July 18th – The History of Gravelbourg

The town of Gravelbourg was founded in 1906 by French settlers led by Father Louis-Joseph Pierre Gravel. 

Recently, there has been much negative press regarding the Catholic Church and native residential schools in Canada.   This news has somewhat, and I am sure inadvertently, been misleading for many.

There were 139 native residential schools in Canada where native children were placed against their will and against the will of their parents.  Of these schools, 44 were operated by the Catholic Church.  There was widespread abuse throughout the entire 138 school system – verbal, mental, emotional, physical and sexual.   Many children died from disease and other unknown (and frequently nefarious) causes.

I only mention this because, this horrendous part of our Canadian history, has no connection to Gravelbourg or the other French Catholic settlements in  the southwest corner of Saskatchewan.  There were no such schools in that area and no means by which people in that area (or their particular Catholic clergy) would have been privy to any knowledge of these schools until relatively recent history.

The  basic truth is that the Catholic church was instrumental in founding several communities across Canada.  They built and maintained hospitals, schools, and churches and provided the opportunity for settlers to build ‘communities‘ by hosting religious services and social events.  The church provided safety and refuge to French settlers, especially in this area, as they were often targeted for attack by local member of the Ku Klux Klan. These French settlers were typically honest, industrious, caring people who took care of their own and supported others – all others – in their communities. Which is, to this day, typical of their descendants.

Louis-Joseph Pierre Gravel – the founder of Gravelbourg
The beautiful Gravelbourg Cathedral.  Built in the early 1900’s it would have taken the dedication of the entire congregation to make this building a reality (especially in rural Saskatchewan).   The inside is amazing.  The parish priest, Monseineur Charles Maillard devoted ten years of his life to  painting the interior walls and ceilings.   Nowadays this Cathedral is frequently used for hosting ecumenical celebrations.
The bishop’s residence
The parish hall is not nearly as grand as other church buildings – but it holds many fond memories for the parish and for our family.  I remember taking my teenagers there for a humble soup and bread luncheon one Sunday morning (from Regina) as the proceeds went to charity.  However as always, with the amazing cooks in Gravelbourg, the meal was a feast by any standards 😂  And as always, my Mother and her friends were there to welcome us with open arms. 💞
The elementary school is a part of the Catholic heritage buildings site.
Close up of the elementary school to show a sample of the detail on these buildings.
These last three photos are of the College Mathieu site (as you drive into Gravelbourg). This building is the pool and recreation centre which is college property but available to the public.
This building is the college residence. Many of the students are from outside the Gravelbourg area.
This would be the actual college building.

The Town of Gravelbourg has a rich and magical history, of which the Catholic Church played a major part. I hope you enjoyed this short tour of the buildings that continue to stand at the heart of this unique community. Did you notice how well the grounds of all these buildings are kept up? It is the same throughout Gravelbourg – their parks, their streets, their graveyard. Everything is so well maintained and I don’t think we saw a piece of litter anywhere. It is an amazingly neat and tidy community.👍

I hope you are all enjoying this beautiful day. See you tomorrow 💕

Religion

I grew up in a French Catholic home.  Religion was a big part of our heritage and a big part of our daily life.   I left the church many years ago because I could no longer be a part of it.  At first I put my religion in the background, as my husband at the time had become  negative and disrespectful towards it.  I felt he was doing our children more harm than I was doing them good, by having religion in our lives.  Then, when I left my husband, I left the church completely because the powers that be frowned on divorce and I refused to be frowned upon for getting myself and my children out of a terrible and dangerous situation. I did the right thing, and to this day, I know what I did was the right thing.

I am hardly the only person who had  legitimate reasons for leaving the church.   There has been every type of abuse by clergy in the church and many who used their authority to support it and conceal it.    There is no denying this and there is no excusing it.   Victims need to be compensated and supported and abusers and their supporters need to be held accountable. 

It would seem that organized religion, especially the Catholic Church is a floundering institution which, at some point, will permanently drift into obscurity.  A lot of people would like to see this happen.  I am not one of them. Although I do wonder if it is beyond saving, I do feel that it is an institution that has always been worth saving and it grieves me that it probably will not happen.

Growing up, the Catholic Church was an important institution. I didn’t believe that it was ever infallible but I felt it was important in my life.

– We were fortunate to have dedicated priests and nuns serving our parish. I remember many of them today. They were a valued and respected part of our community and our lives.

– We were fortunate that we were taught basic morals and values – that we were taught rules that have helped us live good lives, rules that we could pass on to our children so they can live good lives.

– We were fortunate to have a strong sense of community. We celebrated births and we mourned deaths, together. We made time to gather every Sunday and many times in between. Our priest opened the church hall up to all of the teenagers in our small town (and surrounding areas). During the week we shot pool, played shuffleboard or table tennis, and practiced singing for our glee club. On weekends, we had dances which featured local aspiring bands. Father L’Heureux was our sole chaperone. I can only remember one incident. One young guy thought he would sneak in a mickey of alcohol. Father L’Heureux stepped in to escort him out and took a punch to the face. There was no blood but the good priest was not happy about having his cigar crushed. 😂

– We were fortunate to have many women (nuns) who devoted their lives to taking care of the sick and the elderly in homes and hospitals. These facilities were anticeptic, brilliantly, CLEAN. The food was nourishing and healing. The nursing was strict but compassionate . I spent a month in a public hospital a few years ago. I could not believe how we now treat our sick and suffering. The place was disgustingly dirty. The food was just plain disgusting. It was in no way edible, much less nourishing. Other than my cardiac specialist, who was amazing in every way, care and compassion was pretty much non-existent.

– We were fortunate to have a place to gather with others to experience a living faith. It was a moving and uplifting experience.

There were, and are, many positive contributions that religion, and specifically the Catholic Church made to society. There were a lot of truly dedicated and devoted clergy in the church who spent their lives serving others. I am so sorry that their lives and good deeds have been lost in the noise of the corruption that has rocked the church over the past few years. I am sorry for all that we have lost, especially since we have nothing of comparable value with which to replace it with.