McDougall Stoney Mission Church
During the heat of the day, a warm Chinook wind whipping over the plains, we pulled into the the gravel parking lot at the site of the historic McDougall Stoney Mission Church. Given the catastrophic fire a few years ago, I was afraid there wasn’t going to be much to see. Maybe a ten minute stop, I thought. Stretch the legs. Snap a few pics of the fire-scorched remains. But two hours later – after exploring the grounds, walking along the beautiful interpretive trail, and soaking in the beauty of this gorgeous natural setting – we left with a new appreciation for this sacred, history-rich place.
The McDougall Stoney Mission Church has, for me and countless other photographers, long been a prized location to capture a quintessential Alberta scene. The historic country church – wonderfully framed by a long, rough-hewn log fence and rolling, pine-capped hills – was a classic, calendar-worthy image that hundreds of photographers have captured.
However, in May of 2017, thanks to a devastating fire, that “image” was lost. The church was almost entirely destroyed. But the key word there is almost. A salvage and restoration operation is currently in progress and some of the timbers, which have now been removed, will likely be used in the rebuild.
“It’s been a long, difficult process but we are well underway,” says Brenda McQueen, the President of the McDougall Stoney Mission Society, which is heading the restoration. “It’s so important that we don’t lose this piece of history.”
During my chat with McQueen (she happened to be there when we arrived and was happy to guide us around the site), it was obvious that her passion for this place runs deep. After all, it was her great, great, great grandfather, George McDougall, who helped found this church in 1875!
Scenic Interpretive Trails
After hearing some of her stories and taking a leisurely stroll along the scenic interpretive trail that rambles through the aspens (it highlights Stoney culture and the history of the site), we gained a whole new appreciation for this special place. And, even though that “classic” photograph is not possible right now, many happy memories – and photos! – were still made.
Andrew Penner – guest journalist and photographer