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McDougall Church to be restored

BIGHORN – The McDougall Stoney Mission Society has been given the green light to restore the 142-year-old McDougall Church along Highway 1A east of Exshaw that burnt in a devastating fire two years ago.
Night Photography
McDougall Church pictured under the Milky Way in 2016.

BIGHORN – The McDougall Stoney Mission Society has been given the green light to restore the 142-year-old McDougall Church along Highway 1A east of Exshaw that burnt in a devastating fire two years ago.

“I’m here to tell you the day has come … the provincial government has accepted our proposal to restore the church,” said Brenda McQueen, president of the McDougall Stoney Mission Society and great-great-great granddaughter of the George McDougall, founder of the Methodist settlement of Morleyville who built the church.

“The flame has been rekindled and with all of us working together the flame will flicker into light.”

Following the fire that burnt the McDougall Church, the first Protestant Church and the second oldest building on its original location in Alberta, the provincial government gave the society four options – leave as it; create what they call a ghost church, a structural representation of the original church with no roof or walls; build a modern church; or restore.

The society unanimously decided to support the restoration project, but was waiting for the official green light from the government to move forward. That approval was official this weekend, when McQueen announced the restoration would proceed during the Spring Commemorative Service at the historical site.

Speaker Linda Hunter started her speech by acknowledging the guests were on Treaty 7 land and touched on the complicated history of the site.

“I truly believe [McDougall] had good intentions, but we made some mistakes,” Hunter said at the service, recognizing the intergenerational trauma suffered by the Stoney Nakoda people as a result of residential schools.

Working with Nation members, who were in attendance, the announcement comes a week after the inaugural teepee raising on the site where McQueen said moving forward, the society will be working closely with the Stoney Nakoda people to ensure voices are being heard “side by side” during the restoration process and on the future interpretive walk, that was historically presented from the settler’s perspective.

Last week, daughter of the late Wesley Chief John Snow and mission society board member, Gloria Snow called the acts “true reconciliation.”

The spring service consisted of another teepee raising, smudge ceremony, prayers and hymn singing before McQueen commented on how seeing a teepee on the site “warmed her heart.”

“Hopefully we can all share this path together as we look into the future,” she said.

The fire that destroyed the church was reported at 4 a.m., May 22, 2017 and was initially considered accidental. However it was later confirmed RCMP were treating the incident as an arson investigation after an arson detection dog sniffed out traces of what was believed to be fire-starting stimulants.

Cochrane RCMP confirmed earlier this year the investigation remains open with charges yet to be laid.

Following the fire, society members said they received a flood of support and last summer the site was analyzed for a rebuild where it was discovered 90 per cent of the material taken from the church site was salvageable. Thanks to a 1985 project by the University of Calgary students, historical architectural drawings and detailed records were documented as part of an assessment.

“It would be exactly the way we remember it. We have some drawings, photos and books … because we have all that, we have pictures of the hinges, pictures of the walls, pictures of every little aspect. Every little thing is going to be exactly what it was,” McQueen told the Outlook earlier
this year.

Stoney Nakoda elder Charles Powderface said he felt great knowing the church would be restored.

“Now that the cat is out of the bag, we are focusing on fundraising,” McQueen said with a laugh.

“Every little bit helps.”

A GoFundMe site was shared on the official McDougall Stoney Mission Society Facebook page, with a $700,000 goal.

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