I wanted to tell everyone about a little white church located in the Crown of the Continent
The local people are working hard to keep it preserved. With guidance from the Alberta Culture and Community Spirit Department of the Alberta Government, we are working on getting this little church re-designated as a Historic Resource.
This is one of the oldest Catholic churches in Southern Alberta.
Historical Time Period- Built in 1907.
Harrisville is situated 10 miles Southwest of Cardston, Alberta, in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Although it never had a post office or a store, it was a community center because it was home of the first Catholic Church in the Cardston area and had a one room schoolhouse, which was controlled by a local school board.
Before the church was built, Oblate missionaries from the Blood Reserve traveled in all types of weather to Harrisville and services were held in the homes of the local residents. It was in 1901 that the early settlers of the district decided that they needed a church and built it on the side of a hill overlooking the valley. Lumber for the church was hauled from Fort Macleod by horse and wagon. In August the following year, the first Mass was said in the new church. Unfortunately, the church had already been damaged by a severe wind storm. The walls were separated from the roof, windows and doors were broken, and the roof had a big hole torn in it. With the true spirit of the pioneers, the church was repaired but another storm in 1904 again damaged the church badly.
Feeling that the church was a necessary part of the community, Mike Olshaskie Sr. donated part of his property in the valley, out of the wind, for another construction. It is the same location where the church stands today. The church was named St . Stephen's of Hungary, honoring the many settlers who had come to the area from Austria and Hungary. The Oblates continued to travel to Harrisville from Standoff, Alberta. From 1927 to 1965, the priest from Cardston would come to say Mass, perform baptism, marriages and funerals, first communion and confirmations . After 1965, the church was closed and the families traveled to Cardston for Church services.
To the Catholic members, the church was the core of the community. Some travelled many miles to " hear " the Mass which was usually held at 11 O'Clock. They traveled by horse, either saddle or team and buggy, before cars were even thought of in the pioneer village of Harrisville. After Mass each Sunday, the members visited and caught up on the news which had taken place since last time, as most had not seen each other since the previous Sunday. In the warm days of summer, friends brought their lunches and they would stay and visit all day after Mass, while the children played and the horses munched on the grass.
Many of the pioneers who worked to make the church and who raised their families here are buried in the cemetery east of the church. The cemetery is still the only Catholic cemetery in the Cardston area and members are still laid to rest there, in full view of the mountains. The church is still preserved as a Historical landmark. In 1970, a shrine was set at the cemetery and a Memorial Stone was dedicated to the pioneers of the district by the Catholic Bishop in 1974.
Mass is still held at the church once a year. Many of the families of the people who used to attend the little church come at this time. Signatures in the book at the back of the church show there are many visitors each year who stop to see and enjoy the little pioneer church. Today, many of the original families of Harrisville are still living in this area and the church is a very important part of their lives.
The church is not locked and everyone is welcome to come stop by for a visit and spend some time in the peace of the place. Remember that it is still a church and respect is of utmost importance. Please help to keep it as it is and remember to close the door firmly. We still have those strong winds as in the early days! The book at the back is still there for your signature. If you want, you can even sweep and dust a little as there is always a need for help in keeping it looking nice.
The church is easy to find. If you are traveling on Highway # 2 in Southern Alberta, either leaving or coming into Canada through the Carway border crossing, then watch for the "Police Lake Provincial Campground " sign. Turn down that road and keep following until you see the church on your right hand side. It is easy to find and well worth the detour as the view and scenery on the Police Lake Road is amazing. This road also takes you through to connect back up with Highway # 501, which eventually connect to Highway #5, and that will take you to Waterton Park.
Much of this information is taken from the Harrisville History book . If you would like more information feel free to contact me and I would be happy to help you.