Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Little church truly middle of the road
Travellers on Hwy. 75 can find peace and meditate in chapel with compelling history
UNION POINT -- There are songs about churches on the hill, churches in the valley, little churches on the prairie, little mountain church houses, and old country church houses.
But there's never been a song about a little church in the middle of a divided highway, like on Highway 75 between Morris and Ste. Agathe.
Perhaps there should be, judging by what visitors have been inspired to write in a scribbler/guest book someone left at Union Point Church, which has been closed to regular church services for half a century.
"Came to say a prayer for my mom who has cancer," reads one recent entry.
Says another: "Though I came here with my heart crying, I know the next time I return I'll be OK because slowly I'm being healed."
And another: "On the way home from Sturgis and stopped in to check out this cool church and have a beer with the Lord."
--Guest book comment found inside Union Point Church
But this entry is probably more fitting for the majority of us: "Went by this little church for years and finally stopped. So glad we did."
You've probably driven by it a thousand times, if not 10,000. It's the little clapboard-sided, white-steepled church in the grassy divide between northbound and southbound lanes on Highway 75.
It's all that remains of a small town called Union Point that vanished by the 1950s. The town got its name from being a junction for different modes of transportation in the 1800s.
Steamboats (on the Red River), stagecoaches, and steam engines stopped here. The steam-engine trains would stop to replenish with water from the Red River. (Winnipeg's rail connection to the United States opened in 1877.) The original road was the Red River Trail.
Union Point had a school, town hall, store, post office, and church. It became an important jumping-off point for travellers. From Union Point, many settlers trekked west, either on foot or by horse.
The Union Point United Church was built in 1887, burned down in 1939, and was rebuilt in 1940. The cemetery's first burial was Daniel Lowe in 1879 -- fittingly because Lowe donated the land for the church and cemetery. The cemetery's most famous grave is for Richard S. Bowles, lieutenant-governor of Manitoba from 1965-70, says the Manitoba Historical Society.
The 1926 Auto Road Map shows a road parallel to the Red River from Emerson to Winnipeg. That trail/road was incrementally upgraded to become Highway 75. In 1988, Highway 75 was twinned beyond St. Agathe to Union Point, adding the southbound lanes on the west side of the church. That's when the four lanes wrapped around the Union Point Church and cemetery.
The United Church stopped its services here in 1960, and was prepared to tear the church down in 2005. But two couples in the areas, Darryl and Linda Manson, and Scott and Denise Parker, couldn't bear to see that happen. Although not members of the church, they bought it anyway -- and the responsibility that goes with it -- for $1. "You're just used to seeing it," explained Darryl.
That is, they bought the church, its maintenance, the property taxes, and the cemetery, for $1. The RM of Morris picked up the liability insurance. It wasn't a business plan for the families. The families only act as caretakers. They haul in a riding mower once a week to cut the grass. They have done repairs such as painting and reshingling the roof.
Costs are paid with donations and a former member who left a fund of $6,000 in his will. The RM of Morris has granted it charitable status to accept donations.
The church has a Gothic design, with the tall, spearhead-shaped windows. It has a steeply pitched roof and steepled bell tower pointing to the heavens. There's no electricity or running water. You'd think it would be noisy inside but the inner walls had a sound-absorbent cork panelling installed. It seats about 80 people.
It is used for one or two weddings per year, and a United Church congregation in the area holds a service there every June.
Perhaps the real story is the church has morphed into kind of a modern-day chapel for travellers to stop, find peace and meditate. One might suspect it's too noisy but the traffic sounds are almost like an ocean surf. There's something soothing about the slow crescendo and de-crescendo of waves of traffic.
Some other recent comments written by visitors include:
-- "Stopped to see this little church in the 'ditch.' Thank you for keeping this heritage alive."
-- "Soon I will lay my sadness down and I won't remember it."
-- "Just having tea and watching the stars with my friend, Amber, on a cool, clear night. It feels like everything is going to be OK."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 12, 2013 A1
Updated on Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at 11:49 AM CST: Adds map
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