Driving north of Winnipeg on Highway 9, one might just miss seeing St Paul’s Middlechurch with its quaint cemetery in an idyllic setting in the busting and ever expanding community of West St. Paul. This little church situated a few hundred meters from the Red River on Balderstone Road has more ties to Manitoba’s rich history than one would think.
The event that helped shape the future of St Paul’s Middlechurch and a large portion of Winnipeg’s current religious worship was a meeting with Lord Selkirk and his settlers in 1817. It was then he promised them “a minister of their own faith” which was to be a Presbyterian who spoke Gaelic. Instead, in 1820, Rev. John West came to the Red River Settlement. He was an Anglican and spoke no Gaelic, but made great strides to include the Presbyterian beliefs. He omitted several parts of the Book of Common Prayer that were offensive to them and began building a community of faith by holding regular prayer meetings.
His successor, Rev. David Jones, came to the settlement in 1823; it is this man who is credited with the building of the first church. Help in his project was received from Governor Simpson, the Hudson’s Bay Company and the local settlers. A small wooden church was built and opened for its first service January 30, 1825 with a congregation of mixed races and faiths in the district that was commonly referred to as Image Plains. It was known as “The Middle Church” because it was located between St. John’s and St. Andrews on the Red. Damaged by flood in 1826 and 1852, it was first replaced by a large structure in 1844 and was consecrated St. Paul’s on January 6, 1853. By 1867 the church had to be torn down because of a weakened structure damaged by the previous flood.. It wasn’t until 1876 when a building committee was formed for a new church. The new church was completed around 1880.
A Lytch Gate, built by the boys of the Indian School circa 1890, stands on the grounds of the church. It was once used as a stopping place during funerals for the pallbearers to rest the coffin until it was time to enter the church or graveyard.
Through the years, St Paul’s went through lean and prosperous times. During its time of growth, the church was moved in 1966 onto the current basement and the interior was completely renovated. In 2003 an addition was built onto the back of the church. This addition allowed for a new office, storage space in the basement, and the possibility to build a lift for wheelchair access. As of yet, we have not built a lift.
As we near our 200th Anniversary in 2025, we are in a rebuilding phase as there are only eleven families who are attending at least twice a month. Our drop in numbers are due to parishioners moving away, passing away, being placed in personal are homes, and not committed to attend. With the arrival of our new minister, James, we hope our numbers will be reinvigorated.
Despite our low numbers, we still try to reach out to our community and beyond to spread our Christian goodwill. Our Cemetery Committee oversees 25 to 35 funerals per year. Our cemetery caters to all faiths. We have section of 40 plots set out for the Yasidi Community and also take care of the unclaimed bodies from the Public Trustee of Manitoba. Our parishioners also support the Ugandan Orphans Fund, 1 Just City, St Matthews Food Bank, and Thrive.
We look forward with refreshed enthusiasm that our partnership with the Church of the Ascension and our new incumbent, James, will enhance everyone’s faith and numbers.