The Mystery of the Ross Creek Church and School

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.  

The donkeys are Pebbles and Bam-bam.
A side view showing the foundation of loose rocks.
Ross Creek Church and School. Note on this side there is a newer foundation. This is where the school was added.
Michael Schmaus, 1851 to 1915. His is the only grave in the cemetery with a marker.

18 thoughts on “The Mystery of the Ross Creek Church and School

  1. Interesting as always Glen!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Really cool! What an interesting building.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much Jenn. I appreciate the comment. It is a unique old building and certainly worth a visit the next time you are heading NE of the city.

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  3. You replied to this comment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for commenting Shannon. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog.

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  4. I suspect the ‘government’ was the province, who have a grant program for restorations but which come with obligations. These grants and obligations can ONLY be initiated by the owner. The headstone inventory sounds alot like the work that the Alberta Family Histories Society does; all volunteers I think.

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  5. Speaking of the mysterious Ross Creek area, I’m wondering if you might help me uncover the reason for the horrendous condition of the Ross Creek Cemetery, which is located along AB – 834, just south of Highway 16. A quick research of the names of those known to be there has uncovered a lot of mysteries that I would like to solve. Would anyone be interested in joining me?

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    1. Are you referring to the cemetery mentioned in the blog post? I think that the post explains why it might not be cared for any longer. It’s unfortunate but once everyone, who had a connection to the cemetery, is gone they often stop receiving maintenance. This is one of many.

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      1. Hi Glen. No, I’m referring to the extremely neglected Ross Creek Cemetery, located on the west side of Highway 834 north of Tofield, just south of the Yellowhead.

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      2. Well the next time I’m out that way I’ll have a look for it.

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  6. John Sokolowski June 21, 2021 — 2:55 pm

    There is no mystery . Chipman had a major German settlement .According to The Roman Catholic missionary Father Boniface ,himself a German ,the Germans left after the Spanish flu .One set of my great great grand parents , Hryn and Kateryna Kozdrowski were married in this church at Ross Creek.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. John do you know if there is more than one body in the cemetery?

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      1. John Sokolowski June 21, 2021 — 4:16 pm

        No and I need to look the for history of the parish .I have no details on its founding. The Germans may also have left to live among white men like themselves . That was common. .Skaro was settled by Scandinavians and Dickie Bush by Anglos . Both moved out when Galicians [ Ukrainians and Poles] or Bukovynians [Ukrainians and Romanians ] moved in .Ukrainians in Alberta were less than white until the 1960s.

        One mistake . Hryn and Kateryna Kozdrowski were my great grandparents not great great .

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  7. John Sokolowski June 21, 2021 — 7:11 pm

    One historical correction . Lamont County and the entire Ukrainian Block settlement in East Central Alberta were settled before World War I by immigrants from the most Eastern provinces of Austria Hungary — Galicia and Bukovyna . These included Germans , Poles and Ukrainians form predominantly Ukrainian Eastern Galicia and Ukrainian and Romanians from predominantly Ukrainian northern Bukovyna . Almost all this area is now in Ukraine . I know that this is counter intuitive but they all came from Austria and their home villages are now in Ukraine except for a few formerly Ukrainian areas that are now in Poland . The settlers in this area were penalized during World war I –internment , loss of citizenship , police registration , travel restrictions , confiscation of fire arms –not because they were Ukrainians or Poles or Germans but because they were or had been Austrian subjects and as such were Enemy Aliens . Ukrainians form the Russian Empire and most German settlers in Alberta were not legally harassed because as former Russian subjects they were Friendly Aliens

    Liked by 1 person

    1. John your eyes must be different than mine. The Ukrainians that I have met are just as white as the Germans. 

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      1. John Sokolowski June 22, 2021 — 12:37 pm

        Our racial categories have changed . Eastern Europeans and Southern Europeans were not considered White Men .That changed during and after the Second World War .At the beginning of the War The Canadian Government classified my parents and grandmother as foreign born although they were all born in Canada .As your eyes suggested they were not obviously Black or Asian but common sense at the time told you that they were not White .People who were so different from British and Northern Europeans obviously could not be White . It was understood that the White race was in all ways superior to all other races.
        The fact that we no longer think in these categories and have forgotten that we once did is an example of how as a society we changed our thinking , we have moved on and have forgotten or chosen to forget.
        Similarly the reasonable understanding that the Ukrainians in East Central Alberta came from Ukraine , the Poles from Poland , the Germans form Germany and Romanian from Romania makes perfect sense in terms of the geography of 2020 .It is perfectly logical but historically inaccurate..

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Okay now I understand what you mean. It is true that Europeans are not all the same, in language, culture and skin colour. It’s also true that the British believed that they were a superior race long before the Germans made some big and terrible decisions based on their belief that they were superior. I wonder if that type of thought process is passed us or if another country will decide that they are superior. Right now nobody is acting any better than anyone else so perhaps the idea of being superior is obsolete. We can only hope.

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