Description of Historic Place
Fort Smith Mission Historic Park is a 1.8 hectacre Northwest Territorial Park in downtown Fort Smith. Built in the early 1900s, the park sits on a portion of the original Roman Catholic mission site. The most prominent feature in the park, the Bishop's Residence, is surrounded by five out buildings, the old St. Isadore's Church, and fields that were once used to produce food for the mission.
The Fort Smith Mission Historic Park contains the only remaining official Catholic Bishop's residence in the Northwest Territories. The large residence, combined with its expansive fields, the old church, and five out buildings, illustrates the importance of the site to Roman Catholic administration. The residence was built in 1911-1912, and developments to the surrounding landscape occurred over the first half of the 20th century, as the Mission became an increasingly important centre in the area. From 1926 to 1985, Fort Smith held the Bishop's seat, and was the administrative centre of the Roman Catholic Church in the Northwest Territories. The Mission is associated with many northern Bishops, notably Archbishop Gabriel Breynat and, more generally, with the proselytizing efforts of both the Oblates and the Grey Nuns. The Residence itself also provides a good example of popular 1800's northern missionary architecture, despite extensive renovations in 1942-1943.
The Catholic Church played a significant role in the creation of Fort Smith and the development of the Northwest Territories in general. Together with the Hudson's Bay Company, the Church established networks of trading posts, transshipment centres, churches, hospitals, schools and mission residences throughout the NWT. These buildings served as nodes for people to gather around, and often became the founding infrastructure of today's communities. Fort Smith is no exception. Once the Hudson's Bay Company set up a transshipment centre at the base of the Rapids of the Drowned, the Catholic Church quickly followed suit and established a church and residence. A farm, hospital, and residential school, as well as a newer church and residence, followed later. Together, these buildings attracted a permanent population, and the community soon became both the Catholic and federal administrative headquarters for the region.
Source: Consolidation of Historic Parks Order; Feasibility Study for the Development of the Site of the Fort Smith Mission; The Bishop's Residence: A Preliminary Structural Study.
- its legibility as a cultural landscape grouped around the Bishop's Residence,
- the diverse nature of the activities represented on the site (residence, 5 outbuildings, church, grotto, landscape remnants, and archaeological remains),
- the found forms and spatial inter-relationships between the components of the site,
the Bishop's Residence
- its consolidated massing as a rectangular cube under a mansard roof,
- its asymmetrical proportions, with a front door and porch located in the centre of original part of the building,
- its vernacular Second Empire architectural elements (bellcast eaves, gable dormers),
- its simple wood materials,
- its prominent site as the key element in the cultural landscape,
the 5 outbuildings
- their simple massing and gabled roofs,
- asymmetrical proportions that witness the multiple additions typical of utility structures,
- the placement of doors and interior facilities related to the use of each building (vehicle repair shop, storage sheds, carpentry shop, machine shop),
- their original wood materials,
- their siting to the north of the Bishop's Residence on a service road,
- its simple rectangular massing, pitched roof and central bell tower,
- its balanced proportions with a central door vestibule, central tower, and regularly articulated window placement on the side facades,
- its round headed windows and spire-like tower,
- its wooden materials,
- its siting on its original location to the north east of the Bishop's Residence,
- the found form and materials of the grotto,
- evidence of previous use in its construction,
- its religious decorations,
- its location beside the old portage road across from the former hospital building,
- evidence of a road running in front of the Bishop's Residence,
- fences and hedge remnants separating the Bishop's Residence and fields from the road,
- remnants of cultivated fields on the south and east edges of the site
- remnants of gardens to the rear of the Bishop's Residence, their outlines and early plantings,
- vestiges of pathways, drives and roadways,
- the footprints and sub-surface remains of earlier buildings on the site,
- the location of the cultural landscape on a major road downtown Fort Smith on an axis with the (distant) harbour, and beside a road that was once a major portage route,
- viewscapes to other buildings, fields and archaeological remnants that once comprised the full mission site.