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Key Number: HS 72663
Site Name: Immaculate Heart Roman Catholic Church
Other Names: Bad Heart Straw Church
Site Type: 1603 - Religious: Church, Cathedral or Chapel

Location

ATS Legal Description:
Twp Rge Mer
75 2 6


Address: RR #2 - Sexsmith
Number:
Street:
Avenue:
Other:
Town:
Near Town: Bad Heart

Media

Type Number Date View
Source

Architectural

Style:
Plan Shape: Rectangular
Storeys: Storeys: 1
Foundation:
Superstructure: Other
Superstructure Cover: Composition: Plaster or Stucco
Roof Structure: Medium Gable
Roof Cover:
Exterior Codes: Massing of Units: Single Detached
Wings: Either Side
Roof Trim - Eaves: Plain Soffit
Roof Trim Material - Eaves: Wood
Roof Trim - Verges: Plain Soffit
Roof Trim Material - Verges: Wood
Towers, Steeples and Domes: Steeple
Chimney Location - Side to Side: Unknown
Window - Structural Opening Shape: Flat
Window - Trim Outside Structural Opening - Head: Plain Flat
Window - Trim Outside Structural Opening - Sides: Plain
Window - Trim Outside Structural Opening - Material: Wood
Window - Sill Type: Plain Slip Sill
Window - Sill Material: Wood
Window - Trim Within Structural Opening - Head: Plain
Window - Trim Within Structural Opening - Sides: Plain
Main Entrance - Location: Centre (Facade)
Exterior: Church built of straw bales with reinforcing rods.
Exterior finished in stucco.
Steeple built of wood.

The L-shaped building features gable roofs, a central steeple, and a bank of windows in the gable end above the main entrance. The exterior is clad in rough stucco and the sides of the church are notably windowless. able roofs, a roof top spire, and a bank of windows in the gable end above the main entrance. Stucco mixed with rock and glass chips from bottles clad the exterior wall surface, and asphalt shingles cover the roof and gable ends.
Interior: Finished with boards; finished inside with smooth plaster. The interior of the church was finished with a smoother plaster covered with sheets of plywood paneling, and a wood floor was laid on top of the concrete base.
Environment: Built on hill overlooking Bad Heart Valley. Church hall stands near the church. The building situated roughly 50 kilometres southeast of Grande Prairie.
Condition: Structure: Fair Repair: Poor
Alterations: N/A

Historical

Construction: Construction Date:
Construction Started
1954/01/01
Usage: Usage Date:
Church
1954/01/01
Owner: Owner Date:
La Corporation Episcopale Romaine
Lowie Chrenek
1954/01/01
1978/09/01
Architect: N/A
Builder: Father Dales
Craftsman: N/A
History: Father Frank Dales Roman Catholic priest for Sexsmith, blessed by Father Andre Routhier who was the Bishop.
1954 - Constructed - first R.C. Church in Badlands District.
Total building cost $500 - seating for 50 people.
1960 - closed.
Owner La Coporation Episcople Romaine.
Commonly called the Straw Church; the name St. Mary's was also mentioned.
The idea of straw buildings originated in eastern Canada; Father Dales was originally from Ontario.
* * *
The Bad Heart Straw Church near Teepee Creek is a unique example of straw construction. The building still displays its original architectural style and its basic configuration as a church.

Description of Historic Place
Bad Heart Church is an L-shaped building characterized by its simplicity: gable roofs, a roof top spire, and a bank of windows in the gable end above the main entrance. Stucco mixed with rock and glass chips from bottles clad the exterior wall surface, and asphalt shingles cover the roof and gable ends. Also notable are the windowless sides of the building. This historic place may be described as a typical, modern, post-war church structure with no particular architectural style; in fact, given its small size, sparse decoration and austere design, it is functional rather than elaborate. The simply-constructed roof top inset spire appears to have been adopted from traditional architectural forms, and whatever style there is seems to borrow from the "carpenter gothic" commonly found in many small, rural, wood-framed churches on the prairies. The box-shaped structure has been a pretty basic form of shelter for centuries, and the use of straw, a cheap material easily obtained and quickly assembled, make this church a kind of vernacular architecture of the modern era.

The basic L-shaped layout and the simple architectural arrangement of the exterior and interior speak to a design that was dictated by the method of construction. There is hardly any outstanding detailing or decoration inside or outside, except for the spire and the segmented window at the front, which are really the only two elaborate designs on the entire building.

In the 60s, the church was abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair for more than twenty years, until the 80s when new asphalt shingles were put on, the inside was cleaned, the floor replaced, the rooms altered, the spire replicated and a new bell installed. Today, the building is in generally fair to good condition, and most of the original fabrication has been retained. Most importantly, the compacted straw walls that make this church notable have not been disturbed and the original stucco covering was left untouched and is still in sound condition.

The current roof is covered with brown asphalt shingle, although according to the only available historic photograph, the original covering was probably the same kind of material, but blue. The grey wood-grained pattern asphalt covering on both gable ends could be the original material.

The interior of the church was finished with a smoother plaster covered with sheets of plywood paneling, and a wood floor was laid on top of the concrete base. The plaster, which was used to even out the rough interior surface of the straw bales, is the original material which has been retained. It is uncertain if the wood panels on the walls are replacements from the 80s rehabilitation or are original, but the plywood floor covering is definitely a replacement on the original concrete slab foundation.

Bad Heart may not appear on the map of Alberta as a village or hamlet anymore, but this settlement started in the early 20th century soon after World War I, and became a community with farms, a store and post office, a school, and later this church and a community hall. The school, the store and several of the farms are no longer occupied, but the buildings (including the church) that are left remind us that there was once a proud small community called Bad Heart. This straw church building, during its construction and while in service to the parish, was a popular gathering place for residents.

In the 60s, the church was abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair for more than twenty years, until the 80s when new asphalt shingles were put on, the inside was cleaned, the floor replaced, the rooms altered, the spire replicated and a new bell installed. Today, the building is in generally fair to good condition, and most of the original fabrication has been retained. Most importantly, the compacted straw walls that make this church notable have not been disturbed and the original stucco covering was left untouched and is still in sound condition.

D-2156 - BAD HEART STRAW CHURCH

HISTORICAL CONTEXT: In the aftermath of World War I, the Dominion government established the Soldiers Settlement Board, which was to serve two purposes. First, it was a mechanism whereby the government could reward men who had physically defended their country in time of need; second, it could provide an outlet for an unemployment problem that was rapidly building up. The Board identified tracts of land in arable districts which had not hitherto been taken up by homesteaders, and proceeded to have portions of them set aside for the soldiers. One region where considerable land was reserved was the Peace River Country, the central grasslands of which had been settled much earlier. One of the districts of this region where soldiers were encouraged to settle was a small stretch of parkland off the Bad Heart River, which flows through the Burnt Hills into the Smoky. Here, in TPs74 & 75 R2 W6, several veterans took advantage of the government offer and applied for land in 1919, including the highly decorated but soon to be notorious George Frederick "Nobby" Clark.

The war veterans were soon joined by other settlers, and, gradually, the community to be known as Bad Heart evolved. A school district was incorporated in 1928, and a store and post office was built the following year. Bad Heart was, however, somewhat cut off from the more heavily settled areas of the Grande Prairie, and conditions were far from ideal for farming. A number of foreclosures occurred, but the community did hang together, as cattle, hogs and poultry were raised to offset the costs of dry land farming. Being remote however, amenities were few, and it wasn't until the late 1950's that electrical power and telephone services were extended there.

Until the mid-1950's, the Bad Heart district was without a church, with local residents attending Roman Catholic, Anglican and United Churches in the Teepee Creek district to the southwest. At the time, one of the most energetic Roman Catholic priests in the region was resident at Sexsmith, over 50km away. This was the Redemptorist Father Francis Dales, who, as a trained architect, had just designed a new $70,000 church in Sexsmith. He had also constructed, and would design and construct other public buildings, the work being either volunteer or by young teenagers at a small wage. To complete his projects, Father Dales often salvaged lumber from demolished buildings. Scrap metal from demolished vehicles and farm equipment was also recovered and sold. Other fundraisers of varying kinds were also undertaken.

As his parish included Bad Heart, Father Dales decided, in the early 1950's, that it was time for a church of the right persuasion to be built there. For the district at this time, the major problem was financing, for all Roman Catholic churches relied strongly on local support, and the people of Bad Heart were hardly in a position to fund a new church structure, being relatively few in numbers and anything but wealthy. Work bees and salvaged lumber would not be enough. Father Dales, however, had learned that, in eastern Canada, certain farmers had built cattle sheds out of straw bales, the oil from the rye or flax serving as a preservative. He therefore submitted a design to the Vicar Apostolic of the Archdiocese of Grouard, Bishop Henri Routhier, who approved the plan, and, apparently, personally advanced $500 towards its fulfillment.

In the summer of 1954, work began on the soon to be famous flax straw church at Bad Heart. Before long, word spread of the unique venture, which was completed in about six weeks. Eventually, even the Toronto Star Weekly did a story on the church and its builder. All work, of course, was volunteer, while fixtures and furnishings were salvaged from other churches in the region. The pews, for example, were taken from the old Roman Catholic church in Sexsmith. According to the Grassland News:

The church is L-shaped and made of baled straw! It is 22-feet wide, 35-feet long and 9-feet high. The boot of the L is a 10 x 10 foot extension. The ceiling is pitched approximately 45 and took 376 bales to build the church.
Laced with steel straps and reinforced with steel rods, the bales were pyramided into walls, 20 inches thick on a concrete base. The shingled truss roof was then anchored to the baled straw walls.
The church's interior was finished with plaster and plyboard with a wood floor laid on top of a concrete base. The outside was finished with stucco. In all, it took 10 people 6 weeks tobuild the church.

HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: The historical significance of the straw church in Bad Heart lies foremost in its representation of the ability of people in remote rural areas of the province to find ways of adapting what they have into useful purposes. The building is also important in being directly associated with Father Francis Dales, the ebullient architecture priest who designed and built many structures in the region and elsewhere, including several churches, St. Mary's Roman Catholic School in Sexsmith, and the Anglican Speke Hall in Grande Prairie.

Bad Heart Straw Church

Description of Historic Place
The Bad Heart Straw Church is a simple L-shaped building situated roughly 50 kilometres southeast of Grande Prairie on a hilltop overlooking the Bad Heart River. The building features gable roofs, a central steeple, and a bank of windows in the gable end above the main entrance. The exterior is clad in rough stucco and the sides of the church are notably windowless.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of Bad Heart Straw Church lies in its status as a pioneering Alberta example of the use of straw as a construction material.

From its formation in the 1920s until the mid-1950s, the community of Bad Heart was without a local church. Surrounded by marginal farmland and cut off from the more heavily settled areas of the Grande Prairie, Bad Heart remained during these decades a small settlement with few amenities. Local residents who wished to attend a church service were compelled to travel to the Teepee Creek district. Father Francis Dales, a Redemptorist priest stationed over 50 kilometres away at Sexsmith, was determined to change that for Bad Heart's Roman Catholic community. A vigorous and highly creative man, Fr. Dales was an experienced architect and beloved pastor. He recognized that the people of Bad Heart possessed only modest resources and seized upon straw bale construction as a practical, economical way to construct a church. First a cement slab was lain down. Salvaged pipes with points welded on the tops were inserted into the slab at three foot intervals. The bales of straw were then pressed down onto the pipes and crowned with metal plates. To simplify the church's design and ensure the stability of the walls and the truss roof, no window openings were included on the sides of the building. Fr. Dales found ways to economize on all aspects of the church's construction. All labour was entirely voluntary. Much of the fabric of the church was or salvaged or donated: smashed 7-Up bottles were added to the exterior stucco to provide texture and colour and many of the fixtures and furnishings came from area churches. The Bad Heart Straw Church was completed in 1954 and stands as a remarkable example of ingenuity and civic spirit. It is also a pioneering example of straw bale construction in the province and possibly the only church so constructed in all of Canada.

Internal

Status: Status Date:
Abandoned
1981/07/30
Designation Status: Designation Date:
Provincial Historic Resource
2009/03/11
Register:
Record Information: Record Information Date:
S. Khanna 1993/09/10

Links

Internet:
Alberta Register of Historic Places: 4665-1346
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