The Building

Yes, there is no doubt about it, winter Sundays were something special to our family. They did of course include church and Sunday school (Dad only attended weddings and funerals because he was too busy) but I'll tell you all about that deep devotion as sponsored by Mother.

Canada is a young country as countries go. Alberta didn't become a province until after the turn of the century, and it was sparsely settled by a varied people of differing cultures and religions.

Since God required a proper place for people to worship him, and this place of worship was expensive to build, the cost of a church for each denomination was a killer.

To solve this problem, several denominations joined together to become the United Church Of Canada which our family attended religiously, if you will excuse the pun.

The United Church was built on the west side of town across the street from the curling rink and ball diamond. It was an impressive building, with its high sloping roof, two solid oak front doors and the big white cross that stuck up above the roof top.

The church cloak room was just inside the front doors. It had two rows of hooks fastened onto the walls. Your winter overcoat was hung on one of those hooks, while you left your overshoes on the floor below.

Then you pushed through two more (swinging) doors and you were in the church proper. The church floor was proper (narrow) hardwood, oiled and clean. The pews were heavy wooden benches placed down the west side. They went almost up to where the pot-bellied stove sat on the west side of the pulpit. The right side of the church was much shorter because of the coat closet and rear pot bellied stove, and they must have forgotten to order pews for this side, because it was lined with wooden kitchen chairs.

The appearance of this little church was quite grand, with it's high peaked ceiling rising above. The east and West walls were window covered, and the south end had a cathedral window with stained glass. A real showcase. You should have seen the congregation when the sun cast a rainbow of color over them.

When I entered the front doors I knew I was in a holy place. Somehow it even smelled holy. Probably the embalming fluid from the last funeral, but to me it was a holy smell, whatever it was.

Town Mortician

Speaking of embalming reminds me that the only mortician in the area was Jack Waterhouse, who owned Waterhouse Hardware in the town of Cereal, a town of similar size to Chinook. Since the area hospital was also located in the town of Cereal, Jack got a lot of his mortuary business from them, but his hardware store was where the real money was. Since more people were leaving than dying, that side of the business was slow.

Jack did have a proper hearse though, with a big door on the back so you could load the coffin in. It even had curtains on the windows, and Jack always wore a black suit, black bow tie and white gloves. Oh yes everything was real proper whenever there was a funeral, and it scared us kids to near death.

Heating the Church

When I got old enough to be volunteered, Mother volunteered me to get the church ready for the Sunday service, which started at ten. Once volunteered, my duties had to be taken seriously, and the job in the winter was onerous.

First if it had snowed there were the front steps and a half block of wooden sidewalk to clear off. Then both pot-bellied stoves to get going. This meant lifting the trap door that was in the floor next to the rear stove. Below this was a dug out basement full of kindling wood, coal, old papers, broken chairs, cobwebs, spiders, and one dim twenty watt bulb hanging just low enough to get my head and scare hell out of me as I groped for it's pull chain.

The church was never locked and I used to worry a lot every time I pulled up that squeaky trap door. What if there was a killer or a body down there. But there never was. A terrible ladder instead of proper stairs was what I had to get in and out of this abomination of a place on. Long before Ralph Nader's time of course. Once in this dugout hole I gathered wood and paper, then filled the coal scuttle. Three trips up the ladder and I'm ready to lay and start the fires in Mr. and Mrs. Potbelly Stove.

The single chimney for both stoves was a brick affair that ran up the north wall behind the pulpit. It ran right up and out through the roof so it should have had a great draft, but not so on real cold morning.

Stove pipes come in three foot lengths and these pipes rose up from each stove about ten feet where they took a right angle turn and headed for the brick chimney. These pipes were held up by thin wires from the ceiling. There were a lot of pieces of stove pipe all beautifully elevated up there, and on a real cold morning smoke used to seep out of every joint. This at first scared hell out of me again, but once I realized it was normal and temporary I went about the business of sweeping floors and dusting pews and chairs. Yes, the dust blew into even God's church on the prairie.

To the east side of the pulpit platform was a door which led into an add on area, called the church kitchen. It had a kitchen coal stove, little pantry area, a good sturdy table, and a few chairs. This area had many uses in the summer, including keeping little preschoolers from being under foot during the service. It was never used in the winter, since the kitchen stove was not capable of heating it.


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