Morley, Alberta

22 Oct

Today I ventured out of Calgary again to photograph the McDougall Memorial United Church located in Morley, Alberta. Morley sits on the North side of the Bow River in Kananaskis, and is about a 45 minute drive from where I live within Calgary.

The main reason I photographed the church was for a school assignment. I struggled to find a topic that was free choice so I consulted a very good book called Alberta History Along the Highway. Reading through to find somewhere that was of interest and close enough to not be too out of the way.

The church was constructed in 1875 in the Carpenter’s Gothic style and features pointed arch windows and front door, shingled front-gabled roof, and a central steeple crowned by a pinnacle. The designation also includes the archaeological remains of mission structures at the site.

The Morleyville Mission was established in 1873 and relocated several kilometres to its present site in 1875, when construction on several mission buildings – including the McDougall Memorial United (formerly Methodist) Church – began in earnest. The mission was at the vanguard of Methodist evangelical efforts in southern Alberta, representing the first permanent Protestant mission in the region and serving the Native tribes in the area, particularly the Mountain Stoney peoples living along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. It was also a pioneering settlement, featuring southern Alberta’s first permanent homestead, first herd of breeding cattle, and first Protestant church, as well as one of the province’s first trained teachers – Andrew Sibbald. Buildings at the early mission included a house, orphanage, teacherage, barns, corrals, and other structures. For a brief period during its early years, the Morleyville Mission was a hub for area settlers, though its influence diminished after the Canadian Pacific Railway built its line south of the Bow River, bypassing the mission and establishing right-of-way communities like Cochrane and Mitford as the nuclei of rural growth in the region.

The Reverend George McDougall and his son John, renowned for their missionary endeavours, pioneering settlement activities, and role in Canadian nation-building, were essential in the establishment of the mission at Morleyville. They collaborated to found the mission and John resided on the site and supervised mission operations for many years. From the early 1860s until his death in 1876, George McDougall served as superintendent of the Methodist missions in western Canada, establishing and overseeing missionary work across the vast region. John actively participated in his father’s missionary efforts as a teacher and interpreter and carried the torch of Methodist mission work in the province after his father’s death. With their wives and families, the McDougalls also laid the foundations for some of the earliest settlement in Alberta. As pioneer settlers and missionaries, the McDougalls were uniquely positioned to form relationships with the Native communities in the province during a difficult transitional period. George and John served the Native peoples during smallpox epidemics, sought to end the destruction to their communities caused by the liquor trade, and acted as peacemakers and intermediaries between Euro-Canadian settlers and politicians and the province’s Native communities. As missionaries, settlers, and negotiators, the McDougalls established some of the early civil institutions in the province and helped prepare the way for the waves of homesteaders who arrived in Alberta in the following decades. Following George McDougall’s tragic death in a snowstorm, his body was brought back to the church at Morleyville and laid to rest.

The McDougall Memorial United Church is the earliest example of the Carpenter’s Gothic style of architecture still standing in its original location. This particular style of building construction uses wood to emulate the traditionally stone structures of Old World Gothic architecture, creating a vernacular style unique to North America. The style is evident in the central steeple with pinnacle as well as the pointed arches over the front entryway and the windows. The church was restored in the 1950s.

– From

I had been hesitant on going as the cloud in Calgary was something to be desired, but as I was walking to my car I was happy to see it looked quite clear to the West, so I took my chances.

Like most prairie landmarks, even in the foothills, the bright white church stood out very clearly from a distance. There is quite a walkway from the parking lot as it were to the church itself and the lot is surrounded by a wood post fence with rusted fixtures. I spent about 2 and a half hours walking about the site, taking many photos of the church and it’s surroundings. It sits very close to the Bow River which was very blue today. I’m not a religious person, but I do think I’m quite spiritual. Being around a place that is 136 years old is incredible for me.

While walking up the path toward the church I couldn’t help but think of people who had been there before and that I was following in their footsteps. For some reason the wind added to that. The cold mountain air blowing the long grass about, the birch trees that were close by swaying as well, talking to each other. On one of the birch trees there was, what I thought, a dried up bouquet of flowers. It turned out to be bundles of branches tied to its trunk. I don’t know what it meant, but I like to think it was an offering of some kind for the memory of someone or perhaps to the season so that summer can come again. That might be romantic of me to think such things but with the history, and knowing the Stoney still live in the area, it is what I thought of. I would like to research this more if it is some kind of traditional symbol for something.

Further down the path through the long grass I came across the ruins of the Mission House, according to a fallen sign. All that was left was the concrete foundation that would be built upon with the trees, grass and moss slowly claiming it back to the earth. Things like that really blow me away. Touching it as well, knowing that I’m touching something that old and I can look at it and appreciate it make me very happy. It also helps me realize and perhaps comprehend further why I photograph the things I do. I want to share these things with people and bring light to them.

So many cars passed by on the highway and only one other stopped as I was leaving. Those people stayed for 10 minutes which I didn’t understand. Why would they bother stopping if they weren’t even going to really appreciate where they were?

I suppose that’s another thing about my work. I want to take photographs of things that people pass by all of the time and never look at. They see it, but they don’t look. My photographs allow people to look at these buildings and hopefully get some understand of how important I feel they are and learn something at the same time about the history surrounding and maybe even about themselves.


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