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Ralph Connor Memorial United Church


Other Names:
Ralph Connor Church
Ralph Connor Memorial Church

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Ralph Connor Memorial United Church is a one and one half-storey wood frame structure situated on two lots in the centre of the Town of Canmore. Completed in 1890, the church embodies the classical mission style of ecclesiastical architecture and features horizontal wood siding, an engaged central bell spire with a pyramidal roof, and pointed arch windows.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Ralph Connor Memorial United Church lies in its association with famed author and frontier missionary Charles William Gordon (pen name Ralph Connor) and in its Carpenter Gothic architecture.

Charles William Gordon was born at Glengarry County of Canada West in 1860. The child of a fire-breathing Presbyterian minister and his devoutly pious wife, Gordon was naturally attracted to religious service. After completing his studies at the University of Toronto, Knox College, and the University of Edinburgh, he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and sent to Canmore to complete four years of mission work. A Presbyterian mission - one of the denomination's first in southern Alberta - had been established in the community two years earlier. After three years of ministering to the communities of Banff, Canmore, and Anthracite, Gordon was called to serve St. Stephen's Church in Winnipeg. He remained at Winnipeg for the rest of his life and became a remarkable prolific and successful author, writing under the nom de plume Ralph Connor. His first novel, Black Rock, drew upon his experiences as a frontier missionary living in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. At the height of his writing career, Gordon was arguably the most popular author in Canada. His sentimental stories of adventure, moral struggle, and "red-blooded Christianity" captivated early twentieth-century Canadians. Gordon used his successes as a writer to further his commitment to spread the spirit of the Christian Gospel. His religious vision was expressed in his ardent advocacy for temperance, labour rights, and the progressive ideals of the Social Gospel movement. It was also evident in the central role Gordon played in bringing together Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists to form the United Church of Canada in 1925.

Constructed between 1890 and 1891, the Ralph Connor Memorial United Church is one of the earliest Presbyterian churches built in Alberta. Like many early churches in the province, the building was constructed in the Carpenter Gothic architectural style. This style, which rendered the brick and stone forms and details of Gothic Revival architecture in wood, was popular in frontier communities because of its economy, its readily accessible materials, and its simplicity. The church embodies the Carpenter Gothic style in its wood construction, bell tower, and pointed arch windows. The narthex originally added to the building in 1925 and enlarged in 1948 is also typical of Carpenter Gothic buildings.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 699)

Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Ralph Connor Memorial United Church include such features as:
- exterior mass and form;
- horizontal wood siding;
- exterior corner trim;
- cedar-shingled gable roof;
- fenestration pattern and style, including pointed arch windows;
- stained glass;
- central engaged bell tower with decorative wood carving crowned by pyramidal, cedar-shingled roof;
- original interior elements, including wainscoting, baseboards, window and door trim;
- ornamental ceiling beams and fir hardwood flooring.


Street Address: 621 - 8 Street
Community: Canmore
Boundaries: Lot 16, Block 71, Plan 1095F
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
8 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
1095 F

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
51.088938 -115.357058 GPS Nad 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1983/08/12

Historical Information

Built: 1891 to 1891
Period of Significance:
Theme(s): Building Social and Community Life : Religious Institutions
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Architecture and Design
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Learning and the Arts
Historic Function(s): Religion, Ritual and Funeral : Religious Facility or Place of Worship
Religion, Ritual and Funeral : Religious Institution
Current Function(s): Religion, Ritual and Funeral : Religious Facility or Place of Worship

This building is an important part of the history of the Presbyterian Church in Alberta. It was constructed in 1890 to 1991, two years after the establishment of a Presbyterian Mission in Canmore - the first mission station established by this church in Southern Alberta.

The construction of this building resulted from the efforts of Reverend Charles William Gordon. His first pastoral charge, Gordon preached in this church until 1894. In that year he was called to St. Stephen's Presbyterian Church in Winnipeg, where he would spend the remainder of his ministry. A prolific writer, Gordon eventually became a major figure in Canadian literature. Black Rock, a novel based on his experiences in the Canadian Rockies, was his first of thirty works, which would secure for Gordon, under the pen name of Ralph Connor, a place in Canadian literary history. As a tribute to this man of both 'the cloth' and 'the written word', the Canmore United Church was renamed the Ralph Connor Memorial United Church in 1942.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0750
Designation File: DES 0699
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 18198
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. 699)
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