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St. Jean Baptiste Church and Rectory

Falher, Near

Other Names:
"Old Church"
Falher Mission
Falher Roman Catholic Mission (St. Jean Baptiste)
St. Jean Baptiste Mission
St. Jean Baptiste Mission Church
St. Jean Baptiste R. C. Church

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
St. Jean Baptiste Roman Catholic Mission Church is a two and one half-storey finished log building situated on approximately 64 hectares of land roughly 4 kilometres southeast of Falher. The church features full dovetail notching, a gable roof, and a small cupola crowned with a cross.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of St. Jean Baptiste Roman Catholic Mission Church lies in its association with the attempts by Roman Catholic clergy to create a Franco-Catholic enclave in northern Alberta. It also possesses heritage value for its rarity as a two and one half-storey log building serving the dual purposes of church and residence.

In 1909, the Dominion government established a land office at Grouard and began to subdivide the vast lands of the Peace River country into townships. Bishop Emile Grouard perceived the opening of the region for settlement as an opportunity to establish a robust francophone Catholic presence in northern Alberta. Grouard appointed Fr. Jean-Baptiste Giroux to act as a special colonization agent for the project on behalf of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and dispatched his charge to spread the Good News of the Peace Country in the winter of 1911 and 1912 to francophone communities in Quebec, New England, and Minnesota. Some 35 families responded to the call and were shepherded to their new home by Fr. Giroux and his assistant, Fr. Constant Falher. The settlers formed the nucleus of the district of Donnelly-Falher situated between Lake Kimiwan and the Smoky River. By 1914, the region's population had grown to almost 300 people, the overwhelmingly majority of whom were francophone and Catholic. Father Marie Dreau was the first resident priest to serve the community. In 1914, Br. Augustin Dumas, designer and builder of the St. Bernard Church in Grouard, supervised a host of volunteers who erected a two-storey log building to function as both St. Jean Baptiste Church and a rectory for Fr. Dreau. With a new influx of francophone settlement in the district following the arrival of the Edmonton Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway in 1915, the church population continued to grow. St. Jean Baptiste Roman Catholic Mission Church served as the spiritual heart of the francophone colonization community in the South Peace District.

St. Jean Baptiste Roman Catholic Mission Church embodies a rare marriage of substantial log construction with dual functionality. There are few log churches still extant in Alberta and those that remain are typically simple, single storey buildings. Even fewer in number are log buildings that served as religious housing. With its two and one half storeys and full dovetail notching, the church represents a scale and craftsmanship uncommon among log churches. Its added distinction as an early and rare combined priest's residence and place of worship marks the St. Jean Baptiste Roman Catholic Mission Church as a rare and significant building.

Source: Alberta Culture, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 424)


Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of St. Jean Baptiste Roman Catholic Mission Church include such features as:
- location southeast of Town of Falher;
- full dovetail notched, horizontal finished log construction;
- shingled gable roof;
- horizontal wood siding in gable ends;
- cupola crowned with cross;
- fenestration pattern and style, including multi-pane sash windows.


Location



Street Address:
Community: Falher, Near
Boundaries: The northwest quarter of Section 27, Township 77, Range 21, West of the Fifth Meridian.
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
5
5
5
5
21
21
21
21
77
77
77
77
27
27
27
27
11
12
13
14

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

Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
55.705068 -117.176437 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: 2012/05/15

Historical Information

Built:
Significant Date(s) N/A
Theme(s) Building Social and Community Life : Religious Institutions
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Architecture and Design
Peopling the Land : Migration and Immigration
Historic Function(s): Religion, Ritual and Funeral : Religious Facility or Place of Worship
Current Function(s):
Architect: Augustin Dumas
Builder:
Context: HISTORICAL CONTEXT

In 1909, the Dominion government established a Land Office at Grouard and began the orderly township survey of the Peace River Country. Among the areas subdivided was a track of land east of Lake Kimiwan and west of the Smoky River which, by the fall of 1911, was still unsettled. This drew the attention of Bishop Grouard, who had long been interested in settling large numbers of Francophone farmers in the region. He therefore appointed Father Jean Baptiste Giroux as a special colonization agent for the region on behalf of the Congregation of Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and instructed him to begin preaching the gospel about the wonderful Peace River Country to people in Quebec, and, more importantly, to those Quebequers who had lately settled in the northeastern United States.

During the winter of 1911-12, Giroux made many presentations to groups in Quebec, the New England states, and Minnesota. He spoke about the richness of the soil, and how, if the Fancophone people homesteaded as a group, they would be able to derive benefit from mutual assistance. More importantly, to his thinking, they would be able to bring the trappings of their culture and their religion to the new Northwest.

In May 1912, some 35 families set out from Montreal en route to Edmonton and, from there, to Grouard, where they intended to file for land west of Lake Kimiwan, which was still unsettled. They were led by Father Giroux, who was assisted by Father Constant Falher. Upon arriving in Grouard on 26 May, the group was treated to a lavish reception. The following day, they set out to the land of their new hope. After scouting the area for several days, they congregated at a spot of the Peavine Creek and agreed that this district would be their new home. But what to call it? One settler suggested Giroux, but Father Giroux thought Falher would be better. They compromised and combined the first name of Father Giroux with the last name of Father Falher to make Jean-Baptiste de Falher.

The settlers returned to Grouard to file for their quarter sections, and soon, the Francophone community of Donnelly-Falher came into being. By the end of 1914, 297 homesteaders were on their land. Other settlers joined them and, before long, the district featured the largest Francophone settlement northwest of Morinville. The first resident priest was Father Marie Dreau, and, in 1913, he constructed a small combined church and rectory on his homestead quarter section: the northwest quarter of Section 27, Townshio 77, Range 21, West of the Fifth Meridian. The following year, with much volunteer help in the district, he erected a much larger, two and one-half story log structure right next to it, which came to serve as the Parish Church. This church, St. Jean-Baptiste de Falher, soon became the focal point of Francophone culture for the entire area, which, by the end of 1914 was over 85 percent Francophone in orientation. Most other district settlers were Roman Catholic. Indeed, with so many local residents being committed Roman Catholics, attendance at St. Jean-Baptiste de Falher was very high. Indeed, for years, this was the only public facility in the district.

In 1915, the Edmonton, Dunvegan & British Columbia (ED & BC) Railway passed through the district, and more Francophone settlers took up residence. Over the years, the Francophone culture survived, with many important ceremonies taking place in the original church, although it eventually became overshadowed by several other larger structures in Donnelly, Falher, Girouxville, and McLennan. In 1978, the church was designated a registered historic site, and restoration work was undertaken. Today, this church stands as the most cherished structural symbol of the original Francophone settlement in northwestern Alberta.


HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

The historical significance of the St. Jean de Baptiste de Falher Church near Falher lies in its provision of structural evidence of the Francophone community which began to settle in the district beginning in 1912. This is the most visible symbol of the origins of this community.

(D. Leonard, October 2005)

********************************************************************************

HERITAGE SIGNIFICANCE

The Saint Jean Baptiste Mission at Falher was the first permanent church built in the French Canadian settlement at Falher signifying the beginnings of a permanent settlement. It served the area for a seven mile radius. The building was used as a church from 1914 to 1919 and as a private residence thereafter. It never played an active role as a Roman Catholic Mission, but rather served the settlers of the area as a community church for just over 5 years, when it was replaced by a new church. The structure was built by the congregation with the help and direction of Brother Augusta Dumas, who also built the St. Bernard Church and convent at Grouard. The original design of the two-storey church had the same symmetrical style façade found in other Roman Catholic Mission buildings such as convents and bishop's residences. The convent has been destroyed while the church survives. The building represents an unusual solution to the problem of providing both a church and a priest's residence.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0970
Designation File: DES 0424
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 74961
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. 424)
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