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Architectural Heritage: The Holy Family Catholic Church

Tuesday • December 20, 2016

The beginning of Holy Family can be traced to 1896 when Father John Welsh, an Oblate attached to the St. Eugene’s mission of Cranbrook, was sent to the Fernie area to administer to the spiritual needs of the railway workers and the miners, a large proportion of whom were Catholic.

Construction of a church began in the same year, to be completed the following June. The church was dedicated to the Holy Family because of the devotedness of the Cape Breton families who arrived in the spring of 1897. They pledged a day’s pay per month. The first resident pastor, Father Meleux, assisted by Father Meissner, was fluent in six languages and succeeded in forming a cohesive parish in a population comprising many ethnic groups.

The church survived the first fire of 1904 but was destroyed in the conflagration of 1908. A provisional frame building located at the site of the present Family Centre, served as the church between 1908 and 1912 until a larger and more substantial church was completed.

Romanesque in style, the church has a total seating capacity of 500. The ash pews came from Ontario, the original organ from Germany, and the stained glass windows, installed at a cost of $200 each, from France. The donors reflect the cosmopolitan composition of the congregation. The stained glass window in the tower depicts the institution of the Eucharist. The rose window above the entrance displays the coat of arms of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, whose members served this parish from its beginnings until 1930 when the diocesan clergy assumed charge. The Catholic Church remains Fernie’s largest congregation.

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