| Edmonton's 'Church Street,' more commonly known as 96th Street, was once cited by Ripley's Believe it or Not as having the largest concentration of churches in the world. There's no way to verify if the citation is accurate, but the street's dozen churches are certainly significant.|
During Historic Edmonton Week, historian Kathryn Ivany will lead a walking tour along Church Street. The diversity of styles and age of structures along the route make for an invigorating journey through time and faiths and Kathryn says she is looking forward to sharing some of the stories shes uncovered.
In Edmontons early days, the street and the area became a natural gathering place because of proximity to services, she explains. Before the Hudsons Bay land sale, the heart of downtown was Jasper Avenue and 97th Street and, as one church was founded nearby, others soon came along and before long, there was an entire grouping.
The churches were built in an area now known as Boyle/McCauley - named for lawyer John Robert Boyle and Matthew McCauley, the first Mayor of Edmonton. During its early days around the turn of the century, the area was a lively mix of residential, commercial and industrial, built amongst dense stands of aspen and poplar and wetland sloughs.
A small stream known as Rat Creek formed the neighbourhood's northern boundary and flowed east into the river. Today, Norwood Boulevard follows the original course of the creek.
In 1908, a streetcar line was built along 95th Street, south from 111th Avenue to 106th Avenue, west to 97th Street and then south to Jasper Avenue. Within the next five years, Edmonton's population catapulted from 15,000 to 70,000, and development in the neighbourhood shifted into overdrive.
The earliest churches in the area included St. Barbara's Orthodox, consecrated in 1902 in a two-storey house, at 10105 96 Street. With the coming of the streetcar, the church was replaced by a wooden structure, used until 1958. The present copper domed building, officially opened August 8th, 1959, was named St. Barbara's Russian Cathedral.
One of the oldest surviving original places of worship along the street is the Mustard Seed Street Church, built in 1911 as the Central Baptist Church. Over the years, the wood framed structure at 10635 96 Street has also served as a western dining and dancing club. It is now a Baptist street ministry and retains many of the original design features, including the boiler which was converted from steam engine duty in 1911.
Construction of the Eglise Immaculee Conception (Church of Immaculate Conception) began in 1906 at 10830 96 Street. Built in French Canadian Gothic Revival style, the original exterior was red brick with stone accents. In the years since, the outside walls have been clad with stucco. Much of the central tower, wooden belfry and spire are believed to be original.
When Sacred Heart Catholic Church was built in 1913 at 10821 96 Street, its 130-foot north tower was the highest spire in the city. The Gothic-styled and French-influenced structure was designed by Edmonton architects David Hardie and John Martland, who later became the city of Edmonton architect and president of the Alberta Association of Architects. It was erected on a 62 by 90 foot concrete foundation and constructed by Duffie and Bolger at a cost of $75,000.
When it opened on Christmas Day 1913, there was room for 1,000 parishioners. Some of the structure's defining characteristics include the two-tower plan and the centre stained glass window with its pointed arch on the west face. The first parish priest was Reverend Maxim Pilon. He lived in a rectory to the south, which was also built in 1913 at a cost of $8,000.
Information provided by the city's planning and development department indicates extensive renovations were carried out in 1963 and three years later fire swept through the interior, causing an extensive $160,000 in damage. It was reopened with an entirely remodelled interior in December 1967. Now vinyl tile covers the original hardwood flooring and the walls, ceiling and pillars have been reclad. And in keeping with the new liturgy of the Catholic church, the altar was moved to the middle of the congregation, from its former place at the head of the church.
The Historic Edmonton Week tour will include St. Josaphat's Cathedral, at 10825 97th Street. While not on 'Church Street,' the seven-domed Ukrainian Catholic Church is such an imposing and distinguished structure, it is a most worthy conclusion to the excursion.
The building, constructed between 1939 and 1947, the cathedral is a showcase of grand Byzantine influence, with elements of Roman, American Colonial and Renaissance schools of design. With its grand domes and columns, superb brick craftsmanship, grandiose entrance stairway and glorious religious paintings, St. Josaphat is the only Alberta example of the Prairie Cathedral architecture style developed by Rev. Philip Ruh.
The inside walls and domes feature colourful tempura religious frescos, painstakingly created by Julian Bucmaniuk in the 1950's. The iconostas, a large screen adorned with icons that portray the life of Christ, was completed in 1968.
The cathedral replaced another church named after St. Josaphat - the only Ukrainian Saint - and built on the site in 1904. The modern structure was declared a provincial historic resource in 1983, making it the youngest building to receive the designation.
On Sunday, July 28th, a Celebration Service will be held at St. Barbaras Russian Orthodox Cathedral, 10105 96th Street, from 10 am to 1 pm. Join dignitaries from Toronto, Ottawa, New York and Ukraine in a Celebration Service for the 100th anniversary of St. Barbaras Parish. Call 455-6314 for more info.
The Historic Edmonton Week two-hour walking tour of Church Street is on Thursday, August 1st, beginning at 9:30 am. Call Kathryn at 489 4423 to register. The cost is $2 per person.