Our Lady of Peace Mission Cairn Site
Pictured left: Our Lady of Peace Mission Cairn Sign at TWP 242/RR 43. (Photo credit: Stephanie Dittrich)
The historic site where the first permanent mission of the Catholic Church in Southern Alberta began just got a facelift. And you are invited to make a personal pilgrimage to check it out.
Our Lady of Peace Mission is worth the short 30-minute drive from downtown Calgary to west of the city, said Dan Lacroix, Coordinator of the Our Lady of Peace Mission Cairn Site Restoration Project. The retired religion teacher and self-described history buff has poured his heart into refurbishing the provincial historic site.
“With its deterioration, the signs fell down off the highway and no one cared I guess until I did,” said Lacroix. “I don’t think people who would drive that highway would even know it was there. And when you did get there it was ruinness. It was not worthy of being a historical site.”
Lacroix’s interest in church history turned into a mission to restore the cairn, replacing the fencing, enhancing the landscaping and even designing a new highway sign. He navigated government and ecclessial regulations, rallied together benefactors, organized tradespeople, poured over legal documents, befriended local landowners and contributed a substantial personal financial investment. He persevered for seven years to see his vision realized.
“It should be on every tourist map,” said Lacroix. “Once you are up there with the ranchlands all around, you are transported a 100-years back because it’s not much different probably from that period in the 1870s.”
The historical site is located on a small 24-by-24-foot patch of land in Rockyview County, 3 km off The Cowboy Trail, just north of the Hwy 22 and Hwy 8 roundabout, between Bragg Creek and the TransCanada Highway.
Metis layman Alexis Cardinal built a log cabin there in 1872. The following year Fr. Constantine Scollen OMI, established the mission, and Fr. Leon Doucet OMI joined him two years later in 1875, at which point the mission was moved near Fort Calgary.
Several more moves took place before securing the current St. Mary’s Cathedral site in 1889. Only 10 years after its inception the original Our Lady of Peace Mission site was completely abandoned in 1882.
A cairn was built in 1939 and the site gained a provincial historic designation in 1976.
Lacroix has returned the cairn to its original glory and today a cross sits atop the bright white monument that houses a plaque commemorating the early missionary efforts of Fr. Scollen and Fr. Doucet. There are some stones embedded into the cairn from the original log cabin’s fireplace and chimney.
Both priests left their European homeland to share the Gospel in Alberta. Notably, Fr. Doucet was the first priest to be ordained in Alberta. And as a gifted linguist Fr. Scollen learned fluent Cree and Ojibwe, befriended the Blackfoot and witnessed the signing of Treaty 7.
“I think that the sense of history, and the servitude, and the sacrifices the early pioneer missionaries made is quite inspiring,” said Lacroix. “We tell saint stories to inspire our spirituality, and in this case we have historical figures who really brought the Church to Western Canada.”
By Sara Francis
Published on the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary website.