After about 75 years in the same location, an historic church in the Old Village of the Hay River Reserve is being moved.
However, St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church won’t be moving very far – about 40 feet sideways to a new and improved foundation, and about four feet higher.
The move is being done by K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN), and will be followed by more work by the Roman Catholic Church.
Scotty Edgerton, the chief executive officer for KFN, said he doesn’t believe the church would survive another five years if it were not moved to a better foundation.
Edgerton explained the church is “bellying out” as the floor is starting to sag, and the building has also been moved on its foundation by ice during past spring floods of the Hay River.
“If we don’t move it up and get it in a better situated area, if we had another ice flow go through there, it’s gone,” he said.
Edgerton noted KFN is putting around $85,000 into the project to move the church.
The work is being done by the band’s development corporation and is expected to be completed soon before the winter sets in.
Edgerton explained the band is making the investment because of the building’s historic value as a church and as one of the oldest structures on the reserve.
Father Don Flumerfelt, a Roman Catholic priest who also serves the Hay River Reserve, welcomes the work at St. Anne’s Church, noting he has been saying for two years that the building would not last much longer without a move to a new foundation.
“It’s a recovery really of our ability to function as a Catholic church on the reserve,” he said. “This is a very precious building for the community.”
The church was constructed from 1938 to 1940.
The Roman Catholic Church will undertake a second part of the renovation – upgrading the interior and exterior of St. Anne’s – after KFN has moved the building.
Flumerfelt said the church has raised about $25,000 and a further $25,000 will be sought from the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith.
It’s been about two years since services have been offered at the church. In that time, regular services were held at the Judith Fabian Group Home and larger observances like Christmas and Easter were held at the Chief Lamalice Complex.
“We’d like to be able to restore all the sacramental acts that we can perform there,” said Flumerfelt. “So it’s really exciting that the band has teamed with us. We’ve been saving money for four years now to try and get things going.”
Edgerton said the project had its origins about three years ago when the band obtained funding to hire a structural engineer to look at St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church and the nearby St. Peter’s Anglican Church, which was virtually destroyed by ice during spring flooding in 2008.
The structural engineer had the opinion that St. Peter’s is too far gone to save.
Edgerton said it is still uncertain what will happen to that severely-damaged church, but he suggested it is possible that some kind of shrine might be built on the site of St. Peter’s using some of the building.
One of the improvements for St. Anne’s will be to find a bell for the church.
Edgerton said there is currently a bell at the KFN offices that may have originally come from the church.
“We don’t know,” he said. “But we are going to put a bell in there.”