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 💕