On the evening of Oct. 20th, St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Red Deer will be celebrating the 125th anniversary of the creation of the parish.
However, while St. Luke’s parish was officially formed on May 16th, 1893, there had been an active Anglican congregation in the district for many years before that.
Moreover, that congregation was predominantly Metis in membership.
Although the Anglican Church had established strong roots in the Red River settlement of southern Manitoba in the early 1800s, Anglican missionaries were not sent to Alberta until 1865.
Southern Alberta missions were not established until the late 1870s. In 1882, several families of Metis came to the Red Deer area from the White Horse Plains near Headingly, Manitoba.
They took up claims along the Red Deer River between the mouths of Waskasoo Creek and the Blindman River.
These settlers were very industrious and entrepreneurial.
They brought with them a small threshing outfit and a complete sawmill. As they established their farms, planted their crops and built up their herds of cattle, they used their threshing machine and sawmill to earn extra income. Starting in 1885, they sold supplies and provisions to the men stationed at Fort Normandeau.
Later, they started a ferry across the Red Deer River, near the mouth of the Blindman.
The Headingly Metis settlers were quite religious.
In 1883, Rev. A.B. Baird, a Presbyterian missionary, conducted the first church service in the Red Deer district in the home of Roderick McKenzie, one of the Metis community’s leaders.
Rev. Leonard Gaetz, a semi-retired Methodist minister, who had established a farm in what is now downtown Red Deer, later provided some services.
However, the Headingly Metis settlers were Anglicans, not Presbyterians or Methodists. On May 1st, 1887, Rev. Edward K Matheson, the Anglican minister at Lethbridge and an old Red River friend of the settlers, came to Red Deer to conduct a Sunday service. Nearly 50 people turned out.
The following day, a meeting was held at the home of Roderick McKenzie for the purpose of organizing an Anglican parish in the settlement.
Church wardens and vestrymen were elected. A committee was appointed to select a site for a church.
Unfortunately, the Diocese of Calgary was unable to provide much support to the proposed parish. Rev. Edward Paske-Smith, a young Anglican missionary, periodically came up from Calgary to hold services.
In 1888, another young missionary, Rev. Henry B. Collier, was sent up from Calgary to conduct monthly services.
He was very popular. In November 1889, he was made a missionary deacon at the Red Deer settlement under the supervision of Canon William Newton of Edmonton.
Rev. Collier soon secured three locations in the district for regular church services. He also established a school next to the Blindman ferry.
Unfortunately, the settlement was beset with difficulties, principally in securing proper title to many of the Metis settlers’ farms.
The Federal Government had sold 180 sections of land to the Saskatchewan Land and Homestead Company. The Company refused to recognize the legitimate claims of the Metis unless it was paid sizeable sums of money.
In 1887, a petition was sent to Ottawa on the disputed land rights.
The Government did not officially answer the petition until 1894. Meanwhile, most of the Metis gave up in disgust. They consequently moved to the Beaver Hills Lake district, south east of Edmonton, where they established new farms and an Anglican parish, which they named St. James the Apostle.
As the original Anglican congregation broke up, Rev. Collier left. It was not until 1890-1891, when the Calgary-Edmonton Railway was built through the district and the townsite of Red Deer was established, that active organizational work recommenced.
A new minster, Rev. Charles Ingles of Toronto, briefly came to the community to rejuvenate the local Anglican congregation and start the foundation of local parishes.
Ingles had promising success. Consequently, he was soon followed by Rev. Harry B. Brashier.
Brashier took up residence in Central Alberta. He established St. Mark’s in Innisfail in 1892 and St. Luke’s parish in Red Deer in 1893.