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The old wooden church

Original St. James building older than Confederation; newer version features renowned stained glass

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Tiny St. James the Assiniboine Anglican Church has served as a refuge for flooded settlers.

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Tiny St. James the Assiniboine Anglican Church has served as a refuge for flooded settlers.

The oldest surviving wooden church still in use in Western Canada sits on the banks of the Assiniboine River where nearby settlers, on long narrow river lots, first built their homes and farmed.

Today, the tiny St. James the Assiniboine Anglican Church stands proudly at 540 Tylehurst St., a historic treasure, surrounded by urban developments that have sprung up over time.

"We're proud that the whole area is named after the parish and we try to live up to that tradition," says Rev. Canon Murray Still, who has been rector since 2009.

The opening of the old St. James church each year is an important annual event. This year it takes place on June 23. It is important for the church to be involved in the community, Still says, adding, "that church is older than Confederation."

Settlers built the church near an old aboriginal burial ground and on land that was high enough to escape flooding, though it wasn't unscathed by the flood of 1852. The original timbers were washed away.

"The logs floated away and they had to go back and get more, which shows the determination of the settlers at that time to build their church," he says.

Construction began in 1853 and the building was consecrated in 1855. The structure was carefully restored in 1967 and is still used for summer services and other special events. It is located just off Portage Avenue, across from Polo Park Shopping Centre.

Inside, the plaster has been removed to reveal the hand-hewn logs and the Red River frame method of construction. Built in the Gothic Revival style, with arched windows and entry, the church's interior is beautiful because of its sheer simplicity.

As the area grew and the congregation expanded along with it, a newer church was built at 195 Collegiate St., in 1922 and so the parish consists of two church buildings.

It is this "newer" church with its castle-like bell tower that contains stained-glass windows considered by some to be among the finest in the Prairies.

The many windows at this church tell the story of Christ's life from the annunciation to the ascension. Most were designed by Meikle Studios of Toronto.

Westmacott Art Glass Studio of Winnipeg created several additional windows, as did the internationally renowned Winnipeg artist Leo Mol.

Still, who used to write for the Neepawa Press, but spent some "very formative years" in Neepawa where he was encouraged to go into the ministry, has created a meditation liturgy based on each of the stained glass windows.

Music that has been tailored to the windows was also created to be performed at the annual Doors Open Winnipeg event that runs in late May.

The large east window portraying the ascension also depicts St. James, the parish's namesake, and is an important memorial window dedicated to the men and women of the parish who served during the war years.

Two windows are dedicated to Cecil Johnson, a Winnipeg Grenadier, who was taken captive in Hong Kong and shot while stopping to tend to a fellow soldier.

To arrange a tour of the churches, call 204-888-3489.

If you'd like to see a place of worship featured here, email: girard.cheryl@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2013 D15

History

Updated on Saturday, June 15, 2013 at 7:13 AM CDT: Fix spelling.

1:36 PM: Fixed cutline.

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