Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 30, 2003
In search of St. Thomas
Parishioners peeled spruce logs, chinked pioneer church with moss for insulation
St. Thomas -- Feast Day -- July 3
By TED FITZGERALD
Thomas evangelized parts of India where he is still revered and churches bear his name.
In 1883 the more than 12 families at Laboucane built the tiny church on the prairie level south of the river.
Parishioners cut the peeled spruce logs for a post-on-sill chapel, chinked with moss in time for Christmas liturgies. Later on, a tongue-and-groove interior was painted with religious images and a few furnishings were acquired for the church.
In 1884 after river lots had been surveyed by the federal government, an estimated 70 Metis families were attracted to the parish.
After visiting the new church in 1884, Beillevaire's superior, Bishop Vital Grandin, suggested that it be named to honour Joseph Thomas Duhamel. A native of France, Duhamel had been named the second bishop of Ottawa in 1874, becoming the city's first archbishop 12 years later.
He served there until his death in 1909 and is buried in his cathedral and honoured with a larger-than-life statue on the cathedral grounds. When, in 1892, a large bell was donated to the little Alberta church by the bishop, the settlement's name was changed to Duhamel.
Namesake of the church, Thomas (the twin) is one of the better known of the 12 apostles although he doesn't figure too prominently in the Scriptures. He is of course the "doubting Thomas" who did not believe in the Resurrection of Christ until he had seen evidence, giving rise to the familiar quotation, "Happy are those who have not seen, and yet believe" (John 20:29).
It is said that Thomas evangelized parts of India where he is still revered and churches bear his name. His relics are venerated in Ortona, Italy. He is the apostle of India and patron of architects.
At Duhamel, community growth was arrested when the Calgary-Edmonton Railroad was opened 27 km west of town, causing most of the original settlers to disperse. By 1961 the little church was closed.
A new church, opened at New Duhamel, three km to the south, also was ultimately closed.
Today, the site, faithfully maintained by the Duhamel Historical Society, is a quiet place. The church's old spruce logs are hidden behind siding but the slightly altered interior can be viewed through a grill.
Visitors are encouraged to use picnic tables, share the well-kept grounds with resident gophers, and read historic plaques that recall frontier mission days at St. Thomas, Duhamel.
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