CATHOLIC CHURCH OF ST. THOMAS
St. Thomas Mission
St. Thomas Duhamel Roman Catholic Church
Links and documents
Listed on the Canadian Register:
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.
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)
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.
Province of Alberta
Historical Resources Act
Provincial Historic Resource
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
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