March 25, 2017


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The old, rugged cross

Anglican congregation marks 165 years at wooden St. James church

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/6/2016 (273 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Blessed with two historic buildings in its namesake neighbourhood, one of the city’s oldest congregations marks 165 years in Winnipeg this weekend while contemplating what happens next.

"We’re celebrating the establishment of the community, not the building," explains Rev. Murray Still of the 165th anniversary of the large land grant by the Hudson’s Bay Company to the Anglican parish of St. James the Assiniboine.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Margaret Steele (from left), Angela Brandson, Sandra Tayne, Rev. Canon Dr. Murray Still, and Pat Ferris outside St. James Anglican Church, which celebrates 165 years in Winnipeg on June 26.</p>


Margaret Steele (from left), Angela Brandson, Sandra Tayne, Rev. Canon Dr. Murray Still, and Pat Ferris outside St. James Anglican Church, which celebrates 165 years in Winnipeg on June 26.

"There’s been non-stop worship at this site for this community."

The 10 a.m. Sunday celebratory service in the historic log building, completed in 1853 and the oldest log church structure still in use in Western Canada, includes a sermon by Primate Fred Hiltz of the Anglican Church of Canada.

The congregation worships at the white and green wooden provincial heritage site, nestled inside a shady cemetery just south of Polo Park, for the rest of the summer. In September, it resumes services at its Collegiate Street location, which also houses community programs such as a twice-a-month food bank, monthly concerts and arts group.

Although dubbed their "new" building, the Collegiate Street church, built in 1922, requires costly repairs to its roof, and parishioners may not be able to afford to keep up both properties, says Angela Brandson, rector’s warden at St. James.

"There are different possibilities because we have the two locations, and we have a good association with the area," she says.

Still says one option may be to combine worship services with the Church of St. Stephen and St. Bede, a joint Anglican-Lutheran congregation north of Assiniboine Park, where Still serves as half-time minister along with his half-time duties at St. James.

"It’s uncertain what the future of the parish will be at this stage," he says, referring to the 100 families in the parish, and average Sunday attendance of 40.

"That future, whatever it is, will include this (old) church."

Despite is minimal amenities, each summer parishioners enjoy sitting in the original upright pews, listening to the pump organ and admiring the stained-glass windows dedicated to early members, says longtime adherent Shirley Brown.

"People love the history of it and being involved with the history of it," says Brown, who recalls being chased through the cemetery by her brother while delivering the afternoon edition of the Winnipeg Tribune.

"There’s something about tradition that should be honoured and cherished," says Brandson.

"You look at all those logs and all those hand-hewn axe marks and you think of all the work that went into it."

Those details connect the current-day parishioners of St. James with the development of the St. James neighbourhood, the story of the early settlers and their relationship with Métis and indigenous peoples, says Still, a member of Peguis First Nation.

"In terms of reconciliation, this was a pretty unified community of Métis, HBC settlers and First Nations. They didn’t fight," says Still, wearing a green ribbon shirt over his clerical collar.

"That’s why we’re trying to restore, that sense of working together."

The old church is in better condition than its year-round building and the parish plans to install electric heaters to stretch out worship services from April through October, says Still.

After being condemned in 1936, the historic church was restored in 1967 jointly by the parish and the community of St. James. More recent improvements include construction of an outbuilding with a modern washroom and a new paving-stone sidewalk from Tylehurst Street to the church’s front door.

As part of the congregation’s 165th anniversary, the old church also hosts a five-week summer concert series, kicked off by Juno Award-nominated singer Don Amero on July 14. Check out for more information.


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