Since stumbling upon the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Stanley Mission, I’ve wanted to set off on an ecclesiastic road trip across Saskatchewan.
Hidden in a boreal forest on the banks of the Churchill River, this tiny church was built in the mid-19th century by Cree craftsmen, using local lumber and stained glass imported from England. With its tall nave, the chapel is a vernacular interpretation of a classic Anglican church—and something of an architectural wonder in its own right.
This is just one of Saskatchewan’s extraordinary churches. Over a century ago, newcomers to the West arrived bewildered and unanchored. Churches quickly sprang up, becoming a welcome lifeline in this strange new world. Today, the province boasts many houses of worship, from elaborate onion-domed cathedrals to tucked-away grottos.
I begin my spiritual trip planning by consulting Margaret Hryniuk, co-author of Legacy of Worship: Sacred Places in Rural Saskatchewan. Her top suggestion: “Charlow (Shiloh) Baptist Church up by Lloydminster is a must-see.” It was built in 1912 by black American pioneers who fled to Canada. “The log cabin is very humble, but you walk in and there’s a special aura,” she adds. Hryniuk also recommends the the extraordinary St. Peter’s Abbey in tiny Muenster: It’s one of the oldest Benedictine monasteries in Canada.
It’s all very fascinating, but not necessarily helpful in streamlining my itinerary! Hryniuk does offer up some sound practical advice though: “Choose a route and visit churches along the way, or pick your churches first and let that determine your route.”
In the end, I let geography decide: I’ll be visiting Saskatoon, so I’ll pop by some of the noted churches in the city, before driving onward to Regina en route to my home in Manitoba.
On the way to my first church, the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of St. George, I stop at Baba’s Homestyle Perogies. As I sample the potato-and cheese-filled pockets, Baba’s manager Rob Engel stops by. Clearly, I was an out-of-towner in a room full of regulars. Upon hearing my divine plan, he jumps at the chance to offer some tips.
“You must visit the Holy Family Cathedral [in the Silver Springs neighbourhood]. It’s got solar-panel stained-glass windows. Father David Tumback gives a wonderful tour.” It’s one more for my overflowing list!
After my perogi pit stop, it’s on to St. George’s, the landmark Ukrainian Byzantine-style basilica in Saskatoon’s west end. Father Janko Kolosnjaji shows me around the massive seven-domed structure. Its illuminated dome and ornate icons are the work of parish member Theodore Baran, who completed the job in the 1950s.
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After the tour, Father Kolosnjaji accompanies me to St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Catholic Eparchial Park, just outside the city, to see another church within his parish. As we drive along Valley Road, we pass local hot spots, like Black Fox craft distillery, the Strawberry Ranch for U-Pick Saskatoon berries and the Berry Barn, a local riverside eatery.
As we approach the park, we spot the wee, whimsical St. Volodymyr. Set far back from the road, it’s made entirely of logs, but still boasts elegant onion domes.
Neatly landscaped parkland surrounds the church, so visitors can canoe, picnic or swim in a giant pool fed by lake water. The priest explains that such accoutrements are designed to keep younger guests engaged in the congregation.
Back in the city, I walk along Spadina Avenue, facing the South Saskatchewan River, to see many churches lining the street. I stroll by Knox United Church, with its lovely stained glass. Not far from Knox, I pass the stunning Third Avenue Anglican Church.
I leave Saskatoon on a bright, sun-shiny day and drive along thinking about those uninformed folks who consider the Prairies dull. There’s so much drama in this wheat-filled landscape, with oddly elegant grain elevators dotting the horizon—not to mention a treasure trove of country churches. Some are still functioning, while others serve as elaborate markers of history.
In the ghost town of Smuts, I stop at the seven-domed Ukrainian Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist—the only building in this deserted village that’s still open for business. The lovely Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St. Michael is equally dazzling, with its reliefs and giant-eye painting, symbolizing the Holy Ghost.
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Near the village of Rama, I’m awed by the ornate interiors of the 1912 Dobrowody Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The dome, covered in cerulean stars, stands guard over holy paintings and an ornate altar.
The last stop on my reverential road trip is the extraordinary Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, east of Regina. While the St. Peter’s Catholic Church here was completed in 1904, the grotto was erected in 1917. It’s styled after its namesake cavern in Lourdes, France, and was built by French-born Father Henry Metzger. The grotto has since become a popular pilgrimage site.
As I make my way back to Manitoba, I reflect on my journey. This treasure trove of chapels, churches and grottos is as much a part of the Prairie landscape as lakes, silos and grassland.
Plan ahead: Some churches don’t keep regular visiting hours. Coordinate with local parishes and priests to make appointments.
Eat & drink: Many towns across Saskatchewan boast perogi restaurants, a nod to the province’s rich Ukrainian heritage. And in downtown Saskatoon, Canada’s first Top Chef, Dale MacKay, serves a menu of globally inspired/locally grown fare at Ayden Kitchen & Bar.
Shop: Hardpressed Print Studio in Saskatoon produces graphic, Saskatchewan-branded sweats and T-shirts. Don’t forget to stock up on Saskatoon berries and other provincial produce at farmer’s markets during your road trip. Find a local market at saskfarmersmarket.com.
Give yourself about six hours to drive from Alberta to Saskatoon. Much of the journey takes you through smaller prairie towns. Consider upgrading to a Plus or higher membership, which allows for extended towing distances, free passport photos, free fuel and deliver and even-more trip collision reimbursement. And don’t forget you can pay for your membership monthly for as little as $9 a month.