Greetings to blog readers from Manitoba! This is my very first blog post inspired by a place in Manitoba. A 2021 trip to your province has provided me with enough material for several posts and that’s good because Manitoba is a very long drive from Edmonton. I hope you enjoy them. I’ve tried to make this blog more about the images and less of a history lesson like the last blog post was, although the story of the two barns and two men in Saskatchewan contained some facinating history to read, even if I do say so myself.
In The Middle of Nowhere
In the deep southwest of Manitoba there is a sight that looks more British than Canadian, and that’s why I’m calling it Manitoba’s Stonehenge. This place shares a lot in common with the actual Stonehenge. Stones are piled upon stones, shapes are pointing to the sky and time has eroded everything else away. This site in Manitoba is similar to Stonehenge (to the extent that we can ever know anything about Stonehenge) in that we know that this structure was built for religious observance. Unlike Stonehenge, which is very close to a major motorway in the UK, Manitoba’s Stonehenge is difficult to reach. Picture a map of Manitoba and then visualize a place in the extreme southwest. In fact it’s so far south and west that, if you are looking at a map of the whole province, it will appear to be right on the American or Saskatchewan borders. It’s only a few kilometers from either border as the crow flies. That remote location is where I went to capture a number of images of what was once St. George’s Anglican Church but is now known as Copley Anglican Church.
A Brief History of Copley Anglican Church Ruins
I’m just going to quote directly from The Manitoba Historical Society’s website that describes what this place once was.
The only thing that I’ll add to the above history is that the reason that the settlement “waned”, according to an information card at the church location, was because of poor farming conditions in the late 1890s and early 1900s. See more on what went wrong and what happened to the people below.
How it Once Looked
One image below dates back to approximately 1892 and the other one shows the church’s roof deteriorating in 1967. Both images are from the Manitoba Historical Socieity at Historic Sites of Manitoba: Copley Anglican Church and Cemetery (Municipality of Two Borders) (mhs.mb.ca). In the ruins I can still discern the remains of the entrance way as shown on the first image below as well as the straight wall (gable) on the opposite side of the church as can be seen in the second image below.
Images of the Church in 2021
Below right you can see a burnt board sticking out a little into the open area that was once an entrance. The wood embedding in the stone was there to enable nailing of anything from door fixtures to interior walls. You can see the narrow wood inserts on both images.
What Happend to the People?
This church was built to last a long time. The people came, primarily from the UK, filed with optimism. What they didn’t know was that this part of Manitoba suffers from the same fate that doomed the early settlers to southern Alberta and some parts of southern Saskatchewan. It’s too dry without irrigation to farm. It’s almost that simple but there is more. After this blog post was completed and published I came across an excellent book by Gordon Goldsborough called, Abandoned Manitoba. I can’t say it better than he did in his book so I’ll quote from his book on the subject of what went wrong.
But the true nature of the Copley area soon became clear. Its general aridity made the soil prone to wind and water erosion. Below-average rainfall combined with crop losses due to gophers, fungus, and freak hailstorms doomed the community nearly from the start. Most settlers began to leave for greener pastures elsewhere. Gale and his wife moved to Winnipeg, where in 1894 he operated the Winnipeg School of Art and Design on Main Street before moving to San Francisco, California. There, he took several famous panoramic photographs of the devastated city following a 1906 earthquake. Other Copely Settlers moved to nearby Lyleton, where growing conditions were better, but others returned to England or went to Saskatchewan, or the United States, or Australia. By 1903, St George’s had almost no parishioners. In June 1913, the impressive stone building was deconsecrated, after being used for just 20 years.Abandoned Manitoba; Gordon Goldsborough, page 60
The Copely Church, and the parishioners’ homes, could possibly be among the first of the permanent structures to be abandoned on the prairies (excluding the forts of the Hudson Bay Company).
Many, perhaps most, old churches have a cemetery next to the building or at least nearby. This church is no exception. Unfortunately there are only a few markers. I came across an information card that said there are approximately 11 graves in the cemetery, though only three headstones exist on the site.
Most of these images were captured between 3:00 and 3:30 in April of 2021 which is not the best time for photography. If I had more time, or had planned fewer stops that day, I would have enjoyed photographing these ruins during the golden hour (one hour before sunset) and at sunset. Even an image with just the full moon in the sky lighting up ruins would be pretty nice. Perhaps, if this really were Manitoba’s Stonehenge, I might even catch a glimpse of some Manitoban Druids dancing around the ruins. Now that would make for an interesting photograph indeed!
Goldsborough, G. (2016). Abandoned Manitoba. Winnipeg: Great Plains Publications. Used for the above quote under “What Happened to the People”
Manitoba Historical Society. Historic Sites of Manitoba: Copley Anglican Church and Cemetery (Municipality of Two Borders) (mhs.mb.ca)