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Historic Battleford, Sask. church might not survive another decade

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WATCH: St. Vital Parish has stood through multiple wars, pandemics, and many other moments in history – Apr 3, 2020

There’s certain places and things that can bring back memories, but sometimes these things can’t last forever.

St. Vital Parish stands above the North Saskatchewan River and is over a century old.

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It has seen better days. It’s missing the original stained glass windows and is getting weathered down, which is to be expected of a building that has seen multiple decades.

For some people in the town of Battleford, the wear and tear represents the history and memories created over the years.

Gil Bellavance is now in his 80s and has vivid memories going to St. Vital during his childhood.

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“I can remember with the wood stove,” Bellavance laughed as he recalled going to church with his family.

“If you sat in the middle, you’d be warm. If you sat along the side, you were cold.”

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His bond with the church strengthened when he joined the Battlefords North West Historical Society 35 years ago and he knows its vast history.

“This church [sic] is one of two buildings left in this part of the town that were built before the Rebellion of 1885,” Bellavance said.

It was built in 1883 after a parish across the river flooded. The presence of the first priest is still felt.

“Their parish priest who had died in a hunting accident in 1880 and had been buried under the church on the other side was then dug up and put under the church here. So Father Hert is still under the church here,” Bellavance said.

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St. Vital Parish served Battleford for over a century before a new church with the same name was built. It was made a heritage site in 1985, which Bellavance said is when it should’ve been properly restored.

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It hasn’t been thoroughly taken care of and it might not have many years left. It could cost up to $700,00 to restore it and make it usable again. Town council and the Battlefords North West Historical Society have been trying to compromise on a plan to fund and restore St. Vital for about four years.

“Council feels it’s not in the best interest of the St. Vital Parish to sit there still and not be used,” Battleford mayor Ames Leslie said.

“If we want to use this site, the investment needs to be made. But unfortunately, you know, with half a million dollars, there’s a lot of things in the community that need attention before.”

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Council has asked the community to make a plan to raise $50,000. Multiple deadlines to suggest a plan have passed, and as the months go on it’s getting less likely St. Vital will stay standing.

Leslie said with St. Vital being a heritage site, he would’ve hoped to receive provincial and federal support. He doesn’t think it should be entirely up to a municipality to keep the history alive.

For Bellavance, he would be disappointed if the town loses the church, as historic landmarks remind us where we came from.

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“If you lose your history, you’ve lost something of your identity,” Bellavance said.

St. Vital Parish has stood through multiple wars, pandemics, and many other moments in history. It wouldn’t be an easy goodbye, but Bellavance and other people in Battleford remain hopeful it won’t come to that.

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