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St. Edmund's Anglican Church

Big Valley

Other Names:

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
St. Edmund's Anglican Church is a small church painted blue, with a sheet metal spire and cross, located on two lots in the northwest corner of Big Valley, overlooking the town.

Heritage Value
The historical significance of St. Edmund's Anglican Church lies in its service to the community and district of Big Valley, and its associations with the town's history as a railway boomtown. The "blue church on the hill" is a very good example of a modestly-designed Late Gothic Revival church and is a landmark for the region.

Between 1912 and 1922, Big Valley was the major divisional point on the Canadian Northern Railway branch line between Vegreville and Drumheller. As a railway boomtown, however, Big Valley initially lacked social facilities. Church services were held in private homes or commercial buildings; for example, Catholic and Anglican services alike were sometimes held at Backstrom's Hardware Store by visiting clergy from Stettler. In 1914, a Mrs. Caroline Leffler in England offered the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Calgary - a diocese encompassing south-central Alberta, that had attracted thousands of English emigrants - a cheque for $500 to establish a church where he felt it was most needed. The Bishop selected Big Valley, and in November 1917 the first service was held in this simple wood frame church called St. Edmund's, erected on a hill on the west side of Main Street; the bell tower was added in 1923. After the Canadian Northern and the Grand Truck Railways became the Canadian National Railway in 1921, the use of the Big Valley-Vegreville line - and the town's population - dropped dramatically, though St. Edmund's remained in use until 1966.

St. Edmund's is also significant for its architectural design, in a simple Gothic Revival style, and possesses a high degree of its original historical integrity.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 1788).


Character-Defining Elements
The heritage value of St. Edmund's Anglican Church is contained in such character-defining elements as:
- the wood frame building. The lower field is sheathed with horizontal bevel siding boards, enclosed by corner boards and terminating at the sill and eave levels in wide horizontal trim boards surmounted by wood water tables; the upper field is covered with sawn cedar shingles;
- a cruciform plan with an entrance and vestibule at the west end of the nave;
- the bell tower on the north facade of the west end of the building, with a crenellated parapet and a sheet metal cross, original sheet metal panels on the spire, a flat roof and flashings;
- the fenestration pattern, notably two gothic windows in the apse and the main entry doors in the east wall of the tower, and the window and door trim woodwork;
- the ceiling of the apse which forms a large gothic arch;
- extant interior details, including finished woodwork and wood strip flooring, baseboards and shoe mouldings, overhead beams and altar railings, and pews consistent with the age and style of the interior;
- the ghost image of a built-in open stair on the west wall of vestibule;
- the plaster walls; and
- the hilltop location, on an east-west axis with a viewscape to and from the church.


Location



Street Address:
Community: Big Valley
Boundaries: Lots 7 and 8, Block 8, Plan 1725AN
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
4
20
35
26
15 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
1725 AN
1725 AN
8
8
8
7



Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
52.037323 -112.753164 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: 2002/12/06

Historical Information

Built: 1917 to 1917
Significant Date(s) 1917 to 1966
Theme(s) Building Social and Community Life : Religious Institutions
Peopling the Land : Settlement
Historic Function(s): Religion, Ritual and Funeral : Religious Facility or Place of Worship
Current Function(s): Religion, Ritual and Funeral : Religious Facility or Place of Worship
Architect:
Builder:
Context: HISTORICAL CONTEXT

In the summer of 1909, as a result of the provincial government's new policy of guaranteeing the bonds of major railway companies building branch lines in Alberta, a subsidiary of the Canadian Northern Railway called the Alberta Midland began constructing a line from Vegreville through Stettler and Drumheller all the way to Calgary. Some 22 km south of Stettler, a station was erected and a town site subdivided off Mott Creek next to a small community called Big Valley, where a store and post office had existed since 1907. Here, the Canadian Northern decided to establish a divisional center, which would be provided with switching yards and facilities for servicing and repairing track, locomotives and rolling stock. A major consideration was the water supply, as the water in Mott Creek (now Valley Creek) was non-corrosive.

With the establishment of the rail yards in 1910, the population of Big Valley began to grow. Freighting service along the rail line was begun the following year, and, in 1912, a water tower, turntable, round house and other features of a railway divisional centre were in place. By 1914, when Big Valley was incorporated as a village, it was home to 14 different railway crews and a large contingent of related maintenance staff. When the Canadian Northern was taken over by the federal government in 1918, the divisional facilities were extensively upgraded, and the community nearly doubled in size. In 1920, it was incorporated as a town with over 1,000 people.

As a railway boomtown, Big Valley was bereft of many social facilities in its early years. Church services, for example, were held in private homes or commercial buildings. Until the first Roman Catholic Church was built in 1917, Father Bazin of Stettler gave mass every fourth Sunday in Backstrom's Hardware Store. This store was also used for Anglican Church services, with Reverends Child, Harrison, Bateman and Scallon also making visits there from Stettler. In 1914, the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Calgary was presented with a cheque for 500 dollars from one Mrs. Caroline Leffler in England in order that a church might be established anywhere in his diocese where he felt it was most needed. By this time, thousands of young men and women from England had chosen to make south central Alberta their home.

It was no coincidence that Bishop Pinkham chose Big Valley as the site for Mrs. Leffler's generosity. There was every reason to believe that the community was evolving into a metropolis, and that there were plenty of residents amongst the farmers, railway personnel and service workers who could identify themselves as Anglicans. Indeed, an Anglican congregational meeting had been held as early as 1917, with Fred Briggs as the Rector Warden. In June of that year, Reverend Scallon also performed a wedding in the community. A wood frame church called St. Edmund's was erected on a hill on the west side of Main Street, and the first service was held there in November 1917. Father Scallon, who became the Church's first resident minister, oversaw construction.

The economic boom in Big Valley did not last long. The Dominion government had taken over the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, as well as the Canadian Northern. In 1921, they collapsed both lines into a single company, the Canadian National. The main purpose of this was to consolidate services. This meant closing down a number of branch and spur lines. In 1922, it was decided to make the former Grand Trunk Pacific line between Camrose and Calgary the main north-south artery for the CN in Alberta. Staff at Big Valley was severely cut, and, in 1923, train service between Big Valley and Vegreville was terminated. By 1930, the population of Big Valley stood at 440; in 1942 the town reverted to village status. The train and maintenance crews, which remained, did so mainly to ship local coal and mixed farming products south through Drumheller to Calgary.

St. Edmunds Church continued to survive however, until, in 1966, improved transportation encouraged many parishioners to travel 22km north to Stettler to attend church services. With little commercial development in the community, the St. Edmund's Church building was allowed to remain standing, as it does today.


HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

The historical significance of St. Edmund's Church lies in its service as an Anglican church for the community and district of Big Valley. It is closely associated with the boom period of the community between 1912 and 1922, when it was the major divisional point on the Canadian Northern branch line between Vegreville and Drumheller.

(Historical Interest Summary)

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0816
Designation File: DES 1788
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 12020
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 (Des. 1788)
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