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Guardian of the Columbia

It distracted me from my ultimate mission — an afternoon with Maremma sheepdogs.

I was driving south on a rural road on the Colville Reservation and spied it out of the corner of my eye. Of course, my new friend Kaila warned me about it. She said “there’s a beautiful abandoned church near our homestead.”

Excited by the prospect, I thought I’d have to keep my eyes peeled, but there was no missing it, even though it hid behind several large trees.

It stood there, soaking up the morning August sun. So beautiful and, seemingly, so lonely.

A sentinel standing watch over the Columbia River.

catholic church

 

Some churches have been maintained in a manner similar to the Roger’s Bar church: the one so lovingly cared for in Retlaw, Alberta, and the now restored churches in Dorothy, Alberta.

This one’s history is honored in the foyer, with some details typed onto letter-sized paper, protected by Saran wrap and pinned to the wall.

catholic church history

Whomever wrote the story revealed this church was built in 1934, dedicated one year later by Bishop White. Charles Owen was the pastor. It replaced the St. Ignatius church built “somewhere around Roger’s Bar” in 1907.

The Colville Tribes website says this church was named the Sacred Heart.

Father Caldi and other priests of St. Francis Regis Mission visited here occasionally on their rounds of the Indian settlements (House Dairy 1906). Caldi estimated the population as about ‘twenty Columbia and Spokane Indians.’

abandoned church colville

Pastor Owens lived in log cabin 100 feet away from the church. Louie Pichette, at one time the oldest living man on the Colville reservation, also lived in a log cabin near the church. Neither building — if they were separate buildings — is no longer there.

The church was used semi-regularly until 1966. Bill Kima assisted on funerals. The last service, according to the history on the wall, was a wedding.

But no one can remember who got married.

Restoring the past

The paper on the wall tells the story of a summer that a group of high school students from Tacoma and kids from Gonzaga Prep joined some local students to clean out 20 years of bird and bat “droppings.”

They were led by Don Eugene, a painter who died in a motorcycle accident just one week after the project began.

It was 1988.

“Birds, bats and bees had been its only congregation” for quite some time.

Over two summers, the students and members of the community built a new porch, installed new windows, stained the outside and inside, and sanded the hardwood floor.

  • Dutch Monaghan stained the windows
  • Lynda Smith worked on the window in front of the steeple
  • Kay Hale restored the last remaining pew
  • Ilene Stansbury worked on the foyer
  • An old carpenter named Andy built four cathedral windows
  • Don Aimebury supplied the glass and installed most of it
  • Violet Trudell donated an old bell to replace the one that was stolen years ago

inchelium church abandoned

They changed the church’s appearance “dramatically” and the church was renamed “Christ of the Columbia.” The community held a dedication ceremony with potluck in October of the unknown year.

No signs of life

It’s a quiet, rural road.

The church is unblemished by graffiti and destruction in the way so many historic buildings on busy roadways fall victim.

It stands perfect, a testament to its original construction and the restoration that took place.

A 2007 blog post by Christy Woolum showed up in a Google search. She visited the church in 2007 and, at the time, learned it was still used twice a year and for special events.

She writes:

When you peak in the windows you can see Christ of the Columbia carved into the altar, but the statues and pews are covered with protective tarps. I loved the rich hue of the elderberries hanging from a branch at the entrance of the church. It is obvious parishioners take great pride in this building. It has been maintained beautifully. It was the location for our picnic lunch as we took a break during out road trip.

The doorknob turns in the hand and, when the door creaks open, there are no signs of life.

No signs of the love that embraced this church in 2007 or the undated restoration.

No signs of weddings or funerals or services where the community comes together.

Are they all lost forever?

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The church: centre of a community

I’ve driven Route 2 from Wilbur through Airway Heights more than a handful of times since I moved back to the B.C. Interior.

Typically, I’m on a mission to get to Spokane Valley, our second home where Our American lives.

It was only recently that a building, almost hidden behind overgrown bushes, caught my attention. I don’t know how my eyes had missed it on previous trips.

abandoned church in Deep Creek, Lincoln County, Washington

The bell tower is familiar to this ghost-towner, who revels in finding the buildings once considered important, from schoolhouses to homes and churches.

The pretty little church has fallen into a state of disrepair.

The bell seems to be gone, windows are smashed out and boarded up, and its paint is peeling badly.

It’s on private property, so getting too close is out of the question.

Douglas County church, Washington

Little information exists on the web about the church.

One photographer took a picture of the former schoolhouse-cum-residence just up the road and a commenter mentioned the church.

I belive the Church is of 1929 vintage and sadly the owner has no interest in preserving it. Deep Creek Falls (now just Deep Creek) was a town from 1883 or so till 1939 (I believe).

Oh, if I had my way, I’d win the lottery, buy the little church and restore to its former beauty.

You see, I grew up in a small town on Canada’s east coast. Antigonish, N.S., is known as “The Little Vatican” and my family dutifully attended St. Ninian Cathedral every Saturday.

I’m not a religious person as an adult but I remember the value church gatherings bring to a community. In Canada, the community churches are complemented by a community hall and, without question, the hockey rink — a part of our culture well documented by hockey personality Chris Cuthbert in The Rink: Stories from Hockey’s Home Towns. I used to have a signed copy, interviewing Cuthbert in Kamloops during my career as a sports writer.

And I wonder if, as we start to let these wonderful little churches wither away, it only symbolizes the loss of our sense of community and togetherness.

Ah, but maybe that’s too profound a thought for our little exploring blog. We stumbled onto a few other churches along the way.

When I took a wrong turn on my way back to Spokane from Vancouver, I saw the little Anglican church of Douglas:

Douglas County 032

Saint Paul’s Lutheran hasn’t been used in many years, says the Douglas County PUD website, but the folks who live in the area are trying to restore it. The website, unfortunately, has dated information as it says the Douglas Community Historical Association wants to have the church fully restored by 2006 and rent it out for weddings and other celebrations.

The site says the church is on the National Register of Historic Buildings, the official U.S. federal listing of significant historic, architectural and archeological resources.

Drilling down takes me to the Washington Historic Register. Its database shows the application of historical landmark status, prepared by Kenneth Duane Britt of nearby Wenatchee. Dated 1980, the application shows the church is (or was) owned by the Westerman family.

The Church is what is left of a once thiving Community. It is a landmark of the courage, strengh, ingenuity, morals, ideas, beliefs, and culture of the early settlers of Douglas and our whole State. I would love to see the Church on the National Register, and I believe it is a Landmark well worth it.

They’re words that apply to any of these old buildings that Shep and I find along the way.

The churches and schoolhouses and grain elevators and farmhouses, all long abandoned and nearly forgotten, are testaments to who we are and where we’ve come from.

And without those touchpoints, we’ll never know where we’re going.

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A meeting by chance

Moyie Lake and Frank 039

Phillip is a kindly, somewhat nutty old fella.

He ambles out of his little home in Moyie Lake, B.C., his hands jammed into the pockets of his denim overalls.

His fluffy white beard conjures thoughts of Santa Claus, while the ink art travelling up his arms gives hints to a rougher life spent on the union trail or on a motorcyle.

“Can I meet your dog?”

His voice is gruff and gravelly, evidence of a life spent smoking.

Sure can, I say.

We hopped out of the truck at Moyie Lake, curious about the little town we’d passed by a few other times, not even blinking in a quest to just get home.

As we stood in the shadow of the little Victorian style church, Phillip approached us.

He keeps his pockets full of Milkbones so he can treat the neighbourhood dogs on his daily walks through the little community.

He ruffles Shep’s ears and Shep gives Phillip his stamp of approval, letting me know it’s OK to trust the somewhat odd but friendly fellow.

Phillip tells us of the deer who visit his backyard, because he leaves apples and nuts for them on his picnic tables.

He tells us of his plan to shave his beard off in the spring, a chance to raise money for cancer research.

He tells us of his fight against cancer, surviving six months of chemotherapy, as he takes another long haul of his cigarette.

And he tells us that’s as much as he remembers of his life since a motorcycle accident and a severe bump on the head took away his memory.

But for some reason, he feels it’s important to tell us of his life before moving to Moyie Lake in 1976.

He was a travelling steamfitter/pipefitter.

He pulls out his wallet and hands me his identification card from the Syncrude project in Fort McMurray, Alta.

My hands shake a little as I hold his ID.

I look up at him and say, ‘My father was on that project.’

And the memories flood back.

The memories of his quiet, solitary life, spent on the road with brief vacations home to see his family.

The memories of his tortured soul.

Of his own battle with cancer.

And his death.

Phillip asks for his name and I tell him but his memory is blank.

We chat for a little while longer, learning a little more about Moyie Lake on a personal account from Phillip.

Shep, his belly full of Milkbones, and I hop back in the truck and continue our journey back to Calgary.

I can’t help but feel something greater was at work that day, something greater than just a quick stop at Moyie Lake to pound out an Exploring post for my site.

Even if it was just a distant, shot-in-the-dark connection to a father who was never really connected.

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Fading away in Scollard, Alberta

The cattle are lowing in the distance.

There’s not much more activity along Scollard Road, aside from the city girl poking around the neighbourhood.

Flanked by two small and very much lived-in houses, the Scollard United Church stands as a testament to another time.

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Family forever … in Retlaw

We land in Retlaw on a day the streets are bustling with life.

About 20 cars are parked outside the Retlaw Hall, a community meeting place on the main drag.

It’s Easter weekend and the Culver family converges here, just as it does two or three times a year. They’re scattered — 11 children and 22 grandchildren — through southern Alberta, from Calgary to Taber to Lethbridge.

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