Remembering the Springvale Methodist/United Church

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the creation of the first formal Methodist (United) Church congregation in Red Deer.

Most of the attention during the anniversary year will be given to Gaetz United Church, as that is the direct successor to that first pioneer congregation.

However, as Central Alberta began to be rapidly settled at the turn of the last century, a great deal of work was devoted to developing a rural Methodist mission field, particularly in the rural areas to the south and east of the Town of Red Deer.

Initially, the resident minister in Red Deer went out on Sunday afternoons to conduct services in various rural schoolhouses or in settlers’ homes. By the late 1890s, the ministers were finding that there was more than enough work for them in Red Deer itself. Moreover, there were also too many prospective Methodist congregations in the surrounding rural districts for one person to manage.

Hence, in the spring of 1897, the Methodist Conference arranged to have two student missionaries assigned to the region. They were H.A. Goodwin and J.B. Taylor.

The arrangement worked well.

In June 1900, when Rev. J. Holmes Toole replaced Rev. Locke in Red Deer, a student missionary, R.S. Longley, was appointed by the Conference to cover the fledgling Methodist congregations of Springvale, Willowdale and Horn Hill.

It was soon shown that numbers of Methodists in those districts had grown to the extent that the construction of a church was now justified.

As Springvale had the largest congregation of the three districts, the new church was constructed there in the summer of 1901. Joseph Cole, a highly respected local settler, donated the land.

Perhaps as a precursor to the formal union of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches in Canada, the contractor for the project was Hugh Clarke, a Methodist and son-in-law of Rev. Leonard Gaetz of Red Deer. He was assisted by W.P. Code, a stalwart Presbyterian, as well as a large number of local volunteers.

The new building was officially opened in September of 1901. S.T. Baillie, another student minister, took responsibility for the new church as well as the congregations at Willowdale and Horn Hill. However, by 1903, Horn Hill had grown to the extent that a rural church was also constructed there.

The first minister for the new Springvale and Horn Hill churches was Rev. Orlando Joliffe. However, in 1904, Rev. Joliffe became the first local Methodist minister to be sent as a missionary to China.

Tragedy later struck the Joliffe family when their young son John was shot by Chinese bandits near the Tsingtung Methodist Mission in 1912.

By 1906, the Springvale Church was clear of all debt and the following year, a parsonage was built east of the Church.

A large drive shed was also built on the north end of the church building to protect the horses and carriages during services and to provide families with a graceful place to dismount.

The church flourished for many years with a very active Sunday school and Ladies Aid. For a few years, there was also a local branch of the Epworth League, a group for young adults.

In 1925, the church became the Springvale United Church after the union of the Methodist, Congregationalist and most Presbyterian churches across Canada.

The Depression years of the 1930s were tough years financially. Also, with the improvements to local roads, people began to find it increasingly easy to go into Red Deer for services.

Finally in 1944, the Springvale Church closed.

The building was sold to Bethany Baptist Church and moved to a new spot on the corner of 49 Ave. and 52 St. in Red Deer.

In 1965, after the Bethany Baptists moved to a new church in Hillsboro, east of 40 Ave., the old Springvale Church was used by the Missionary Church.

Eventually, it became the Pop Shoppe, a retailer of discount soft drinks.

The old Springvale Church building was finally demolished in October 1978. The site has remained a parking lot ever since.