ST. JOHN’S CATHEDRAL AND
WINNIPEG’S OTHER OLDEST CHURCHES
by George Siamandas
The 1834 cathedral replaced an earlier log church built in 1822 by John West. Construction for St. John’s Cathedral started in 1833. The limestone came from Stonewall and was quarried and hauled to the site during the preceding winter, by oxen pulling sleds. Much of this hard work was done by volunteers from the native and Red River settlement. Total cost was 900 pounds and the new cathedral could hold 500 people.
The site had been selected and put aside years earlier by Lord Selkirk himself. They were proud of their new church and Thomas Simpson called it “better than 90% of the Scotch country churches.” But their pride was premature. The new building deteriorated after just two years and for decades needed constant buttressing.
In 1862 it was replaced by a third church. But once again structural problems plagued the church. By the 1880s they desperately needed a new church. But it was a very long wait for the congregation. It was not until 1926 that the church was replaced by the present St. John’s Cathedral on Anderson Avenue. Andersen was named in honour of Anglican Bishop Anderson who came to red River in 1849.
The first church in Red River was built in St. Boniface in 1818 on the present site of St. Boniface Cathedral. This site has seen a succession of six churches: three were demolished to make way for larger churches, while two were lost in fires. Once again it was Lord Selkirk that had granted the land on the east side of the Red for the French community.
The oldest church is St. Andrew’s on the Red; it was consecrated in 1849. It is the oldest church in the west that has remained in continuous service. It has seen a major restoration of the stonework in the last few years. Its a testament to masonry techniques that old limestone buildings like St. Andrews have survived and can be restored. And all before pilings were commonly used.
One of the oldest churches is St. James Church. It’s located across Polo Park on Portage Ave and it was built in 1852. The oldest downtown church is Holy Trinity church just opposite Eatons which was built in 1882. It is the oldest building surviving on Graham Avenue.
Another interesting old church is St Peter’s on the east side of the Red in Selkirk. It is known as Peguis’ church because Salteaux Chief Peguis and his people helped build it in 1852. Peguis worshipped at St Peter’s till he died in 1864 and Peguis is buried in the church yard.
Nassau in Fort Rouge is a very ecumenical street with at least 7 churches. Starting on the north there is the Christian Science, then St. Luke’s Anglican, Crescent Fort Rouge United, Trinity Baptist, Evangelical Mennonite Conference and ST Francis De Sales Catholic Church for the Deaf.
The first synagogue was Sharrey Zedek originally located at the corner of Henry and King St. Virtually the entire Jewish community turned out on a September day in 1889 to witness the laying of the corner stone. That cornerstone is now incorporated in the Wellington crescent Sharrey Zedek which was completed in 1949.