Sunday 13 May 2018

Saint Margaret's Church and Cemetery

Saint Margaret's Church and Cemetery, June 2017.  (DMT)
Saint Margaret's Church and Cemetery is located in the western Cypress Hills of Alberta.

Some history...

This area was not covered during the last ice age and thus has a unique variety of flora and fauna including several varieties of orchids. The cut bank northeast of the church is abundant in fossils representative of a vast inland ocean and display rock formations that are up to sixty million years old. The church sits about a mile south of the "Divide" so water to the south flows into the Milk River then on to the Missouri, the Mississippi and finally into the Gulf of Mexico; water to the north flows to the South Saskatchewan River then on to Hudson Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

The cutbank is up the hill, August 2017.  (DMT)
Notice that the flags are flying at half-mast.
To the native people these holy hills were known as the Thunder Breeding Hills.  Several bands including Blackfoot, Blood, Peigan, Gros Ventre, Assiniboine, Cree, Crow and Sioux frequented the area as did Metis and white fur traders.  It is part of the historic trade route from Fort Benton in Montana, the head of steamboat travel on the upper Missouri River, to Battleford, North West Territories (which is now Saskatchewan).

The massacre of eighteen Assiniboine natives near Battle Creek in 1873 led to the formation of the North West Mounted Police. In 1874 the N.W.M.P established Fort MacLeod and the next year Fort Walsh was built.  Sitting Bull fled to the Cypress Hills after the massacre of Colonel George Custer and his cavalry at the Little Big Horn in 1876.

Canon George McKay of the Church of England, now the Anglican Church, held services at Fort Walsh around 1878.  Churches were eventually established north of the Hills; Saint Anne's (Josephburg, 1897), Saint Alban's (Gros Ventre-Tothill, 1904), Saint George's (Irvine, 1907) and then Saint Margaret's (Eagle Butte, 1908).

Saint Anne's Church and Cemetery, May 2017.  (DMT)
The foundation of the log church can be seen in the foreground.

Saint Alban's Cemetery, May 2018.  (DMT)

Saint Alban's Church, May 2018.  (DMT)
The remains of the church foundation.

Saint George's Parish Cemetery, December 2016.  (DMT)
The church was dedicatd to St. Margaret in memory of Margaret Louise, eldest daughter of Cyril and Hanah Muskgrove, who died of pneumonia at the age of fourteen December 15, 1897.

Church service at Saint Margaret's, 1922.  (DJC)
The original stable is behind and to the left in this photo. 

Church service at Saint Margaret's, circa 1949.  (DJC)
Notice that the windows have been altered for use as a school.

Saint Margaret's Church with unknown person, circa 1966.  (DJC)
Church services were mainly conducted in the summer months with clergy coming from Irvine and then later from the Medicine Hat churches of Saint Barnabas and Holy Trinity. The last regular services held at Saint Margaret's were in 1969 by Archdeacon John W. Carter.  Also of note, in the early 1940's the church was used as a school house after the district school burned down.

A painting of Saint Margaret's Church by Kay V. Zieguen (sp), circa 1976.  (DJC)
In 1976 the church was purchased from the Diocese of Calgary by the Very Reverend David J. Carter. In 1992 the church was fully renovated with both insulation and electricity installed. The original baptismal font was located. The altar is from the abandoned church in Coutts and the altar cross is from the abandoned church in Grassy Lake. The stove came from Milk River and the lectern was used in the Orion area.

Saint Margaret's Church and Cemetery, 1979.  (DJC)
At that time the road allowance was just a trail.

A pen and ink drawing of Saint Margaret's by James Marshall, early 1980's.  (DJC)
This drawing was also issued as a limited edition print.
In 1991 a non-profit society was formed to administer the site. People giving freely of their time, labour and donations is how Saint Margaret's survives into the twenty-first century. The church still conducts the occasional wedding, funeral and baptism and the cemetery is still in use.

Looking to the northwest, July 2005.  (DJC)
The gothic, pointed arch windows are back.

Winter at Saint Margaret's, 2008.  (DJC)

The view through the trees, August 2013.  (DJC)
All of the historical documentation and photographs in this post are courtesy of David J. Carter and are used with his permission. My role here was mainly as an editor (change this a little, leave that as is) as well as supplying some current photos. In the warmer months I also do a little weeding at the church.

Photos marked DJC are copyright by David J. Carter.
Photos marked DMT are copyright by David Michael Truman.

Saint Margaret's Church and Cemetery, June 2017.  (DMT)
The cross on the roof at the back of the church is the original from 1908.

Saint Margaret's Cemetery, June 2017.  (DMT)

Saint Margaret's Cemetery, June 2017.  (DMT)
The lilac blooms were scenting the air.

The "Orchid" Window at Saint Margaret's Church, August 2017.  (DMT)
This is one of four stained glass windows designed by Sue Feeney.

The Very Reverend David J. Carter, Remembrance Day 2017.  (DJC)
The man who gave Saint Margaret's a new lease on life.

Saint Margaret's Church, May 2017.  (DMT)


  1. nice to see a picture not of flat land. glad there is a hill out there somewhere.

    1. I can see how this blog can give that impression.

    2. We have lots of hills down here...they're just all in one area!

  2. Excellent post Michael, this is one that I would like to see myself someday.

    1. Thanks, Jenn. The Cypress Hills and Saint Margaret's are well worth a visit. There are lots of other things to see as well.

  3. Replies
    1. Michael Truman deserves the credit. He contributes great stuff.

  4. The stained glass gothic window is beautiful. The contrast of the first church photo and the stormy sky is stunning. It's nice to know there are those who value history and give willingly of their time for preservation to share with the future. Perhaps there's a trip in my near future. Thank you for the informative article.

  5. St. Margaret's will always be a special place for me. Several years ago my wife Audrey and I had come for me to reunite and visit with David, whom I had known as far back as the fifties. He had intervened in the life of a young boy who was starting down a path that might have led to his destruction. With David's faith and patience, that life was saved and turned around. I served with Reverend Dave at his first communion which had a humorous component (ask him) and upon our reunion at St, Margaret's, I had the honor and privilege to serve along side him once again. Thank you David for your years of friendship and loyalty.
    Blessings from Audrey & Gerry Chapman
    Emerson, Manitoba