June 25, 2019 5:42 pm
Updated: June 25, 2019 7:39 pm

Historic church west of Calgary gets government approval to restore and rebuild

WATCH: A significant development for the future of an historic church along Alberta's Highway 1A. After fire destroyed the McDougall Church, the provincial government has approved plans to restore it. Jill Croteau reports.

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For over two years its future was unknown, but now a team in charge of the iconic McDougall Memorial United Church, located west of Calgary, has some definitive plans.

In May of 2017, the “little white church” as it was commonly known was destroyed by fire. In the months that followed, the McDougall Stoney Mission Society worked towards a restoration, salvaging any of the original pieces that survived the blaze. After presenting some compelling evidence of its history and the reasons to restore it, the provincial government approved their plans.

The site of the McDougall Memorial United Church.

Jill Croteau

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Brenda McQueen, the president of the McDougall Stoney Mission Society, said this much-anticipated news is an overwhelming relief.

“It’s been very emotional, a lot of hard work,” she said. “I didn’t know where it would go when I started and [am] very proud of myself for pushing this.

“The relationship with [the] provincial government and the Stoney Nakoda people all working together as [an] incredible team… I am just honoured to be in this role.”

READ MORE: Iconic Alberta church could be rebuilt after devastating fire

The collaborative nature of the project, working with the surrounding Indigenous communities, is an example of repairing the future. Tony Snow is the Indigenous right relations lead for McDougall United Church and Hillhurst United Church.

“Over time, that relationship has dwindled and was not what it should have been,” Snow said. “For us to restore that relationship and build those bridges again is an attempt to find a balance between non-Indigenous and Indigenous culture, to be on the same page and talk about equality, restoration and rights.”

Dave Chalmers specializes in historic buildings and is leading the restoration. He and his team were able to pull 80 per cent of the log structure from the burned rubble. It’s being safely stored on site, ready to be used in the construction.

Stored remains of salvaged material.

Jill Croteau

“Log buildings are resilient,” Chalmers said. “It takes a lot of work to burn through a timber that size.

“It’s a testament to the resiliency of the building.”

They will build the church to look as much as possible the way that it once stood before the fire.

“This has been a learning experience about the history, and I am blessed to have had this experience in terms of restoring the church,” Chalmers said.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity to rebuild one of the most significant sites in Alberta.”

The site of the McDougall Memorial United Church.

Jill Croteau

The province gave approval for the restoration and also for an interpretive walk for visitors so they can get the chance to know more about the story of the site.

“I can’t wait to get going on restoring the church,” McQueen said. “I want to keep momentum and keep moving forward as a team.”

The team has launched a fundraiser in hopes of completing the project by next spring.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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