The tiny church of St. Margaret's is located at Eagle Butte in Medicine Lodge Coulee at the west end of the Cypress Hills, Alberta. The Cypress Hills are a unique formation which rises like islands out of the vast Great Plains of the North. These hills were not covered by the last ice age and many semi-tropical plants and insects have adapted to the ever changing weather patterns.
One mile to the north of the church is the highest point of land between Lake Superior and the Rockies. Half a mile to the north west is the height of land which determines the watershed, northward to the Saskatchewan River system and onward to Hudson Bay. The spring melt water which runs past the church and cemetery eventually flows into the Missouri River system on its way to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico.
St. Margaret's Cemetery, Christmas 2004. Photo credit, D. CarterEight miles to the north west is the Eagle Butte Crater which 'arrived' about 6 million years ago. This area is rich in fossils and wildlife including both White Tail and Mule Deer, Antelope, Elk, Moose and Coyotes and is on the eastern Rockies bird migration route. Yes there are Eagles at Eagle Butte! The Cypress Hills were regarded as 'holy' by many aboriginal people. This area was also the haunt of wolfers and whiskey traders from Montana Territory prior to the coming of the North West Mounted Police in 1874. Ft. Walsh, located 20 miles east of Eagle Butte was established in 1875 and it was near there that Chief Sitting Bull and his people located after the Battle of the Little Big Horn and the massacre of General George Custer and his men.
St. Margaret's newest stained glass window, a brown-eyed Susan.St. Margaret's church was built in 1907 and was extensively restored in 1992. Occasional services are held throughout the year and while the church was originally built as Church of England (Anglican/Episcopalian) it is operated on a non-denominational basis, administered by a non-profit society. In the early 1940's it was used as a schoolhouse since a local rancher saw fit to 'torch' the new schoolhouse not just once, but twice. Therefore the small church which seats 32, is a living memorial to all those who helped settle this area.
Currently there are only a handful of people living in the valley. However the church is kept open year round and attracts almost 1,600 visitors each year from around the world!
Thank you for visiting this 'cyber-chapel'!
St. Michael's & All Angels - Piapot, SK
"The Needham family from near here, having visited St. Margaret's and seen it's restoration to life - decided to do a similar thing in Piapot in the long abandoned Church of England (Anglican) church. It was officially re-opened/dedicated July 24, 2005 with myself as the minister. July 23 this year I conducted a service there once more.
It is special in that my Mother's family attended church there circa 1912-1920; my Mother's aunt and uncle are buried in the local cemetery and my Father conducted the funeral of Mother's uncle."
ST. MARGARET’S CHURCH & CEMETERY
EAGLE BUTTE- ALBERTA
‘THE TINY PRAIRIE CATHEDRAL’
The church is located in Medicine Lodge Coulee in the last western valley of the Alberta Cypress Hills. This area was not covered by the last Ice Age and is unique in terms of plant and animal life. The cut bank to the north east of the site has formations which are 30-60 million years old. They show evidence of fossils representative of a vast inland ocean; most field stones have been rounded by water action. Fourteen different types of Orchids occur in these hills. Wildlife abounds including deer, elk, moose, cougars, coyotes, rabbits, weasels, porcupine, antelope. The hills host many types of birds notably the Rocky Mountain Bluebirds, Turkey Buzzards and migratory Eagles.
The Cypress Hills form part of a series of watering/resting places for Aboriginal peoples. Other sites are the Sweet Grass Hills (90 miles south west) and the Bear’s Paw Mountains (75 miles south of Havre, Montana). This church is located 1 mile south of the ‘Divide’; water below this site runs into Medicine Lodge Creek thence into the Milk River and onward to the Missouri, Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico. Water to the north of Eagle Butte empties into the South Saskatchewan River, Hudson Bay to the Atlantic. Summer ‘weather’ comes mainly from the S.W.; winter weather from the N.W.
The three mountain formations were holy to the Aboriginals. The Cypress Hills are also known as the Thunder Breeding Hills. The following bands frequented this area; Blackfoot, Blood, Piegan, Gros Ventre, Assiniboine, Cree, Crow and Sioux. This area was also a favourite resting/trading place for the Metis and White traders. It was part of the historic trade route from Fort Benton Montana (the head of steamboat travel on the upper Missouri) leading to Fort Battleford, North West Territories (now Saskatchewan) the then seat of Territorial government.
In 1873 American whiskey traders massacred 18 Assiniboine Aboriginals at Farwell’s trading post on Battle Creek about 40 kms east of here. This led to the formation of the North West Mounted Police and in 1874 the ‘Mounties’ marched across the southern plains and established Fort Macleod. In 1875 they built Fort Walsh near Farwell’s post. In 1877 Chief Sitting Bull and his Sioux warriors fled to the east Cypress Hills following the massacre of Col. George Custer and his men at the Battle of the Little Big Horn 1876.
Canon George McKay of the Church of England (now Anglican/Episcopal Church) held services at Fort Walsh in 1878. Regular church services were held in the Hills from 1883. Churches were built north of the Hills St. Anne, Josephburg (1897); St. Alban, Gros Ventre/Tothill (l904); St. George, Irvine (1907) and St. Margaret, Eagle Butte (1907). St Margaret’s was dedicated in June 1908.
Church services were held as regularly as possible given that travel was by horseback or buggy with clergy coming from Irvine. In later years Eagle Butte was served from St. Ambrose, Redcliff, Holy Trinity and later St. Barnabas, Medicine Hat. The last regular services were conducted by Archdeacon J.W. Carter in 1969. Following his retirement to Calgary in 1972 the church was left vacant with the cemetery under the care of Jim Last.
St. Margaret’s was originally within the Anglican Diocese of Qu’Appelle as located in Regina; in 1968 this area was transferred to the Anglican Diocese of Calgary in Calgary city. In the early 1940’s the church was used as a school house after the district school burned down – not just once but twice! It must have been chilly in the church-school house as there was neither insulation nor electricity.
In 1976 the Anglican Diocese of Calgary sold the property to the Very Reverend David J. Carter. Work parties are held each July 1 weekend to maintain the church and cemetery. In 1976 the site was ‘raw prairie’ all trees and bushes have been planted since that time. An annual work-bee takes place the Saturday of the July long weekend. A group of volunteers also try to maintain 18 other abandoned pioneer cemeteries south and east of Medicine Hat. Volunteers are always welcomed!
In 1992 a complete renovation took place; insulation, electricity and natural gas heating were installed. St. Barnabas church, Medicine Hat kindly hosted the original candle sticks, flower vases and altar hangings for many years. The original silver baptismal bowl given by a church in Toronto has returned ‘home’. The large baptismal Font originated in the church of St. Michael and All Angels, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The Altar is from the abandoned church at Coutts: the Altar Cross is from the abandoned church at Grassy Lake; the Lectern was used in the Orion area; the pot bellied stove came from Milk River.
Sue Feeney of Medicine Hat is the artist who created the four stained glass windows the last three were installed in 2005 as memorials but also to mark the Centennial of the formation of the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. The themes are of flowers and birds of the Cypress Hills – one window includes a representation of these special Hills.
St. Margaret’s church is an historic building; it is the oldest church building still in use, south and east of Medicine Hat. Regular church services are held at Easter Day, July first weekend, Harvest-Thanksgiving; and Christmas Carol and Readings the week prior to Christmas. Baptism and wedding services also take place. The cemetery is an ‘active’ grave yard in that burials continue to take place after appropriate arrangements have been made. Cremation is the recommended form of committal.
A not for profit society has been formed to administer the church and cemetery; funding is solely by donations from individuals of all faiths from Canada and around the world.Phone 403-893-2222
Box 39 – Elkwater – Alberta – Canada – T0J 1C0