This month marks a notable milestone in the history of Central Alberta.
One hundred years ago, on Aug. 18, 1912, Notre Dame de L’Assomption (Our Lady of the Assumption) Roman Catholic Church was officially dedicated at Sylvan Lake.
The history of the church and parish actually goes back to 1904.
That was the year that the Peres de Sainte Marie de Tinchebray arrived in Alberta to establish a major mission field in Central Alberta.
Initially, the Tinchebray Fathers used Innisfail as their administrative headquarters. However, in 1908, they established a large mission centre on the brow of the North Hill in Red Deer.
That centre included a church, presbytery, convent and boarding school and later a small college for prospective priests and a tiny cottage hospital.
Father Henri Voisin, the head of the Tinchebray Fathers, made his first trip to Sylvan Lake on Dec. 26, 1904. The journey was an arduous one. There were not very many Catholic families in the community and they were scattered over a wide distance. Father Voisin did not get back to Red Deer until Dec. 29.
The situation began to change rapidly in 1910-1911. Work began on not one, but two railways into the west country – the Alberta Central and the Canadian Northern Western. New settlers began to flood into the Sylvan Lake district. With travel becoming much easier, the community rapidly became popular as a summer resort.
Quite a few of the families in the burgeoning community were French, with several coming directly from France but a number coming from Quebec and the United States. There were also quite a few Belgians as well as French and German Swiss.
Masses were said by Father Voisin or one of the other Tinchebray priests at such places as Charles and Raymond Archambault’s store, Adelard and Victoria Faucher’s farm and the August Loquet and Frederic Gerard homestead cabins.
By 1912, it was evident that the number of Catholics had grown to the extent that a church was needed.
Moreover, with the free-wheeling pastimes often associated with a summer resort, Father Voisin wrote that “The time had come to enliven the completely materialistic atmosphere by the salutary presence of a church.”
In the spring of 1912, Alexandre Loiselle donated a piece of land on the hillside on what is now 47A Ave.
Work on the church started thereafter. One of the big Sylvan Lake windstorms struck in July and almost blew the little church to the ground. Fortunately, the workmen were able to quickly make repairs and finish the building.
Father Paul J. Chauvin, one of the Tinchebray Fathers, became the first priest and said the first mass on Aug. 18. He continued to conduct regular services until 1915. Father Paul Lamort acted as a replacement for a while until Father Henri Voisin resumed charge in May 1915.
The First World War was a very tough time for the church. Many parishioners enlisted in the French, Belgian and Canadian armies and went overseas. Several never returned. With ensuing tough economic times, money became very scarce.
In 1923-1924, the Tinchebray Fathers moved from Alberta to Tisdale, Saskatchewan. Father Stacey, who was originally from Woodstock, Ontario, became the priest at Sylvan Lake in the summer of 1923.
He was soon replaced by Father Joseph R. MacDonald, who was also the resident priest at Sacred Heart in Red Deer.
In 1927, conditions had improved enough that Sylvan Lake became a parish instead of a mission. Strong growth resumed in the community after the Second World War. The Our Lady of Assumption parish grew as well.
In the fall of 1964, the old church was demolished and replaced with a much larger one. Dedication of the new building took place on March 23, 1965 with Archbishop Jordan of Edmonton providing the official blessing.
On Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012, Our Lady of Assumption will be celebrating its centennial. Archbishop Richard Smith will be in attendance for the special mass and celebrations.