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A Hungarian Church in Canada

St Michael’s Catholic Church, also known as Manfred Hungarian Church, built in 1910. The church steeple was lost to lightning in 1935. It received a major renovation in 1955. The church was closed in 1975.

In my travels around Alberta and Saskatchewan I’ve come across a lot of old communities. Many of the communities were settled by people from specific regions in Europe. Naturally English and French peoples are in the majority but when you are the majority you simply “are” and therefore there is no sense of discovery. The real adventure is in finding the lessor known communities or even the well known but assimilated communities. The most well know example of the latter type of village or region is the peoples of the Ukraine. They came by the tens of thousands and now number in the hundreds of thousands but that is the subject of another blog. Today I’m writing about a little known community of people from Hungary.

The first time I saw a photo image of this old church I knew I had to see it and learn its story. This doesn’t look like a church, it looks like the front of a blacksmith shop or general store. This is because of the false front. False fronts are quite common but certainly not on churches. Here is a description of the façade quoted from a website called the Western Front.

Historically, wooden false fronts were ornamental structures erected on the front of goldrush-era buildings to make hastily built boomtowns appear more impressive. This created the illusion of larger, more important buildings mimicking those built of cast iron or brick in more established cities. Symbolizing the pioneering Western town, the false front is both synonymous with the artificial display of wealth as well as the rapid boom-and-bust expansions of early mining, railroad and forestry communities.

Western Front
St Michael’s Catholic Church, also known as Manfred Hungarian Church, built in 1910. The church steeple was lost to lightning in 1935. Perhaps that is why the front looks so unchurch like.

This image is from an article from the Ponoka News, March 20, 2019 by Jeffrey Heyden -Keye.

Now that 1910 looks more like a church. Is it the same St Michaels Church? To be honest I’m not sure. I met Barry, a fellow who’s wife is Hungarian and who seemed to be very familiar with this church, who was just leaving as I arrived. He said the original church was destroyed by lightning and the current one replaced it in the late 40s. However the article in the Ponoka News, ibid, suggests that the steeple was destroyed by lightning and then a major rebuild of the church took place in 1955. I think that both explanations are substantially true. The steeple burned down, and the false front replaced it. In 1955 they added onto the back of the church and performed renovations so substantive that little of the old church remained. Oddly the unchurch like front may be the part that remained from 1935.

With the stormy summers in the area, the church steeple became damaged in 1935 and was eventually replaced by a wooden cross, which remained until 1955. “Slowly but surely, the building started to show the passing of time until in 1955 it underwent major reconstruction and renovation. This allowed the installation of a modern heating system and the electrical wiring provided light for the comfort of the parishioners.”

Ponoka News, ibid
St Michael’s Catholic Church, also known as Manfred Hungarian Church, The inside of the church. They’ve done a fine job at keeping the birds out. Image by Evelyn Bowe.
Image from the Ponoka News, Ibid.

This Hungarian church closed permanently in 1975. It’s foundation is now failing so it’s not a candidate for restoration. In fact I’ve heard that it might be torn down rather than risk the liability of someone getting hurt if it collapses while they’re in it or nearby. This won’t be the end of the Hungarian legacy though. There is a large cemetery on the grounds and as a recently as March 17, 2019 the community held an outdoor celebration to commemorate the settlement. It was attended by Hungary’s Secretary of State, Arpad Potapi; Ambassador to Canada, Balint Odor and Gyula Kadar, Chief of Cabinet for the state secretariat office. This is the reason for the article in the Ponoka News that was published a few days later.

St Michael’s Catholic Church, also known as Manfred Hungarian Church, built in 1910. The church steeple was lost to lighning in 1935. It received a major renovation in 1955. The church was closed in 1975.

I hope that if and when the church does come down the community will put up a substantial plaque on the place where it is located now. That way future generations will discover that Alberta has some Hungarian communities and that is something worth discovering.

Link to the Ponoka News 2019-05-20

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2 thoughts on “A Hungarian Church in Canada

  1. Another chapter of Prairie history Glen. I agree the false front makes the church look like a store, but the missing steeple certainly explains it. I can not imagine the congregation had much money to replace the steeple in the Dirty Thirties. Thanks for sharing. Happy weekend. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting Allan. This old churches exterior has actually started to grow on me. Perhaps it’s the position up on a hill but I kind of like it now.

      Liked by 1 person

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