It took a year to gather the photos for this post, largely due to my own confusion about two churches named St. Michaels.
I stopped in Gardenton, a tiny town in southern Manitoba, just over the international border from Minnesota, because I had been photographing some places in Tolstoi, which is just a short distance away. I hadn’t done much pre-planning or research on Gardenton, but I was pleased to discover some abandoned places I could shoot.
Exploring Gardenton, I came across the beautiful St. Michael’s Ukrainian and Greek Orthodox Church, and although it was obviously not abandoned, I took the time to take some photos of this well-cared for house of worship, because one of the only things I love to photograph as much as abandoned places is churches, abandoned or not.
Gardenton is right on the fringe of the Canadian Shield, and straddles the transition between the prairie and the forest. Drive a half hour west and you’re on the Great Plains with barely a tree in sight. Go east instead and you’ll find yourself in a vast temperate forest.
As I left Gardenton to head home for the day, I passed a sign on the side of the road that pointed the way to a historic site — St. Michael’s Ukrainian and Greek Orthodox Church. I was not familiar with the area, so I assumed the sign was pointing down a road that would simply lead me back to the church I had just left. When I got home, I discovered I was mistaken, and that I had missed out on the original St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church. So nearly a year later, I returned, in May of 2016, to photograph this amazing place.
This St. Michael’s has no fewer than three commemorative plaques on-site, and each of them describes this church in similar, but slightly different, terms. It is described as the “first permanent Ukrainian church erected in Canada,” with the word “permanent” as a key qualification, the “first Greek Orthodox church in Canada,” and the “oldest existing Ukrainian Church” in Canada.
The plaque shown above reads:
“Constructed in 1899, this church is a fine early example of Ukrainian ecclesiastical architecture in Canada. Its distinctive massing, plan and bulbous cupolas reflect the Byzantine-influenced architectural heritage of the homeland of the settlers in the region. The traditional free-standing bell tower was built in 1906, and like the church, is distinguished by the high quality of its wooden craftsmanship. Built by the first generation of Ukrainians to arrive in Canada, St. Michael’s served as an affirmation of their cultural identity and remains today as Canada’s oldest existing Ukrainian church.”
Although there aren’t regular services here anymore, St. Michaels is still frequently used, and there is a modern building on-site that looks like it could be a kitchen for special gatherings. There is also a gazebo and beautiful cemetery.
A concrete slab had been recently poured on the day I visited, for something new, near the cemetery.
See more of historic St. Michael’s.
Photos by Troy Larson, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media