Tag Archives: northern alberta

If you build it, they will come

High Level has big dreams of new parish hall project

Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

Priest and parishioners alike have big hopes for a new parish hall at Our Lady of Good Counsel in High Level.

Since Fr. Henry Kiggundi, FMH, arrived in High Level as parish priest four years ago, he felt a hall was one thing the church desperately needed.

“When I first got here I told the bishop – the only problem with this place is we don’t have a hall, and we will miss out on a lot without one,” said Kiggundi. “The church is a community. It is fellowship. But without a hall we don’t have as easy an ability to get together. Instead, you see people come for Mass and then leave right after.”

Fr. Henry Kiggundi looks over the plot of land where he hopes Our Lady of Good Counsel’s parish hall will be built.

It was an idea of Father Kiggundi’s that slowly began percolating in 2018, but is now becoming a more tangible reality. Last autumn, the parish hall project took a major step forward when Our Lady of Good Counsel’s building committee hired an architect to make preliminary designs and a preliminary budget.

The project has now become much more than a hall, said Myles Bukowsky, chair of the parish’s finance committee and building committee. It would be an overall expansion of the church, including some much-needed storage space, offices, a kitchen, and an area for teaching catechism and sacramental preparation. The preliminary design shows the general layout of the kitchen, storage spaces, meeting rooms and the hall itself. Currently, the expected preliminary budget for the parish hall is $3.5 million.

Now with a visual design on hand, Bukowsky and Kiggundi hope interest in the project will increase.

Myles Bukowsky shows some of the preliminary architectural designs for the parish hall project.

“Without a direct focus on the project, people will worry about other things,” said Kiggundi. “That’s why we needed to have a plan in place for the design and fundraising. Otherwise, it will always feel like it’s too big of a project for us to do, and there’ll be no way to get it off the ground.”

The hall for Our Lady of Good Counsel would provide new meeting spaces for the parish’s Knights of Columbus, Catholic Women’s League and El Shaddai group. As well, receptions for funerals or weddings could be held there.

When the building of the current church in High Level was approved in 1998, a parish hall was a part of its original blueprints. However, due to financial constraints, the hall was removed from the design when construction began.

Preliminary designs

Bukowsky agrees with Father Kiggundi that a hall is an essential part of parish life.

“When I lived in Lloydminster I was on the building committee there and we did a similar project,” recalled Bukowsky. “When that church’s hall was finally completed, it made a huge difference for the parish community. All of a sudden, the church was always busy and bustling. Every weekend someone rented out the hall for weddings, baptisms, sometimes for a certain saints’ feast day – any excuse for a gathering.

“High Level is a centre of activity for this region. This is the largest parish in [Deanery 5]. Once the hall is there, people will find a reason to use it.”

The church has done some fundraising for the hall through their weekly bulletin, where all proceeds from local business ads go directly to the hall project. It generates $250 each week for the project. However, the parish is also focused on clearing up its debt, which must be done before any major fundraising on the hall can begin.

Myles Bukowsky, chair of the parish’s finance and building committees, has played a leading role in getting the hall project off the ground.

Along with the $10,000 that was spent to create the preliminary designs, the parish has more than $42,000 currently raised. The parish must have raised 60% of the project budget before construction can begin. While there is still a long way to go, the parish remains hopeful that the hall will one day be a reality. Though it may take some years and much perseverance.

“We’re just waiting for COVID to end and then we will be posting this two-page layout from the architect in the church and start using it for presentations,” said Bukowsky. “That’s the next phase. Once the COVID restrictions are fully lifted, we’re going to start looking towards events and fundraising.”

Conceptional art depicting what Our Lady of Good Counsel Church will look like after the parish hall is completed.

 

 

Remembering Hotel-Dieu in Whitelaw

The legacy of early Catholic health care centre in Northern Alberta continues today

By Kyle Greenham
ArchGM News

While it has now been closed for many decades, Marie Davies life remains closely tied to Whitelaw’s historic Hotel-Dieu nursing home.

The Hotel-Dieu of St. Joseph opened in the northern Alberta hamlet in 1952. More than just a nursing home for the area’s seniors, it was a centre of faith, community and employment for all of Whitelaw.

Marie Davies has many fond memories of the Hotel-Dieu of St. Joseph in Whitelaw. Here, she holds up a newspaper article about some of the last nuns to be a part of the Hotel-Dieu in the late 1970s.

For Davies, many of her most intimate childhood memories are intertwined with the Hotel-Dieu. As a girl she would spend her afternoons walking there to chat with seniors and visit her father, who worked there as an orderly and maintenance worker. When in school, she and her fellow classmates would go to the nursing home to sing carols and deliver Christmas cards to the seniors. On weekends, she would help the nuns clean and attend Mass at the Hotel-Dieu chapel.

“It was just a big gathering station for everybody,” Davies recalled. “People got together there to visit their family, for Mass, for Christmas parties, to visit their solarium. One of the Hotel-Dieu nuns would come to the school and teach us catechism. There was a dugout behind the convent and all the kids in Whitelaw would go skating there in the winter time. It was intermingled with the community quite a bit.”

This May the feast day of the founder of the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec, Blessed Catherine of St. Augustine, is celebrated. Whitelaw’s Hotel-Dieu was the only one ever established in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan.

Sister Marie Roy, Sister Marie de La Ferse and Sister Blanche Garceau established the Hotel-Dieu in Whitelaw, arriving in September, 1949. Images via the book “Where the Cold Spring Flows.”

The story began in the 1940s, with a search for a religious congregation who would be willing to bring their members to northern Alberta – where health care was desperately and urgently needed.

It was not until 1949 that the Alberta government finally approved the Diocese of Grouard’s proposal. In the early spring of 1950, a group of Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph Sisters arrived in Whitelaw from Ontario to establish the nursing home. It was opened and operational by the summer of 1952.

Over the following decades the nursing home cared for generations of seniors in Whitelaw and surrounding communities. It’s 35 beds were always full, and 23 nuns made up its staff of nurses and administrators.

Portraits of seniors at the Hotel-Dieu of St. Joseph are still archived at the convent.

Some of Davies’ fondest memories of the Hotel-Dieu are her dad’s stories of the many seniors he met there.

“I just remember Dad was so good with the seniors,” said Davies. “Those who had dementia or Alzheimer’s, he was always good with. He would tell us stories about how he would go to the room of Mrs. So-and-so in the morning and she’d say ‘Can you light the oven? My bread is rising, I got to put it in the oven soon.’

“My dad was a smoker so he would go to her nightstand, open the door, flick his lighter and say ‘There you go, I lit it for you. Now give it time to warm up.’ And she was so thankful,” Davies recalled with a laugh.

Whitelaw local Marie Davies stands next to the former convent for the Hotel-Dieu sisters who ran the nursing home for many decades. Today the building is used as a drop-in centre for seniors.

But by the 1970s, major changes were on the way for the region and for Whitelaw’s Hotel-Dieu. After 1977, there were not enough nuns to fill the vacancies. The decision was then made by the sisters’ Provincial Superior to sell the Hotel Dieu and neighbouring convent. It was purchased by the town of Fairview in early 1979, and new management took over.

By the early 1990s, the decision was made to sell the building and move the remaining seniors to neighbouring nursing homes in Fairview, Berwyn and Peace River.

Davies says the decision was not welcome amongst much of Whitelaw’s community.

Sisters Helen Gouin, Marie Roy and Rose Prieur stand next to the statue of St. Joseph shortly after the new Hotel-Dieu nursing home was opened. Images via the book “Where the Cold Spring Flows.”

“Everybody was so sad when that happened. It wouldn’t have taken much to fix it up to where it needed to be,” she said. “It was one of Whitelaw’s main employers. It was always full and it was a nice quiet and remote place for seniors. It was much more than just a nursing home.”

But the Hotel-Dieu lives on in other ways. While the nursing home itself has been taken down, the neighbouring convent remains today as a seniors’ drop-in centre. Much of the furniture and religious art inside is the same from the days it housed the Hotel-Dieu nuns. As well, Davies still has a set of cabinets from the Hotel-Dieu’s sowing room.

“We’re just repainting those cabinets now,” she said. “So we still have a piece of Hotel Dieu history in our shop.”

The Hotel-Dieu of St. Joseph in Whitelaw. The building was torn down after the Hotel-Dieu closed in 1992. Image via Marie Davies.

The convent of the Hotel-Dieu still stands today. The neighbouring open field was once filled by the nursing home.

The story was edited for correction.