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near Duhamel, Alberta, T0B, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1980/12/29

The Catholic Church of St. Thomas Provincial Historic Resource, near Duhamel (May 2002); Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, 2002
Front facade
The Catholic Church of St. Thomas Provincial Historic Resource, near Duhamel (date unknown); Missionary Oblates, Grandin Archives at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, OB.1942, n.d.
Northwest view
The Catholic Church of St. Thomas Provincial Historic Resource, near Duhamel (January 2006); Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch,2006
Northwest view

Other Name(s)

St. Thomas Mission
St. Thomas Duhamel Roman Catholic Church

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)


Listed on the Canadian Register: 2006/03/29

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Catholic Church of St. Thomas is a modestly sized, late nineteenth century church located on 0.174 hectares of land on the south bank of the Battle River at Duhamel. The building expresses elements of the Gothic Revival architectural style and features pointed arch windows, an engaged central bell tower, and a plain octagonal spire crowned by a cross.

Heritage Value

The heritage value of the Catholic Church of St. Thomas lies in its association with the work of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (O.M.I.) among Alberta's Metis communities during the latter half of the nineteenth century and as an example of a Gothic Revival church built using traditional French-Canadian construction methods.

The area around present-day Duhamel was first settled in the mid-1870s when the Salois and Dumont families migrated here from Lac Sainte Anne. The Metis presence at the site was bolstered in the early 1880s with the arrival of the large Laboucane family from White Horse Plains, near Fort Garry. The Laboucanes established the settlement as a centre for their trading and freighting operations throughout western Canada. Shortly after their arrival, the Laboucanes invited Father Hippolyte Beillevaire, an Oblate missionary at Hobbema, to visit their settlement. The Oblates had previously founded several missions for largely Metis populations at Lac Ste. Anne, Lac La Biche, and St. Albert, endeavouring to help these communities face the challenges of a declining fur market, the demise of the great buffalo herds, and the beginnings of Euro-Canadian settlement in the region. Fr. Beillevaire ministered to the residents at "Laboucane Settlement" - as the site was then known - between 1881 and 1882, celebrating mass in a modest structure that served as both the priest's accommodation and a chapel. The arrival of several Metis families in 1883 necessitated the building of a larger place of worship. Construction on the Catholic Church of St. Thomas began in the fall and was completed by Christmas. It was an integral part of the community, offering spiritual sustenance and a place of social gathering. In 1885, the church hosted government officials who counselled local Metis not to support the Northwest Rebellion. Although the influx of settlement changed the character of the Duhamel area, the church remained a vital part of social life, active until the 1960s, when it was converted into a museum. It stands as a prominent reminder of the complex social and cultural interaction between the Metis and the Oblates during the province's transition from a fur-based to an agricultural economy.

The Catholic Church of St. Thomas is the sole remaining Metis mission church on its original site in Alberta. Though unique in its longevity, the building is not architecturally remarkable, featuring a style and construction method typical of its time and place. The Metis who erected the church employed "post-on-sill" or "Red River Frame" construction, an adaptation of traditional French-Canadian bois-en-coulisse and piece-sur-piece methods of building. The design features elements of the Gothic Revival style common at the time, including a steep gable roof and pointed arch windows. The church maintains its original bell, a gift provided by Ottawa Bishop Joseph-Thomas Duhamel in the early 1890s as a gesture of thanks for Bishop Grandin's renaming of the parish St. Thomas Duhamel in his honour. In the 1910s, the bell tower and sacristy were added to the structure and clapboard siding was used to cover the interior and exterior of the log church - a common practice to mask the original appearance of early frontier buildings once milled lumber became available. The interior features paintings on the altar wall and ceiling and several original furnishings. Substantially unaltered, the church retains its ambience of simple reverence.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 440)

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Catholic Church of St. Thomas include such features as:
- mass, form, and style;
- gable roof;
- post-on-sill log construction;
- clapboard siding;
- central engaged bell tower featuring strongly horizontal eaves, rectangular openings on each side, original bell, and crowned with octagonal spire surmounted by a cross;
- fenestration pattern, including pointed arch windows;
- front door with transom;
- horizontal tongue-in-groove sheathing on the interior;
- wide cornice separating nave walls from the roof;
- interior decorative details, such as: the wood pilasters and corince moulding separating the walls and ceilings of the nave;
- original interior elements, including paintings on altar wall and ceiling, furnishings, and artifacts.




Recognition Authority

Province of Alberta

Recognition Statute

Historical Resources Act

Recognition Type

Provincial Historic Resource

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1883/01/01 to 1965/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Building Social and Community Life
Religious Institutions

Function - Category and Type




Religion, Ritual and Funeral
Religious Facility or Place of Worship

Architect / Designer




Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 440)

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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