Merlin and Louise Badry and Giselle Horne volunteered to help restore the historic St. Margaret's mission, 
the rural church near Tofield.

By Thandiwe Konguavi
Staff Writer

A group of dedicated volunteers is keeping alive the history of one of the earliest mission churches in the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton.

St. Margaret's Church circa 1938.

St. Margaret’s Church on the north shore of Hastings Lake, 35 km east of Sherwood Park, was built in 1912 by Catholic homesteaders. It was abandoned in 1952.

“My father-in-law always would say, I want you to make sure that you take care of this church,” said Marja Allen, whose father-in-law Orval W. Allen,  a citizenship judge, lived across the street from St. Margaret’s Church  in the 1970s.

“Now, he’s right here in the cemetery.”

Allen is president of the Friends of Deville St. Margaret’s Society, a group of residents and their descendants dedicated to preserving the church and the adjacent cemetery.

Board members of the Friends of Deville
St. Margaret's Society.

St. Margaret’s was established as a mission church administered from Tofield, a town 50 km east of Sherwood Park, in 1918. According to Archdiocese records, the Catholic population of Hastings Lake was 140 at the time, including 36 families.

Poor access to the Hastings Lake church  ̶  the road was often impassable during winter and in rainy weather  ̶  led to its being used less and less. Services were moved to nearby St. Jude Church in Ministik, about 30 km southeast of Sherwood Park, in 1952.

Plans to sell the church building, which has a seating capacity of 60, to a private individual were cancelled in the 1990s when the Friends of Deville was formed to make sure that the church was preserved.

“It was in shambles when we got it. It was in really bad disarray,” said Allen.

Because the society could not own a cemetery under provincial law, ownership of the church and cemetery was transferred to the Métis Nation of Alberta in 2000.

With provincial government funding, the Friends of Deville replaced the windows, walls, front doors and flooring of the church building and added an outhouse.

Grave markers were placed for many of the roughly 200 people — many of them Métis pioneers — who are buried in the St. Margaret’s cemetery.

Restoration of the church is nearly completed, with only some painting left to be done, said Allen.

Today the building, a provincial historic site, is used for weddings, funerals, and family reunions for community and society members.

The Métis Nation also holds a commemorative walk and Mass at the church every year in honour of the late Métis political leader Louis Riel, kicking off Métis week in November.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park has held an annual Mass at St. Margaret’s since August 2009.

The idea came about as former pastor Msgr. John (Jack) Hamilton was leading parish employees on a tour of historic churches in their parish area during a retreat.

“Father Jack said, ‘This is a church that has a Catholic history. Why don’t we start having an annual Mass there for the community to show it was a Catholic parish at one time?’” said Lucille Lewans Rezac, a pastoral assistant at the time.

Giselle Horne was one of about 100 people gathered for the parish’s annual Mass at the historic church on Aug. 27.

Horne was part of a youth group from OLPH that carried out restoration work on the mission church and grounds in the 1980s.

“It’s so exciting to see it now,” said Horne.

“This was a very vibrant faith community at one point with people coming by water or by horse and buggy,” she said. “I think of keeping this site alive as kind of honouring their journey as well.”

Sarah Levesque’s great-great grandparents attended
St. Margaret's, and now she enjoys being able to
attend with her own daughter, Sarayah, age 4.

The Mass was the first time since her parish’s 1983 youth restoration project that Horne returned to St. Margaret’s with her parents, Merlin and Louise Badry.

“To go inside the church now, I’m pleased to see how it was kept up and how nice it looks,” said Merlin. “Even though I might not have had ancestors here, it’s a historical church.”

Sarah Levesque’s great-great grandparents were among the first residents who attended regular Mass at the white poplar log church.

“I find that it’s very surreal to be able to say, ‘That’s where my grandma had her Communion and my great-grandma attended church here,” said Levesque. “So every time I come here, I just feel very fortunate.”

Levesque’s great-great-grandfather was among the early Hastings Lake homesteaders who helped build the original hand-cut log church.

“They were always Catholic and it was felt there was a need for a Catholic church here because Tofield was so far away,” said Glenda Levesque, Sarah’s mother. “As homesteaders, they decided they needed their church in this area and that’s when they decided to have the church and cemetery.”

Allen is grateful that so many people from across the Edmonton Archdiocese and as far away as Calgary attended this year’s Mass and open house at the historical church.

“It shows that what we’re doing is the right thing,” she said. “We’re pretty proud of it. And I think the community appreciates it.”