoration of the church in Grouard.

This church is the most significant historical site in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan. The construction of this first cathedral of the Grouard-McLennan Archdiocese was started in 1901 under the direction of Bishop Emile Grouard. Plans for this building were prepared by Oblate Brother Augustin Dumas who also supervised construction of the church.

The steeple was erected in April 1902 and the church was completed just in time for Christmas Eve Mass on Dec. 25, 1902.

However this was not the first church in the Grouard area. In 1870, Father Albert Lacombe had asked the Métis people to build a church and residence for visiting missionaries.

The first location of the church was at Shaw's Point on the shore of Lesser Slave Lake.

Upon the arrival of the first priest for the St. Bernard Mission — Father René Rémas — it was decided it was impractical to leave the mission at this site. So it was moved next to the Hudson's Bay Slave Lake Post on Buffalo Bay in 1872.

Three houses were purchased from employees of the fur trading company and adapted to accommodate the needs of the new mission. The house at the centre was used as the priest's residence while one of the outer buildings was renovated into a chapel.

In 1878, a log building, measuring 20 by 30 feet, was constructed by Oblate Father Francois Le Serrec, who had arrived in Grouard a few months earlier. This new church was completed on Oct. 3, 1880.

Oblate Father Emile Grouard was appointed vicar apostolic of the Athabasca-Mackenzie Diocese in 1890 and named bishop the next year. Ten years later, Bishop Grouard decided to build a cathedral for the Grouard Diocese.

Over the years, this building has experienced many facelifts. However, numerous other repairs are required to preserve its original appearance and structural integrity. Following an inspection of the building by an engineering firm, we were provided with a detailed report and construction estimates.

REPAIR THE ENVELOPE

The first phase of the proposed restoration project — "repair of the envelope" — includes repairing the roof, ventilation and insulation of the attic, repairs to the windows and doors, and replacement of the siding. The cost of this phase is estimated at $150,000.

The second phase of restoration deals with the repair of the foundation and landscaping around the church. This will include installation of weeping tiles around the building and waterproofing of the foundation walls. The existing concrete steps must be replaced and a ramp or lift installed to accommodate wheelchair accessibility. This phase will cost about $80,000.

In phase three, necessary repairs or upgrades to the floor structure will be undertaken. Following a structural inspection, the floor beams, columns and footings will be repaired. As well, the furnace room must be fire-rated and the dirt floor under the church will need to be sealed. This will cost another $25,000.

The fourth and most extensive part of the project will involve interior upgrades. The main components of this phase are as follows:

  • Mechanical and electrical upgrades.
  • Addition of a washroom.
  • Repair and refinish floors.
  • Fix choir loft and stairs.
  • Refinish walls, doors, frames and millwork to original finish.
  • Fireproof and insulate attic space.

This work could cost up to $290,000.

The committee also plans to refurbish and preserve all religious vestments, vessels, artwork, pews and the altar in the church, for an estimated cost of $75,000.

St. Bernard Mission Church

PHOTO | DANIEL JODOIN

St. Bernard Mission Church

Adding professional fees contingency allowance and overhead cost attached to this project ($160,000), the total estimated cost for the proposed restoration is $780,000.

The committee is asking the general public to financially support this vital restoration project.

HISTORICAL MERIT

The St. Bernard Mission in Grouard has played an important role in the development of northern Alberta. This site was a crucial gathering place for settlers travelling to the western part of Canada. It was, at one point, the economic centre of Alberta with a population exceeding 4,000. At that time, it was larger than the community of Fort Edmonton.

The church was designated a provincial historic resource in 1977. The committee has initiated a major fundraising campaign for phase one of the restoration. Interested parties may make a cash donation or pledge for their contribution.

For further information or to request a pledge form, please contact: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, Phone (780) 324-3002; email: archbishops.ea@serbernet.com.