Over 125 years ago Ukrainians came to Canada with hopes, dreams and their faith – a constant source of meaning, purpose and community.
Those pioneers who settled in Smoky Lake, Alberta established St. Onuphrius Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1907.The one in the museum today, built in 1914, was the first of close to 40 Ukrainian Churches in western Canada, designed and constructed by Father Ruh.
It was the new spiritual home of the community, and which reconnected those pioneers with their homeland; simultaneously it also ensured a sense of purpose and belonging in Canada. This was not only a place of worship, but a gathering place for the community to share in the many joys and struggles of life in a new country.
The congregation moved to a larger church and the last Mass celebrated in St. Onuphrius was held in 1964. What has been left is not a shell existing in the mists of the past, but a living memory – St. Onuphrius is a living tradition, which mirrors all Ukrainian-Canadians – stalwart and timeless, finding a new place in history while never forgetting its roots.
Back in the 1990s’s St. Onuphrius was selected by the Government of Canada to represent all pioneer Ukrainian Catholic Churches in western Canada. The congregation donated St. Onuphrius Church and in 1994 it was deconsecrated, dismantled piece by piece, and then rebuilt and re-consecrated in Gatineau, Quebec at the Museum of Civilization (currently the Canadian Museum of History). The church has been meticulously preserved both structurally and spiritually, and was reassembled in the Museum, complete with all its ritual objects, religious ornamentation and fixtures.
St. Onuphrius is a story of transformation, renewal and revival. This prairie church is now a window into the past, a bridge between those early settlers who gave it life and their descendants who come to visit it now.
You can visit the church of St. Onuphrius in the Canadian History Hall at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa, Ontario. It opens to the public July 1, 2017, for the 150th anniversary of the Confederation – step inside and revisit the echoes of Alberta’s prairies and the whispered prayers of Ukrainian pioneers.