This blog is about a unique structure that is not far from Edmonton. Abandoned churches and schools are the main subject of my photography so this structure offered the possibility of finding both at the same time. That is a recipe for a road trip.
I asked my wife to join me for a ride into the countryside and to help navigate the country roads with the aide of the GPS. This structure was the main destination but since there is no shortage of historical structures in the Lamont County area I had a few places in mind.
As we approached the building I could see why it remains shrouded in mystery. A first impression from a drive by could easily cause one to mistake it for a large homestead. Not that there’s anything wrong with finding a homestead, but if you are looking for churches and schools a homestead just won’t do. We parked along the side of the road to take a few quick images before going to talk to the landowner. This is clearly private property and the owner’s house is right behind the structure. Upon pulling up the driveway Mr and Ms “Landowner” were already coming out of their house. This means they are either very friendly or we’re going to get kicked off the property, fortunately it was former rather than the latter.
He said we can take all the images we want but we can’t go inside. The property had deteriorated so it was no longer safe to go inside. Actually he had a lot more to say. He explained that around 20 years ago the government (I don’t know which level or dept.) came out and offered to restore the building as a historic site but he would have to share the cost up to $50 thousand. According to the landowner’s account the government also said that they would have to take title to the property. I can’t verify this and it sounds like an odd request so more likely the government said they would put a restrictive covenant on the land title so that he and subsequent owners can’t change or destroy the building. He turned down their offer. He said this is his land except for the cemetery right next door. Here too he said that someone came out to do some work to determine the number of graves that it contained but they didn’t share their results. He believes that there are a number of unmarked graves in addition to the one grave with a formal marker. He added that the caretaker died a number of years ago and took the key to the gate with him. The landowner now takes care of it occasionally but mainly to access the fresh grass for his two donkey’s named Pebbles and Bam-Bam. The landowner also confirmed the name of the old structure and said that the school was added after the church and you can tell by looking at the stone foundation for the church vs the concrete foundation for the school. It is the Ross Lake School and he called the church, Paulus Church. We said our goodbyes and, after a short but entertaining visit with the donkeys, took a few more images and made our way home.
An on-line friend and photographer, Kristin Watson, sent me a link to a very comprehensive history of the building. It is called “Newsletter of the German Special Interest Group of the Edmonton Branch of the Alberta Genealogical Society”, Volume 6, Number 3, Page 18, December 2015, article, “The Mystery Building at Ross Creek”. I highly recommend it for the story of this building, the cemetery and a very extensive article about who is Michael Schmaus, the sole name on the one grave marker.
I don’t want this blog to get too long or I’ll lose the two or three people that might read it so I’ll provide a summary of what I’ve learned in point form.
- In 1910 he church was built as the Ross Creek Roman Catholic Mission. The present building replaced the original one that had burned down. It’s unclear if the fire was before or after 1910.
- The church served mainly a German population which itself is a mystery as Lamont County was settled primarily by people from Ukraine and other Slavic countries.
- On August 30, 1919, the local school district Paulus SD purchased the building from the Roman Catholic Diocese.
- In 1928 the new wing was built to the school so it could have two large classrooms. This is the newer structure than is on the right as viewed from the road.
- In 1938 the older building that started as a church was closed. In 1958 the senior room – the newer wing – was closed and students were bused elsewhere.
- Date unknown – the building was sold to private owners.
- It’s possible that the church was once known as St Peter and Paul’s but the reference document cited above didn’t mention that.
- The cemetery marker is for Michael Schmaus who was born on July 11, 1851, in Nittendorf, Bavaria. He died on June 2, 1915.
That’s all for the blog, now for the photos.