ST. BERNARD MISSION (CHURCH AND CEMETERY)
Grouard Mission Church
Links and documents
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
St. Bernard Mission (Church and Cemetery) comprises a one-storey church built in 1902 and a cemetery dating from at least 1873. The church is a simple rectangular building with a gable roof, large engaged belfry, and arched windows. The cemetery is situated north of the church and contains the remains of four Roman Catholic bishops - included Bishop Grouard - and many other missionary pioneers. The mission is situated on 65 hectares of land in the Hamlet of Grouard.
The heritage value of the St. Bernard Mission (Church and Cemetery) lies in its association with the establishment of Roman Catholic institutions in northern Alberta and its connection to the renowned missionary-pioneer Bishop Emile Grouard.
St. Bernard Mission was founded in 1872 near the Hudson's Bay Company post at Lesser Slave Lake. As a trade and transportation hub for northern Alberta with substantial populations of Cree and Metis, Lesser Slave Lake was perceived as a promising site for missionary work. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Roman Catholic religious order, established St. Bernard. By 1900, the mission had grown into one of the largest and most successful missions in the massive Athabasca-Mackenzie Vicariate encompassing all of northern Alberta. At its height, St. Bernard Mission featured a church, rectory, residence for nuns, boarding school, and an extensive farming operation. In 1901, the vicariate of Athabasca-Mackenzie was split into two separate jurisdictions. Missionary-pioneer Emile Grouard of the Oblates arrived to assume the role of Vicar Apostolic of Athabasca. The titular bishop of Ibora and a diligent evangelist in northern Alberta since the early 1860s, Bishop Grouard remained at St. Bernard Mission from the early 1900s until his death in 1931. In 1930, one year before he died, Grouard was appointed the Archbishop of the entire Athabasca-Mackenzie Diocese. A man of many talents and an indefatigable energy, he was a poet, musician, printer, author, painter, and linguist. Grouard profoundly influenced the religious life and social development of northern Alberta. Among his many achievements were his translation and printing of prayer books in Native syllabics and his role in encouraging the northern tribes to sign Treaty 8 with the government in 1899. In commemoration of Grouard's many accomplishments, the town was renamed in his honour in 1910 and the vicariate in 1927. He is buried in the cemetery north of the church.
The church at St. Bernard Mission was designed and built in 1902 by Brother Augustin Dumas to serve as Bishop Grouard's cathedral. The church manifests the influence of Thomas Baillarge, a French-Canadian church architect who injected the French-Canadian ecclesiastical style with eighteenth century French and British classicism. The traditional elements of the French-Canadian parish church are still evident in the church: the influence of the medieval French ecclesiastical style is seen in the tall central spire, while Baroque influences are embodied in the church's elaborate and elegant interior. Baillarge's classicist ideals are most clearly expressed in the round-arched classical windows, the more classical proportions - with a higher nave wall and a less steeply sloped roof - and the overall sense of balance and symmetry. The interior exhibits Grouard's considerable artistic talents, showcasing three of his original paintings executed on cloth, including the powerful image of the crucifixion situated behind the altar.
Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 425)
The character-defining elements of St. Bernard Mission (Church and Cemetery) include such features as:
- gable roof;
- tall central belfry featuring lantern with round-arch openings, splayed eaves and a crowning cross;
- corbelled chimney over the sacristy;
- arrangement of doors;
- fenestration pattern and style, including circular window on front facade and round arch windows;
- interior structural system of arches, columns (with dentillated capitals), and barrel vault;
- cornice supported by embellished brackets;
- choir loft;
- original Grouard paintings on cloth;
- syllabic symbols on arch behind the altar;
- arches with wooden keystones above windows;
- original wooden trims, mouldings, flooring, panelling, doors, and decorative elements;
- original furnishings.
- spatial relation to church and Buffalo Bay;
- stone grave markers and wooden fencing;
- landscaping features;
- sight lines to Buffalo Bay.
Province of Alberta
Historical Resources Act
Provincial Historic Resource
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
Br. Augustin Dumas
Br. Augustin Dumas
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. 425)
Cross-Reference to Collection