Edmonton, Alberta, is home to a rich tapestry of historical and architecturally significant churches, each with its unique story to tell.
From the grandeur of St. Joseph’s Basilica to the cultural significance of the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, these religious landmarks not only bear witness to the city’s spiritual evolution but also provide a glimpse into its cultural and architectural heritage.
In this exploration of Edmonton’s historical churches, we will embark on a journey through time and faith, delving into the historical narratives that have shaped these sacred places.
From the stunning St. Josaphat Cathedral to the resilient Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, we will uncover the unique attributes that make each of these churches a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts, architecture aficionados, and those seeking a deeper understanding of Edmonton’s diverse spiritual landscape.
Join us as we step inside the hallowed walls of these remarkable churches, where history, culture, and spirituality converge. If you want to learn about the other historical buildings of Edmonton, we have another article.
St. Josaphat Cathedral
St. Josaphat Cathedral, located in McCauley, Edmonton, Alberta, is a remarkable testament to Ukrainian Catholic heritage and Byzantine Rite church architecture in Canada.
As the seat of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton since 1948, the cathedral holds a central place in the hearts of its parishioners and the community.
This architectural gem graces 18 city lots in the McCauley neighborhood and is a living heritage site known for its seven striking domes, an elegant columned entry portico, and a distinctive red brick veneer adorned with dark brick pilasters and inlaid cream-colored crosses.
The parish’s roots date back to 1902, with a small log church constructed in 1904. However, it was the design by Reverend Philip Ruh in 1938 that brought the grand cathedral into existence. Reverend Ruh, an Oblate missionary from Belgium, artfully blended elements of Ukrainian Baroque with Western European influences to create a uniquely Canadian architectural style called the “Prairie Cathedral.”
Although height restrictions influenced its construction due to the Edmonton City Centre Airport, the cathedral still stands as one of the most elaborate Ukrainian churches in Alberta, representing a remarkable example of Ukrainian-Canadian ecclesiastical architecture.
Over the years, the cathedral’s interior has been adorned with murals, frescos, and icons, under the guidance of Professor Julian Bucmaniuk. The cathedral’s iconic iconostasis was erected in 1968, contributing to the church’s spiritual richness and cultural significance.
In recognition of its historical and architectural importance, St. Josaphat Cathedral was designated a Provincial Historic Resource by Alberta in 1983 and a Municipal Historic Resource by the City of Edmonton in 2015.
Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples
The Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, a Roman Catholic church in Edmonton, has a rich history that intertwines faith, community service, and cultural inclusivity.
The church originally opened as Sacred Heart Church in 1913 to cater to Edmonton’s burgeoning population. In addition to its spiritual role, it played a unique role in nurturing various immigrant Catholic parishes in the city.
Throughout the years, it supported Italian (Santa Maria Goretti), Spanish (Our Lady of Guadalupe), Portuguese (Our Lady of Fatima), and Croatian (Nativity of Mary) national parishes, helping them gather resources to build their own places of worship.
In the early 1990s, the church underwent a significant transformation. Facing an aging congregation and declining attendance, it found a new purpose in serving Edmonton’s growing urban Indigenous population.
On October 27, 1991, Archbishop Joseph MacNeil declared it a First Nations, Métis, and Inuit national parish, marking the first of its kind in Canada. The church’s interior became adorned with Indigenous symbolism, and various murals and artworks by Indigenous artists found a place in the nave.
The church has been a compassionate presence in downtown Edmonton, providing free community meals, running a food bank, and offering funerals at no cost for those in need.
Former pastor Jim Holland played a pivotal role in revitalizing the parish, recognized with a street being named “Father Jim Holland Way.” His legacy continued with the arrival of Father Susai Jesu, an Indigenous ministry specialist.
Despite a fire in 2020, the church remained committed to its mission, and the restoration was completed just in time for Pope Francis’ visit in 2022.
The McDougall United Church
McDougall United Church, located in Downtown Edmonton, has a rich history and plays a crucial role in the community.
It was founded as a Methodist church in the 1840s when Methodist missionaries like Robert Rundle and Peter Campbell arrived in Alberta. George McDougall, a significant figure, established a school in 1871 to teach English to the children of Hudson’s Bay Company employees, addressing the linguistic diversity of the time.
The McDougall family, renowned for their missionary work, contributed to the spread of Methodism in the region by establishing missions in Pakan and Morley. The church, originally built in 1892 and named “McDougall Church” in honor of George McDougall, was replaced by the current brick building in 1910, dedicated to George McDougall.
The church, officially designated as an important historical building, reflects Roman architecture influenced by Renaissance Revival, featuring notable elements like the Italianate turret and bell tower.
As a spiritual center, McDougall United Church serves as the longest-standing Protestant congregation in Alberta, actively engaging in charitable work to support the homeless and underprivileged through organizations like the Bissell Centre and e4c.
The church promotes inclusivity, welcoming newcomers and the LGBTQ community, with a mission to share the unconditional love of God.
McDougall also functions as a cultural hub, offering excellent acoustics for various concerts and artistic gatherings. It hosts events such as Choir Alberta, the Kiwanis Music Festival, and the Alberta Music Festival, and is home to the Kokopelli Choir. The McDougall Concert Association arranges free noon-time classical music concerts, contributing to the vibrant arts community in the area.
With its rich history, welcoming atmosphere, and cultural contributions, McDougall United Church remains an inspirational symbol in Edmonton’s downtown core.
Robertson-Wesley United Church
Robertson-Wesley United Church, situated just west of downtown Edmonton in the Oliver neighborhood, holds a rich history and a vital place in the community.
This congregation, part of the United Church of Canada, was officially formed in 1971 as a result of the merger of two predecessor churches, Robertson United Church and Wesley United Church. The unified congregation adopted the Robertson United Church building as its new home.
The church building itself is a striking example of High Victorian Gothic Revival architecture. It boasts a barrel-vaulted ceiling, curved pews, and exceptional acoustics, making it a unique and cherished place of worship.
The history of Robertson-Wesley United Church traces back to the early 20th century. Robertson Presbyterian Church, founded in 1909, emerged from First Presbyterian Church and later joined the United Church of Canada in 1925, changing its name to Robertson United Church.
Meanwhile, Wesley Methodist Church, established in 1907, was the fourth Methodist church on the north side of the North Saskatchewan River. In 1925, it also voted to join the United Church of Canada, becoming Wesley United Church.
In 1971, these two historic congregations, Robertson United and Wesley United, joined forces to create Robertson-Wesley United Church. This consolidation led to a harmonious blend of traditions and a commitment to serving the community, with a particular focus on community development and outreach.
All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral
All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral, a prominent Canadian cathedral, plays a vital role in serving the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. As the episcopal seat of the Bishop of Edmonton, it holds a rich history that dates back to its inception in 1875.
The Anglican Parish of All Saints was founded by William Newton, a dedicated Anglican missionary who arrived in Edmonton in September 1875. Initially gathering in a modest log cabin at the junction of present-day Jasper Avenue and 121st Street, the parish thrived and, by 1895, necessitated a new place of worship.
A church was built on 103rd Street, but financial constraints led to the completion of only half of the original plans. Substantial renovations took place in 1905 to realize the full design.
In 1914, the newly appointed Bishop of Edmonton, H. A. Gray, designated All Saints as the pro-cathedral of the diocese. However, a fire in 1919 resulted in the destruction of the church, leaving only the outer walls standing. Undeterred, the pro-cathedral was reconstructed on the same site.
The present cathedral, completed in 1956, was granted permanent cathedral status and is a splendid example of modern yet conservative architecture. It boasts an inviting interior with a warm, light-brick finish, contrasting with elegant copper pillars that are, in fact, steel supports encased in copper.
The cathedral’s design prioritizes the congregation’s view of the proceedings and offers a tasteful and unadorned atmosphere. The cathedral’s rich history, resilient spirit, and enduring beauty make it a significant place of worship and a cultural icon in the heart of Edmonton.
The First Presbyterian Church
The First Presbyterian Church in Edmonton, is a remarkable example of Gothic Revival architecture with a rich history.
Established in 1881, the congregation’s first church building appeared at 104 Street and 99 Avenue within a year, reflecting its rapid growth. Another significant milestone occurred in 1902 when the congregation unveiled its second structure at 103 Street and Jasper Avenue.
However, the pinnacle of its history arrived in 1912 when the present-day building was completed, showcasing splendid Gothic Revival architecture. This magnificent structure stands proudly in the heart of Edmonton, a beacon of faith and community.
In September 1978, the church was recognized for its historical and architectural importance, designated a Provincial Historic Resource.
Notably, the church boasts a significant musical heritage, featuring a Casavant organ originally built in 1909. This remarkable instrument underwent extensive revisions and renovations, culminating in a $300,000 restoration project in 2007. The church now hosts numerous organ concerts, sharing the captivating sounds of this beautifully restored musical treasure with the community.
Today, the First Presbyterian Church remains a place of worship, music, and community, upholding its rich history and dedication to Edmonton’s cultural and spiritual landscape.
St. Joseph’s Basilica
St. Joseph’s Cathedral Basilica, located in Edmonton, serves as the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton. With seating for approximately 1,100 people, it stands as the sole minor basilica in Western Canada.
The basilica is known for its remarkable architectural design, particularly its exquisite stained glass windows that depict the Twelve Apostles, characters from the Old Testament, and scenes from the Bible. These windows not only add to the basilica’s architectural grandeur but also create a spiritual ambiance.
The basilica’s history dates back to 1913, when the necessity for a new English-speaking parish arose. However, it wasn’t until 1963 that the cathedral officially opened its doors on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
The distinction of being named a minor basilica came just before a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1984, recognizing the enduring commitment of early missionaries and the diocese’s faithful. It was also the first church west of Manitoba to receive this prestigious title.
Despite facing challenges, including a fire that temporarily suspended its open-door policy, the cathedral endures as a spiritual sanctuary and a symbol of unwavering faith within the community.
Over the years, it has welcomed a diverse congregation, making it a place of devotion and an emblem of inclusivity in the heart of Edmonton. Today, St. Joseph’s Cathedral Basilica stands as a living testament to the rich history and deep spirituality of the Catholic community in the region.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
The Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, also known as St. John Cathedral, holds a special place in the heart of Edmonton. It is not merely a place of worship but also the episcopal throne of the Bishop of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada.
The journey of this cathedral began on November 11, 1923, when the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox parish of Saint John the Baptist was organized in Edmonton.
The parish’s establishment was closely tied to the founding of the Ukrainian Orthodox Brotherhood during a meeting at the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Institute in Edmonton, where passionate speeches by Petro Zvarych and Yuri Dragan played a pivotal role.
The cornerstone of the current cathedral, located at 107 Street and 110 Avenue, was blessed on May 7, 1950, marking the beginning of construction. In April 1951, the parish was formally incorporated under the name “The Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Parish of St. John in Edmonton.”
A significant milestone occurred in 1959 when the parish was designated the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Parish of Saint John, serving as the cathedral seat for Bishop Andrew (Metiuk) and future bishops of Edmonton in the Western Eparchy.
In addition to its spiritual significance, St. John’s Cultural Centre was established in 1965, with subsequent additions and renovations, including the Solarium in 2001. This multi-purpose facility caters to the congregation’s needs, various Ukrainian associations, and the broader community, hosting events such as weddings, banquets, seminars, workshops, and conferences.