Days after a May 22nd fire destroyed the 142-year-old McDougall Memorial United Church west of Calgary, the McDougall Stoney Mission Society is encouraged by people’s support and generosity to look towards the future.
Mission Society Secretary Sarah Harvey says one United Church congregation has offered its old pews if the Society rebuilds. As well, Ralph Connor Memorial Church in Canmore has made available its sanctuary for scheduled weddings as has a local guest ranch.
“It just shows that in the United Church we look out for each other,” says Harvey.
Harvey says the historical site is once again open to the public following RCMP clearance. Plaques throughout the location explain the site’s history. Volunteers will again be on site during summer weekends to offer tours. As well, the Society is proceeding with its June 11th worship service at 3 pm. Worship services are held twice a year, on the second Sunday in June and September, always 3 pm.
According to news reports, the fire was discovered around 4 am on Monday, May 22. Harvey first learned about the fire about four hours later when a Calgary Herald reporter telephoned her for an interview. She drove to the church site hoping that perhaps a piano or a display case would survive. Unfortunately, nothing remained. Even the church bell and cast iron stove were melted.
“There were so many local people coming to the site after the fire,” says Harvey. One man from Morley told Sarah that he remembered coming to the church as a child and sitting up in the church’s loft.
The McDougall Stoney Mission Church was the oldest Protestant Church building in Southern Alberta It was constructed in 1875 by Methodist Missionary John McDougall along with his father, George McDougall, Superintendent of Western Canada’s Methodist Missions. The church was originally part of the Morleyville settlement. However, the CPR railway tracks were laid further south and populations moved closer to the tracks. In 1921, the congregation moved to its present-day location in Morley, AB and is called the Morley-Eden Valley Pastoral Charge. Morley-Eden Valley Pastoral Charge is part of All Tribes Presbytery and the All Native Circle Conference.
In 1952, several A0TS men’s groups of Calgary United Churches took on restoring the mission church, located west of Cochrane, AB on Highway 1A. Eventually the McDougall Stoney Mission Society (MSMS) was formed.
Archeological evidence on the site indicates that people have been coming to the location for some 14,000 years, says Harvey. Knowing that the site was a gathering place for people through the generations was part of why John McDougall chose the site for the church, she said. Canadian Country Musician Paul Brandt perhaps aptly describes the sacred draw of the historical site in his “Just as I am” documentary. In the film’s introductory minutes, Brandt describes how walking and praying on the site helped him focus and plan his 2012 album.
Harvey become involved with the McDougall Stoney Mission Society after being on a local history tour on which the historical Church site was one stop. She picked up a flyer that said the Society were looking for volunteers and called the telephone number listed.
The cause of the fire is unknown. Cochrane RCMP issued a news release that their investigation found no evidence that the fire was deliberately set. “We can’t speculate on how the fire happened,” says Harvey. “We can only move forward.”