Fish Creek Church beacon on prairie landscape

Batoche is famous for a battle pitting Dominion of Canada forces against local Metis and Cree in 1885

Abandoned churches are a common feature of Saskatchewan’s landscape.

The Roman Catholic church at Fish Creek, Sask., about an hour’s drive northeast of Saskatoon, is one of the province’s most magnificent.

The Fish Creek church, formally known as the Immaculate Conception Church, was built around 1920 and served as the spiritual centre for the Fish Creek community, not far from Batoche.

It was built to replace an earlier structure destroyed by fire.

According to a 1990 account by author and historian Soulange Lavigne, the Fish Creek church has been closed since 1957.

However, it still stands as a beacon, commemorating the area’s rich cultural and religious heritage, along with those who nurtured it.

Métis settlers established the community of Fish Creek in the late 1800s. Over time, they were joined by new Canadians of Polish and Ukrainian descent.

The area’s earliest settlers made their homes on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. There they staked out a series of narrow, elongated properties, affording each settler a portion of riverfront.

Each property was roughly 200 metres wide and approximately three kilometres long. At that size, most residents had roughly 160 acres of land for grazing and food production.

The Fish Creek church, now weathered and boarded, stands stoically against the prairie backdrop and is still the most visible landmark in the area. However, other remnants of the community are also evident.

A few hundred metres to the east of the church, the Fish Creek cemetery offers a glimpse into the community’s past.

Gravestones mark the resting place of community pioneers. |  Brian Cross photo

Family names that adorn the cemetery’s gravestones include Bazowski, Boucher, Bukowsky, Delorme, Deschamps, Fediash, Fiddler, Henry, Lariviere, Ross, Tourond, Tremblay and Vandale.

According to historians, most of the distinctive metal crosses in the Fish Creek cemetery were constructed by Michael Kramchynski, a Polish immigrant who arrived in the area along with his parents in the early 1890s.

The parish’s first priest, predating the existing church, was Theodor Krist.

Like most early communities in the province, Fish Creek was settled mostly by farmers, but it also included a general store, a post office and ferry that traversed the South Saskatchewan.

The Fish Creek post office is said to have delivered its last pieces of mail in the early 1960s.

The community’s original store was operated by local resident Joseph Braconnier, whose family name is evident in the cemetery.

An abandoned general store stands just a few hundred metres to the west of the church’s main entrance. However, the store operated by Braconnier has long since disappeared.

Just a few kilometres to the south, a commemorative stone cairn marks the historically significant location of the Battle of Fish Creek/Tourond’s Coulee.

The battle pitted local inhabitants — mostly Metis and Cree — against Dominion of Canada forces led by Frederick Middleton.

Middleton and his forces had been dispatched from Ontario by the dominion government to establish the crown’s presence in the Batoche area, a few kilometres north of Fish Creek.

News of Middleton’s arrival prompted Métis fighters, led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, to orchestrate a pre-emptive military strike at Tourond’s Coulee.

A number of soldiers in Middleton’s column were injured or killed in the surprise attack.

After retreating, dominion troops regrouped at a temporary staging area on the banks of the South Sask-atchewan before marching on to Batoche and recording a decisive military victory.

For more information on the Fish Creek community, visit bit.ly/1rwUWp5. For a list of internments in the Fish Creek cemetery, visit http://bit.ly/1ZjgEre.

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