The McDougall Memorial United Church remains in ruins just beyond the tent housing the annual spring service at the historic site, yet you feel assured a phoenix will rise from the ashes.
The June 10 service was a celebration in stories and songs that spoke to faith, unity, rejuvenation and reconciliation with the underlining theme of moving forward together into the future.
Tammy Love, a board member of the McDougall Stoney Mission Society, says the long-held tradition of the service brings people together.
"Together, we're just trying to bring two communities back together as a family and what that looks like--honouring the past but moving forward into the future," says Love. "It's cool to see families looking at pictures and saying, 'Hey that was my grandmother on the wall here and she attended here', It's really cool to see the different generations come back together."
For John McDougall, a descendant of Rev. George McDougall and a board member of the society, says two projects have been approved by the Alberta Government to determine the future of the site. One is to collect, clean, categorize and inventory the timbers and materials from the church, then determine what can be done with them. The main timbers from the structure date back to 1875 while other materials were added during a major renovation in the 50s. Secondly, an archeological survey is being completed.
That and further discussion by the board and a consultation with the Stoney Nakoda Nation are just a starting point.
"We're really at the first stage of it by just getting these first two projects approved and it will probably be next year when we decide what can actually happen."
The church remains dear to the McDougall family. His 20-year-old daughter, he pointed out, was baptized at the church and as recent as two weekends ago they came to participate in a botanical walk
"We're quite pleased. The board has gone out of its way to put on more events during the summer. I think that everyone is trying to get more access to and interest in the site. "
Many others spoke and sang. Phil Jones performed his original composition "Winds of Change" and used the analogy of how fire releases the seeds of pine combs to regenerate a forest. Chris Twoyoungmen spoke of how he rediscovered himself through faith. Wayne Hoist lead an opening prayer, Patrick Twoyoungmen offered a closing prayer in Stoney and 11-year-old Jamie gave a scripture reading. Colin and Mark O'Neal also performed a selection of songs and two hymns were sung. lead by Susan Rau.
Guest speaker Holly Fortier, well-known for her indigenous advocacy, acting and volunteerism, spoke of the lead up to the creation of the Indian Act of 1876 and the dire and tragic consequences it held for the Indigenous people of Canada that still resonate today. Yet she held out hope for the future with the 94 actions called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the apologies received from the Canadian government for abuse and the profound cultural loss.
"What is happening here today at this moment, on this land, with these two groups of people--our Indigenous Canadians and all other Canadians--this is reconciliation."
Vic Epp has many great memories from visiting the site for the last 30 years and he read an excerpt from a letter from George McDougall from November 1875 speaking of the early days of the mission.
"That was in 1875 and here we are standing in the same spot and we're continuing to carry out the vision of our forefathers. it's exciting. But as we look to the future and the work ahead it's not the overwhelming side but rather a chance to embrace the opportunity to participate as George would say, 'As the Lord gives us strength and direction'."
For the last few years, there have been heightened summer programs at the historic site and this year is no different. Many pertain to the history of Morleyville and the Indigenous culture, but there are also art sales, workshops and a chance to explore and understand the natural features of the area.
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