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CATHOLIC CHURCH OF ST. THOMAS

Duhamel, Near

Other Names:
St. Thomas Duhamel Roman Catholic Church
St. Thomas Mission

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Catholic Church of St. Thomas is a modestly sized, late nineteenth century church located on 0.174 hectares of land on the south bank of the Battle River at Duhamel. The building expresses elements of the Gothic Revival architectural style and features pointed arch windows, an engaged central bell tower, and a plain octagonal spire crowned by a cross.


Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Catholic Church of St. Thomas lies in its association with the work of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (O.M.I.) among Alberta's Metis communities during the latter half of the nineteenth century and as an example of a Gothic Revival church built using traditional French-Canadian construction methods.

The area around present-day Duhamel was first settled in the mid-1870s when the Salois and Dumont families migrated here from Lac Sainte Anne. The Metis presence at the site was bolstered in the early 1880s with the arrival of the large Laboucane family from White Horse Plains, near Fort Garry. The Laboucanes established the settlement as a centre for their trading and freighting operations throughout western Canada. Shortly after their arrival, the Laboucanes invited Father Hippolyte Beillevaire, an Oblate missionary at Hobbema, to visit their settlement. The Oblates had previously founded several missions for largely Métis populations at Lac Ste. Anne, Lac La Biche, and St. Albert, endeavouring to help these communities face the challenges of a declining fur market, the demise of the great buffalo herds, and the beginnings of Euro-Canadian settlement in the region. Fr. Beillevaire ministered to the residents at "Laboucane Settlement" - as the site was then known - between 1881 and 1882, celebrating mass in a modest structure that served as both the priest's accommodation and a chapel. The arrival of several Metis families in 1883 necessitated the building of a larger place of worship. Construction on the Catholic Church of St. Thomas began in the fall and was completed by Christmas. It was an integral part of the community, offering spiritual sustenance and a place of social gathering. In 1885, the church hosted government officials who counselled local Metis not to support the Northwest Rebellion. Although the influx of settlement changed the character of the Duhamel area, the church remained a vital part of social life, active until the 1960s, when it was converted into a museum. It stands as a prominent reminder of the complex social and cultural interaction between the Metis and the Oblates during the province's transition from a fur-based to an agricultural economy.

The Catholic Church of St. Thomas is the sole remaining Metis mission church on its original site in Alberta. Though unique in its longevity, the building is not architecturally remarkable, featuring a style and construction method typical of its time and place. The Métis who erected the church employed "post-on-sill" or "Red River Frame" construction, an adaptation of traditional French-Canadian bois-en-coulisse and piece-sur-piece methods of building. The design features elements of the Gothic Revival style common at the time, including a steep gable roof and pointed arch windows. The church maintains its original bell, a gift provided by Ottawa Bishop Joseph-Thomas Duhamel in the early 1890s as a gesture of thanks for Bishop Grandin's renaming of the parish St. Thomas Duhamel in his honour. In the 1910s, the bell tower and sacristy were added to the structure and clapboard siding was used to cover the interior and exterior of the log church - a common practice to mask the original appearance of early frontier buildings once milled lumber became available. The interior features paintings on the altar wall and ceiling and several original furnishings. Substantially unaltered, the church retains its ambience of simple reverence.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 440)


Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Catholic Church of St. Thomas include such features as:
- mass, form, and style;
- gable roof;
- post-on-sill log construction;
- clapboard siding;
- central engaged bell tower featuring strongly horizontal eaves, rectangular openings on each side, original bell, and crowned with octagonal spire surmounted by a cross;
- fenestration pattern, including pointed arch windows;
- front door with transom;
- horizontal tongue-in-groove sheathing on the interior;
- wide cornice separating nave walls from the roof;
- interior decorative details, such as: the wood pilasters and corince moulding separating the walls and ceilings of the nave;
- original interior elements, including paintings on altar wall and ceiling, furnishings, and artifacts.


Location



Street Address:
Community: Duhamel, Near
Boundaries: Plan 792 2475, Parcel A
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
4
21
46
2
15 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
7922475

N/A
A

Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
52.943617 -112.941755 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1980/12/29

Historical Information

Built: 1883 To 1883
Significant Date(s) 1883 To 1965
Theme(s) Building Social and Community Life : Religious Institutions
Historic Function(s): Religion, Ritual and Funeral : Religious Facility or Place of Worship
Current Function(s): Leisure : Museum
Architect:
Builder:
Context: HERITAGE SIGNIFICANCE

The Catholic Church of St. Thomas - Duhamel began in a small mission building built by local Metis for Father Hippolyte Beillevaire, who first visited the Battle River area in 1881. The first structure served as a combination house and chapel but soon proved too small. On November 1, 1883 construction started on the new church. The local Metis were again enlisted to build the church. They used the post-on-sill method of log construction commonly associated with the Hudson's Bay Company. Post-on-sill buildings are composed of uniform logs fitted into upright posts then chinked and white-washed. In 1915 ship lap siding was added to the building and a sacristy and belfry were constructed.

The Catholic Church of St. Thomas - Duhamel was located in the midst of a Metis community that came to be known as the Laboucane Settlement. Like Metis across the prairies, the inhabitants of the community were engaged in the freighting business (along the Calgary-Edmonton Trail) and in subsistence agriculture.

The coming of the railway and the increasing importance of cash crop agriculture caused the community to dwindle in size; but Father Beillevaire continued to administer to Roman Catholics in the area. He died in 1937 after many years of service to the people of central Alberta.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0500
Designation File: Des. 440
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 46033
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 440)
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