February 20th, 2020

Heritage in the Hat: The fourth pillar

By Malcolm Sissons on September 7, 2019.


The four downtown churches have long been pillars of our community: St. John’s, Fifth Avenue, St. Patrick’s and St. Barnabas. Three of the four are protected by historic designations and as for St. Barnabas, the congregation has long cherished and maintained its church building.

St. Barnabas Anglican Church has continuously served the social and religious needs of Medicine Hat’s Anglican community for over a century. In 1883, the Provincial Synod authorized the formation of a new Diocese, Qu’Appelle, in western Canada; Medicine Hat was located on the western boundary of the new Diocese. Until land could be procured and a church constructed, services were held in St. John’s Presbyterian Church.

In 1886, on three lots of land purchased from the CPR, the first incarnation of St. Barnabas was constructed. The one-storey, side gabled wooden church with a square bell tower served Medicine Hat’s early Anglican community until 1911, when it was torn down to make way for the new church. A cemetery was located west of the church.

Construction of the new St. Barnabas was fraught with problems. The commission was originally awarded to the Regina architectural firm of Clemesha & Coltman; however, their design was deemed too costly and rejected by the church’s Building Committee. In June of 1911, American architect James Calloway Teague submitted a proposal for the new church, which was not to exceed the sum of $25,000. Teague’s proposal was accepted, and the redesigned church went to tender in March of 1912. Ironically, the cost of the re-designed church was $40,000, exceeding the cost of Clemesha & Coltmans’ design by $15,000.

Construction of the new church by Lussier Construction Co. began in the summer of 1912 and the first service was held on Dec. 12 of that same year. The church was constructed using locally manufactured brick from Redcliff Premier Brick and local Bedford Quarry sandstone. It featured a prominent square tower with crenellated parapet, dormers with half-timbering and stucco cladding, muscular pressed brick buttresses, exaggerated whalebone bargeboards, exposed notched rafter tails, and pointed arch tracery stained glass windows.

The interior of the church exhibits a strong sense of British history as evidenced through its dark wood panelling, exposed wooden roof arches and beams, and numerous regimental flags hanging in the sanctuary. A number of stained-glass windows from the original wooden church were incorporated into the new design, including two small lancet windows commemorating the tragic death of two young boys in a prairie blizzard.

The substantial size and quality of the 1912 church reflects the rapid growth of the congregation and mirrors the successful development of Medicine Hat during the Edwardian era. Subsequent additions reflect the ongoing needs of the expanding congregation. St. Barnabas is an important anchor of downtown Medicine Hat and its history is that of our community.

Malcolm Sissons is a member of the Heritage Resources Committee of the City of Medicine Hat and this column relied upon research by its consultants, Luxton and Associates.

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