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Zion Lutheran Church in the Torrington Area

Alberta

The Sun is setting on this very old church

Perform an internet search on “Torrington” and scroll past the Wikipedia vital statistics to the next most meaningful site and you will see “World Famous Gopher Hole Museum“. Perhaps you’ve already been there and visited this purveyor of traditional prairie culture. While it may be true that Torrington was put on the map by this famous institution, the museum has only existed since 1996. If we travel far enough back in time we will reach a period when gophers were not the stuff of museums but rather the source of many broken legs for unfortunate horses. Indeed many a young man and women had first learned how to use a rifle by seeking out gophers in an effort to rid the land of this prairie scourge. At that time, Torrington was a place of commerce and trade. For the rural farmer a trip to Torrington was like a trip to the city. An escape from the loneliness of the land. It wasn’t the only escape from the excruciating pain of loneliness though. Sunday mornings were an opportunity for farmers and their family to not only practice their faith, but also to visit with other people, share stories, news, and weather permitting, some sports and a lunch. A church was ostensibly built for spiritual enrichment but it also served the needs for human contact and social connections. This brings us to the subject of todays blog post, which is a tiny little church in the general Torrington area.

Zion Lutheran Church

Zion Lutheran Church, in association with the Lutheran Missouri Synod, was organized in 1906 and built shortly thereafter. It is a tiny church with only two windows on each side. Only the front entry breaks up the basic rectangular shape. Despite its humble dimensions the history of this little church shows that it was much loved by the locals. The current location is actually the third place the church was situated. Its first location was on too high a hill for the people, or perhaps their horses, to manage in the winter (yes there really are hills on the open prairies) so in 1929 it was moved to location number two which was nearby.

I don’t know why the second location didn’t work out and I don’t know where it was before the old church was moved to where it now stands. Whatever the reason, the church building was eventually moved again a short distance to where it still stands to this day. That is one benefit of a small structure like this, it’s relatively easy to move. There is a cemetery on the original church grounds and on the final church property but only a small number of markers remain. Does anyone know the number and identity of unmarked graves in the area? On my last trip there I could definitely see the outline of some unmarked graves by the telltale sign of the settled area of the ground in the shape of the hole once dug for burial. Likely there are some unmarked graves at the first site of the church as well. I’ve updated this post to include images of the first site of the church.

The small cemetery at the site of Zion Lutheran Church.

Zion Lutheran Church served its congregation from 1906 to 1955. In 1955 it amalgamated with Good Hope Lutheran Church in Torrington and the amalgamated church was renamed Trinity Lutheran Church. Good Hope Lutheran Church was affiliated with the Ohio Synod. It was built in Torrington in 1929. The newly amalgamated church was affiliated with the Lutheran Church Canada, Missouri Synod and exists to this day. The congregation still arranges a picnic at the Zion site once a year.

The front entrance to Zion Lutheran Church beckons one to enter
Looking back at the entrance from inside the church during sunset
The front door is open and there is room in the pews
The remaining pews inside the church. Most likely they faced the other direction when the church was in use. They don’t look very comfortable.

The window frame shown above is clearly the original one from when the church was built. It’s very possible that the glass is original too. Unbroken glass is very rare to see.

A stone foundation. It must have worked because sometime around 2000 the structure was checked and found to be sound. At that time the roof was re-shingled.
A back view of the old Zion Lutheran Church. This image was, of course taken on a different day.

Updated photos from 2022 of the original location.

This was the first location of the church. There is no gate so I didn’t go beyond the sign.

The photos below and and above were taken in the early spring of 2022. The image with the sign is the original location of Zion Lutheran Church before it was moved to the present location. It was snowing heavily but only briefly. You can see the snow in the air on the image with the sign. As stated in the introduction to this blog post, the church was moved because it was difficult to access at the previous location. I now understand why. The road leading to it is called an unmaintained road by the Province. It’s basically a mud road and a single lane. I was driving an SUV with fairly new tires but even then the vehicle was sliding around. If it was just a little warmer I probably wouldn’t have made it this far as I think there was still frost in the ground that prevented the mud from getting too deep. The image below with the road and the one with the rock were taken about 1 km from the old church site. It’s deep snow in the winter and mud in the summer except after a long dry spell. Those people in the old cemetery are definitely resting in peace because few people have a reason to use this road and fewer still have a vehicle that can get in, and out.

This is an unmaintained road that few vehicles use. It is only safe to drive on after a long dry spell or with a four wheel drive vehicle.

You can see a bit of mist rising from the field in this image.

Much of the history of this old church was paraphrased from the book, Torrington & District History 1890s – 2015, published 2016 by the Torrington Historical Society.

If you visit the structures shown in this blog, or any other old and potentially abandoned structure, please respect the landowners” rights and obtain their permission to access and photograph their structures. Always exercise caution when visiting abandoned buildings as there are potential dangers such as crumbling structures, deep wells hidden by grass, and even spores of mould in the air.

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10 thoughts on “Zion Lutheran Church in the Torrington Area

  1. Excellent!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Brenda. There are other blogs on the site if you are interested. Thanks for dropping in.

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  2. Great photos and history Glen!! I was attacked by mosquitoes last time I stopped there!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jenn, I didn’t know that there were mosquitoes in the dryer parts of the Province.

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  3. Thank you for the interesting perspective on the building and cemetery, as well as the interior pictures. So nice to see a building that is intact and still cared for from the turn of the century.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Travis. I’m not certain who cares for it but it is indeed very original. I too hope that this will continue for decades to come.

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  4. The land the church currently sits on was originally owned by my great-grandparents, Mathais and Magdalene Rempfer (nee Schafer). Their now-abandoned home is still standing, in a wooded area a few hundred yards north-east of where the church is now situated. They settled the area in about 1904, arriving by way of the Dakotas. Many of Magdalene’s family, including her parents Jakob and Elisabeth (large white headstone on the left of picture #2, above), are buried here. The Bauer headstones are connected through Magdalene’s sister Katherine, who married Phillip Bauer. The Rempfer, Schafer, and Bauer families had all emigrated to North America from Bessarabia (Russia/Romania/Moldova/Ukraine…depending on the era you choose). They were all ethnic Germans, whose ancestors had settled in Bessarabia (what had recently become part of Russia) in the early 1800’s. The Rempfer family is buried mostly at the Torrington East Cemetery.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting Colin. I’d love to see the homestead. I recently learned of another cemetery where the church was once located but I haven’t been there yet. My grandparents also were Germans living in other parts of Europe in their own communities. Some tried to return to Germany after the war but they were not welcomed because of their accents from an unknown number of generations living in a German diaspora. They then came to Canada in the mid 20s.

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  5. A tiny church indeed. This part of Alberta is very interesting and while I have been by Torrington, I have never stopped in. Those rural road shots are fantastic. A road less travelled indeed Glen. Happy Monday. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Allan. That is a road that demands perfect conditions to be used and explored. I was not certain that I would be able to reach the top of the highest hill even with my SUV equipped with newer tires. Fortunately I was able to find what I was searching for though.

      Liked by 1 person

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