Old church comes alive with candle light service

MIRROR, Alta. — A congregation breathed life into an abandoned northeastern Alberta church by holding a candlelight Christmas service this month.

St. Monica’s Anglican log cabin church was built in Mirror and shut down 32 years ago but this summer area residents finished refurbishing it.

In the 1990s, Mirror museum members took on the restoration project and had the grounds and building declared an Alberta historical facility.

Alberta Historical Society funds were available for restoration, but the process had to be documented and monies accounted for, said Dr. Chris Jensen, a retired veterinarian, wheelwright and president of the Mirror and District Museum.

“It is a great piece of history. In the inside of the old log church, you can still see the stovepipe hole from the original pot belled stove.

The alterations and additions as well as the logs and chinking can be seen through an opening for viewing left in the refinished interior.”

Rev. Don Friesen and Pastor Daniel Jefferies, area ministers, presided over the service.

“The church started as an open denominational gathering place in 1895 and again now has no denominational affiliations so it is for the entire community. We wanted the service to be an open community event for social interaction using the historic facility,” said Jensen.

In the 1860s, a large settlement of Metis buffalo hunters settled the area around Buffalo Lake at Bios Hill along with a large establishment at Tail Creek.

When buffalo numbers dwindled, those early settlements disappeared and ranchers and farmers moved into the area by the 1890s.

In 1911, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway created a major divisional point at Mirror, named after the Daily Mirror newspaper in London, England. It also sat near a lake with clear water that reflected like a looking glass.

Many street names reflected the newspaper’s staff. One colourful early resident was James Gadsby, a Civil war soldier, gunman, Jesse James gang member, prospector, whiskey runner, cowboy, wagon train boss and homesteader.

He helped build the church, and the Gadsby Lake district and school were named in his honor. In February of 1895, he participated in one of the early services led by Rev. H. Goodman. Pioneer missionary Bishop Pinkman dedicated the church on May 16, 1897.

Originally from St Catharine’s, Ont., Gadsby made his living by substituting for young American boys that were being drafted into the Union army.

James charged a fee of $500 and would enlist himself into the army then desert, move to a different area and do the process all over again under a different name until he was recognized by an officer.

He also fought with Lt. Col. George Custer in the battle with Sioux Chief Sitting Bull and tried prospecting in North Dakota before returning to Canada.

He settled on the first registered homestead in the area on a little lake near Lacombe, building a log cabin with a sod roof complete with a tin can chimney.

Gadsby moved goods with his Red River cart from Lacombe along the old Buffalo Lake trail.

While freighting, he met his Cree wife, whose wagon was stuck in the mud. They drove to a nearby trading post, found a priest to marry them and remained together for the next 40 years.

He was a religious man who prayed daily and had all of his eight children baptized in the log church. One daughter was married there.

Gadsby’s family did not receive a formal education because he felt the white man’s teachings would change the First Nations’ way of life.

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