Location: Stanley Mission, Saskatchewan
Timeline: September 2014, April 2015
Client: Ministry of Parks, Culture & Sport
Nestled in the historic community of Stanley Mission, the Holy Trinity Anglican Church stands as the oldest building in Saskatchewan and boasts a 1740s Gothic Revival style of architecture. Located north of the Churchill River, this wood-frame church attracts a healthy amount of tourism, not just for its history, but also for the intricate work done by Cree craftsmen of the time.
The church, which celebrated 157 years in 2010, was almost exclusively built from local timber. This once revered part of its infrastructure became a point of concern considering the pre-confederation aged lumber. The classic stained glass that persevered in its voyage across the Atlantic when it was shipped from the Uk, was once again challenged with another body of water. The river that once floated down the logs that built the church now acted as an unintentional moat that made restoration work especially inaccessible.
“The project itself could only be accessed by boat and the occasional float plane,” reveals former-Advantage GRP Project Manager, Adam Nelson, who joined the team prior to this project. “We’re talking backcountry, here.”
Taking into account the architecture, history and fragility of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Advantage GRP worked closely with the Ministry of Park, Culture & Sports to restore the building. This included flooring and foundation work in September 2014 and window restoration in April 2015.
Advantage GRP hired directly from Stanley Mission First Nation and several of the skilled trade workers have continued to work with the company on different projects.
“There’s reliability in working with local governments and Nations because of the level of meticulousness they have to go through to approve the project,” details Nelson. “Once that aspect is done, there’s full trust and creative control on our part.”
Uncovering History in the Foundations
A total of two acres serves as the churchyard of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, accommodating 1700 plots. Advantage GRP worked closely with the locals in the area to understand the history and tradition of the church in preparation for the foundation work done in the winter of 2014. Elders and other members Stanley Mission First Nation cautioned the team about the possibility of uncovering a body, as it was not uncommon for a priest to be buried under or near the altar. No such body was found.
The church featured eight pillars supported by ground rock which was light enough to roll across the room. In order to install the concrete pads underneath the existing interior beam structure, the original ground rocks needed to be removed. During this process, the team uncovered what President, Tim Hopkins, describes as “trinkets,” including pots and pans, tools, a newspaper dated 1857 and even a fork. When a burlap sack was found, the team called upon the nation and Elder Joe Roberts, who is also the church caretaker, identified the contents. They were confirmed as animal bones, and many more were uncovered in the foundations of the church. All artifacts were reported to the Ministry immediately who collected uncovered materials for examination and records.
The Infamous Steeple Roofs
The Holy Trinity Anglican Church featured a cedar roof which had been dulled by age and weather conditions. The roof pitch was an impressive 14:12 slope - a nearly 50° angle - which Advantage GRP worked on to replace the existing cedar with new cedar. “You can’t be afraid of heights,” jokes Hopkins of the situation. And members of Stanley Mission First Nation certainly were not.
As the team worked to assess one particular window in the church’s chancel, many of the men from the community came to share stories about members of their families who had contributed to the building and upkeep of the church throughout the years. Once the window was adequately restored, members of the community asked if they could touch the glass while the team’s safety equipment was still on site. Advantage GRP honoured their requests and ensured each member was harnessed.
A Glass Workshop On-Site
From the ground level to the second story nave a total of 150 windows, which were made up of over thousands of separate panes, were accounted for.
“It was creatively done,” says Nelson of the reputtying, reframing and replacing work executed with tools brought on-site via motorboat. “And as always, it was our priority to hire locally.”
One particular example of the unique problem solving executed by the team was in replacing the stained glass panes. “Logistically, we had gotten everything to us by crossing the water,” recalls Nelson. “So we thought, why not bring our glass guy to us too?”
Hauling glass cutter, grinders, hand tools and cleaning supplies across the river, Peter Ramadan of Friars Stained Glass agreed to create an on-site glass workshop. The team worked with Ramadan to create glass working temperatures in winter conditions. Using nothing but a woodstove and several tarps, the team transformed the church’s gazebo (typically used for performances in the warmer months) into a “heated shack” that maintained a temperature of 0°C. The area was also used to store scaffolding and tools.
Despite the challenges in season and geography, Ramadan says being exposed to the church’s architecture and craft made it all worth it. “Most of the glass we worked with was from the turn of the century,” explains Ramadan. “Yet, it’s still the same process we use at our shop today.”
Thanks to the creativity of Peter Ramadan, not a single piece of glass was wasted. Ramadan fused the antique collection of broken glass into a modern window, which he then gifted to the Stanley Mission community. “It’s how I saw the community through my eyes,” he says.
Wood Framed Windows
Although lead frames, also called leadlights was introduced in the late Middle Ages, much like the rest of its structure of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, the window frames were built entirely with local lumber.
Because of the aged wood, Advantage GRP President, Tim Hopkins, instructed that each window frame was checked thoroughly. Through rigorous inspection, the team was able to expose rotting in over 50 windows and replace them. The process includes disassembling the rotting frame and adding a fresh piece of wood. “You add that up to over 50 windows, and the work can be quite substantial,” stresses Nelson.
Each window was then reputtied in Ramadan’s on-site workshop, using what he describes as a mixture of “oil, chalk and a little a bit of cement” at a minimum temperature of 0°C.
“It’s Still There”
In a 2010 CBC interview, Elder Joe Roberts questioned the church's longevity and even described the church swaying in the wind on rainy days.
Throughout the years, it was Stanley Mission First Nation who contributed much of their support in maintaining the church. However, after an outbreak of local forest fires and warnings of more yet to come, restoring the church became a project bigger than the nation could continue maintaining. With Advantage GRP, the Ministry of Parks, Culture & Sport was able to continue the nation's effort and restore crucial structural elements of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church.
Today the Holy Trinity Anglican Church stands firmer in its foundations sturdier than ever, with its tower and spire that's become as familiar to the horizon as the trees beside it.
“At the end of the day, our priority was to ensure the building kept its integrity,” concludes Nelson.