I previously wrote about the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation board receiving a tour of historic places on the Peace River, during their May board meeting (see Part I). This blog post continues that tour with visits to the St. Augustine Roman Catholic Mission and the Twelve Foot Davis grave site.
The St. Augustine Roman Catholic Mission is located on the grounds of the Peace River Correctional Centre, south-west of the Town of Peace River. The church was once part of a mission established by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic religious institute of missionary priests. The oblates sent several waves of missionaries to western Canada during the second half of the 19th century. This church was built in 1894 by the oblate missionaries and brothers who ministered to First Nations and settlers in the area. It was part of the settlement that included farm buildings, a school and a small clinic. The vibrant religious community that lived here came to include members of the Sisters of Providence. In 1978 the site was designated a Provincial Historic Resource. Click here to read the Statement of Significance.
I first saw the church as we came round a small hill. Its size is striking. Even the most modest modern parish church is much, much larger than this tiny church. This church nevertheless housed a large community of worshippers. Entering the church, the other thing that strikes you is how carefully the building has been designed and decorated. You enter under a choir loft and the elaborate, pre-second Vatican council alter is visible against the opposite wall. Small statues of various saints are set upon wall mounted platforms surrounding the altar. Pointed-arch windows line the long-walls. They are simple but nevertheless designed with great care. The oblates efforts were even more impressive when you consider that these buildings were made of wood they hewed themselves.
The church was part of a settlement that included farm buildings, a convent and a school. The missionaries first served the surrounding aboriginal community and starting around 1907 the settlers. The sisters and the oblates ministered to the inhabitants and setters in the area, providing a church, school and makeshift hospital. The SS St. Charles, the fist steamboat on the Peace River, was built here in 1903. As the area was opened to settlement, the missionaries offered assistance to the newcomers who often arrived with very little.
Later, our tour concluded by visiting the Twelve Foot Davis grave site. Henry Fuller Davis was an American-born prospector who came to Canada to prospect during the Cariboo Gold Rush in the early 1860s. Davis earned his nickname (and a small fortune) by filing a claim on a 12 foot wide piece of land between two existing claims in Barkerville, BC. He subsequently began trading along Peace River in competition to the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Davis requested of his friend, Jim Cornwall, that he be interred on a hill overlooking the confluence of the Peace and Smoky rivers. The spot is just adjacent to Greene Valley Provincial Park and offers a magnificent view of the two rivers and the town itself. The Town of Peace River, Northern Sunrise County and Alberta Parks jointly oversaw the recent landscaping of the site and installed interpretive markers (including some interesting audio recordings).
After taking in the breathtaking views, the board went to a reception hosted by the Peace River Museum, Archives and Mackenzie Centre. They met members of the Town of Peace River council and many local history enthusiasts.
The board had a great discussion the next day and made several funding recommendations (which will be announced as soon as they are finalised. We had a great day and I know the board appreciates learning about how historic sites are conserved and appreciated.
Read Tour of the Peace (Part I), which featured the Board’s visit to the Northern Alberta Railway Station and the Shaftesbury Ferry.
Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer