The First Catholics
in the Bow Valley
The first mass near Banff was held at 3:00 am on the morning of October 10, 1833 by Father Francois Blanchet and Father Modeste Demers, from Quebec. They were hired by the Hudson's Bay Company to give masses for their employees.
Jesuit Missionary Father Pierre de Smet crossed into the Spray Lakes valley in 1845. During his brief stay there, he baptized six children and one elderly man whom he also buried according to Catholic burial traditions. These were the first baptisms and Catholic burial to take place in what would one day become the Diocese of Calgary and the Catholic parish of Canmore.
The history of Canmore is inextricably tied to the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Without the forward push of the railroad through the mountains and the subsequent discovery of coal reserves, the town would not have come into existence. And if there had been no workers to lay the iron rails, there would have been no “Chaplains of the Line”, those intrepid and hardy missionaries who ministered to the spiritual needs of first the labourers and then the coal miners and their families who settled in the valley.
In the late 1800's, Canmore had a population of between 200 and 300 people. Most were coal miners and their families, and about 90 of these were Catholics. At this time the residents decided to have their own church, and with the help of the Congregation of Oblates of Mary Immaculate, built the church in one month.
On November 19, 1893, the first Catholic church was blessed by Father Joseph Lestanc, who was the Oblate Superior at Calgary and Administrator of the diocese of St. Albert. It was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and Father Comire and Brother Brochart, who had worked on the building, assisted at the dedication.
As time went on, Sacred Heart Church eventually owned much of the 800 block on the 7th Street of Canmore.. On the west side of the first church was the church hall, and on the east side was Mount Carmel Convent, then St. Martha’s House, where the Sisters of St. Martha lived until 1961. The original church building was used for sixty-seven years, until October 23, 1960.
Our Second Church
During 1958-9, the Parish Council decided it was time for a new church building; construction began on April 9, 1960 and was complete in six months. The construction of the new church was a model of community cooperation. Local construction companies and workers provided machinery for digging foundations, hauling gravel, pouring concrete, installing insulation. The volunteers included not only parishioners, but also townspeople of other denominations and were organized into four teams of ten men each. Each team worked in rotation on a five-day week of evening shifts from 6-10 p.m. The Catholic Women’s League provided refreshments. The workers also built a rectory adjoining the church and a parking lot on the east side. Completed at a cost of about $15,000, the new church and rectory at its opening on October 23, 1960, was debt free.
Bishop Carroll blessed the church under the title of the Sacred Heart, assisted by Father Malo, who was the celebrant of the first Mass to be offered in the church. The church contained wooden Stations of the Cross and two statues made by craftsmen near Turin in Northern Italy; the marble of the baptismal font is also Italian. These items will be brought to our new church building….
As the century closed, the population of Sacred Heart Parish began to outstrip the church built in 1960. In 1972, the Sacred Heart congregation incorporated 175 registered families. By 1997, it embraced 300 families and at one point over 400. On August 1, 2001, the Calgary Diocese “twinned” Sacred Heart parish with St. Mary’s in Banff and the new name for the Parish, incorporating the two churches, was Our Lady of the Rockies Parish. In 2015, Bishop Frederick Henry decided to separate the two parishes once again, to better provide pastoral care of souls expanding a wide area of the Bow Valley. The Canmore Church retained the title Our Lady of the Rockies Parish, while the Banff Church went back to its original title of The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As Canmore became a tourist destination, coupled with the growing population, the parish outgrew its physical setting and it became necessary to build a new church once again. With the donation of the land on Palliser Trail, construction of the new church building could begin.
Our Present Church
We had the groundbreaking mass for the new Shrine, onsite on June 25, 2017. Construction took three years, during which time we sold the old church and lots and celebrated mass in Our Lady of the Snows school gymnasium.
On May 30, 2020, Bishop McGrattan dedicated the new building to Our Lady of the Rockies. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, only clergy were in attendance. By June 1, 2020 we moved into the Shrine Church.