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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: Alberta Ancestors by Arlene Borgstede. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
History of Churches in Alberta
Although a few Catholic priests traveled through Alberta prior to 1840, making short stops at prairie forts or in Indian camps, it was Wesleyan Methodist missionary Reverend Robert Rundle who made the first concentrated effort to perform and record baptisms, marriages and burials in District of Alberta. He arrived in 1840 and spent nearly eight years traversing the country between present day Saskatoon and the British Columbia border and from Banff north to Lesser Slave Lake, making Fort Edmonton and Pigeon Lake his headquarters. His travels brought him in close contact with the native people. He kept a diary of his travels and records of baptisms and marriages he performed which are held by the Glenbow Archives, although they are reported hard to decipher.
Another Methodist missionary, Reverend James Evers, worked in the Peace River Country in 1841-1842. Following Rundle’s return to England, the work of the Methodists in Alberta was carried on by Reverend Henry Steinhauer at Whitefish Lake. In 1862 Reverend George McDougall and his son John arrived to establish the Victoria Mission, 75 miles north of Edmonton.
In 1842 the Catholic Church made its first permanent inroads in the area. Father A. Thibault, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, a missionary order from France, established the small mission at Lac Ste Anne. Four years later he was joined by Father Bourassa, who spent the year before in the Peace River country. Although the mission served the native population in the area, it was primarily the home of descendants of Red River Settlement Métis families. The hardships and loneliness of the life caused the recall of both Thibault and Bourassa and in 1852 Father Albert Lacombe was sent to Lac Ste Anne to replace them.
Meanwhile, in 1847, Father Taché was working in the Fort Chipewyan area and was replaced there in 1848 by Father Fafard. Father Rémas was at Lac La Biche while Father Lacombe was at Lac Ste Anne. In 1861 Lacombe established the mission of St. Albert which became a flourishing Métis community. At the end of that decade, Bishop Vital Grandin, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, chose St. Albert as his Episcopal See. The Diocese of St. Albert remained the headquarters of the Catholic Church and the Oblates until 1912 when the Diocese was changed to the Archdiocese of Edmonton with headquarters in that city. The Oblates are still involved in some of the early parishes they established, including St. Albert.
The Anglican Church was not a presence in Alberta until 1858-1859 when Archdeacon James Hunter arrived. He was followed by Reverend W.W. Kirkley who worked in the northern part of the district. Both spent a minimal amount of time in the province, making only short stops on their way further north. The first Anglican Church in Alberta was in Edmonton, built in 1877 by Reverend Newton.
These early churchmen generated records of their baptisms, marriages and burials. Some were meticulous (the Oblates kept very acceptable registers); others did not. Reverend William C. Bompas and Father Grouard are reported to have kept excellent records. Do not be surprised to find a family appearing in two or more different registers. It was not uncommon for a group of Indians to be visited and baptised one day by a Methodist minister, then visited and baptised a few days later by a Catholic priest or vice versa.
As the immigration of white settlers grew, established churches tried to provide them with clergymen. Some settlements, such as Neerlandia (Dutch Reformed Church) and Girouxville (French Catholic), were built specifically for the retention of religious beliefs. In groups such as the Mormons and Mennonites, religion played a very strong role. Communities with no church to serve specific denominations may have been visited by a circuit minister.
The Anglican Diocese of Calgary was formed in 1888 and originally included the present day Diocese of Edmonton which was partitioned out in 1913. In 1968 a 75 miles strip west of the Saskatchewan border was added, extending the diocese across the southern part of the province and north and south from the U.S. border to Ponoka. Although a few churches retain their records, most of the records of the Diocese of Calgary are held by the University of Calgary Archives, however they must be accessed through the Diocesan Office.
- Anglican Church of Canada
180-1209 59th Avenue SE
Calgary, Alberta T3C 0M5
Telephone: (403) 243-3673
Contact the office by mail or by phone, providing the name of the individual and the name of the church or the geographical area. There is a cost per search.
The Diocese of Edmonton, established in 1913, was expanded in 1927 to include a portion of the Diocese of Saskatchewan west of the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. The Anglican Church records of the Diocese of Edmonton (1894-1991) which includes registers of births, marriages and burials are held at the Provincial Archives.
The Diocese of Athabasca was founded in 1874 and included the area north of 15 miles south of Athabasca and east-west across the province. In 1884 that territory north of the 60 degree latitude was removed to become the Diocese of Mackenzie River. The same area was returned in 1933, then removed again in 1950 to form the Diocese of the Arctic. Records of the Diocese, including parish registers, are held at the Provincial Archives.
Seeking out Lutheran Church records can be complicated by the number of different congregations (Wisconsin Synod, Manitoba Synod, Independent Synod, etc.) and the unions of one or more of these groups. In Alberta there are two Lutheran Churches: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Lutheran Church–Canada.
- Lutheran Church–Canada Archives and ABC District Offices
Lutheran Historical Institute
7100 Ada Boulevard Edmonton,
Alberta T5R 0S7
Telephone: (780) 474-8156
- Hours: By Appointment Only
The Lutheran Historical Institute holds the archival material generated by and otherwise documenting the history of Lutheran Church–Canada and specifically its Alberta-British Columbia District, Concordia College University of Alberta, and Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Edmonton. Holdings also contain records of Canadian units of the Lutheran Women’s missionary League, the Wheat Ridge Foundation, the Lutheran Council in Canada, and private papers of significant Lutheran persons who resided in Alberta or British Columbia. Includes minutes of meetings, correspondence, research materials, religious newspapers, manuscripts, photographs, audio-visual materials and artifacts. Dates range from 1890 to the present.
There are, as yet, no finding aids so obtaining a specific record may take some time. If searching in person, please call ahead to check on the information required. Requests can be made in writing. Charges may include costs but they will be minimal. A self-addressed stamped envelope and a donation would be appreciated.
Alberta Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (1898-1989) The Synod was established in 1962 to administer Lutheran congregations in Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon Territories. Many of these congregations originated in Swedish, German, Icelandic, Finnish, Danish and American settlements. The records, although often in their community’s native language, provide insight into these early settlements. Administrative records and registers of birth, marriage and death have been deposited in the Provincial Archives of Alberta.
Congregational records traditionally remain with the church; try the local church first. If the church has closed, contact:
- The Presbyterian Church Archives
50 Wynford Dr.
Toronto, Ontario M3C 1J7
Telephone: (416) 441-1111 ext 310
A small collection of Presbyterian records are at the Provincial Archives of Alberta. These include minutes of the Presbytery (1881) on microfilm and location of churches.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Alberta Ancestors
offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at email@example.com
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.