Academic journal article Manitoba History

The Churches of Early Winnipeg

Academic journal article Manitoba History

The Churches of Early Winnipeg

Article excerpt

The story of the establishment of churches in Winnipeg can be traced back to the early days of the nineteenth century. The Scots philanthropist and Hudson's Bay Company shareholder Thomas Douglas, Fifth Earl of Selkirk, planned to open the newly ceded Hudson's Bay Company territory to displaced tenant farmers from Scotland and Ireland who had been driven from their homes by their sheep-raising landlords. The first contingent of settlers came to a partially burnt-over promontory within a wide bend of the Red River named "Point Douglas" on 27 October 1812; almost two years later, in June 1814, the arrival of the Kildonan Scots marked the true launching of the Red River Settlement.

This article will provide a brief account of the establishment of the major churches in Winnipeg from the dates of their founding through the early decades of the twentieth century, and sometimes later where appropriate. The criteria for their inclusion are that they developed into fairly large buildings and congregations that exercised significant influence on the religious and social affairs of their immediate communities or the city at large. The roughly chronological treatment includes the relevant historical background, information about church founders, descriptions of the construction and architectural features of church buildings, congregational activities, and related unique anecdotal information, along with notes on organs installed in the churches. On account of its geographical proximity, the City of St. Boniface is considered part of the district of Winnipeg for the purposes of this study.

St. Boniface Roman Catholic Cathedral

The issue of churches and religious leaders was a matter of concern for the Selkirk settlers for they regarded this lack as a mark of an uncivilized society. For this reason, the colony's first governor, Miles Macdonell, negotiated with the Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis in Montreal to send a missionary to minister to the needs of the settlement's Irish and Scottish Catholics and other "free Canadians" at Red River. Fathers Joseph Norbert Provencher and Severe Dumoulin, along with the seminarian Guillaume Edge, arrived at Red River in mid-July 1818. Part of their task was to reinforce the authority of the Catholic Church among its local members, to convert the Metis (French-speaking descendants of the voyageurs and aboriginal women), and to establish "a regular mode of life," specifically tenant farming. The three priests immediately constructed a small building that served as a residence and chapel on the east bank of the Red River near the present site of St. Boniface Cathedral. However, this log structure, the first church building in Manitoba, was later damaged in the disastrous flood of May 1826.

This chapel was succeeded in 1819 by a church (designated a cathedral in 1822) to which Lord Selkirk donated a bell. A series of cathedrals followed: the second, a stone cathedral was commenced in 1833 but not completed until 1837 due to lack of funds; it was destroyed by fire on 14 December 1860. This was the church whose prominent twin towers are celebrated in John Greenleaf Whittier's poem, The Red River Voyageur:

   The bells of the Roman mission,
   That call from their turrets twain
   To the boatman on the river,
   To the hunter on the plain!

The third cathedral, commissioned by Bishop Alexandre Tache in 1862, was demolished in 1909; the fourth, the largest of all, built between 1906 and 1908, was destroyed by fire on 22 July 1968. Construction of the fifth cathedral, a low building of contemporary design placed within the remaining walls of the fourth St. Boniface Cathedral, was commenced on 30 June 1971; it was dedicated on 17 July 1972.

The first reed organ (melodeon) in Manitoba was built by a military medical officer for the second cathedral; it was destroyed in the 1868 fire. The first pipe organ in Manitoba was installed in the third cathedral in June 1875. …

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