The saga of the history of the Little Church continues, and it is getting a response all the way from Manitoba.
Dale Gavel was an assistant warden at the Drumheller Institution and president of the Chamber of Commerce. While he retired to Winnipeg, he still keeps up with the valley through reading www.drumhellermail.com, and emailed his friend Dorothy Bergos to offer some of his recollections.
He came to the valley in 1985 and took out his membership in the Chamber of Commerce in 1988. He was president of the Chamber in 1991, but believes that he was not president when it was completed. This leads him to conclude that it was rebuilt in 1990 when he recalled John Sparling was president.
A special supplement to The Drumheller Mail in 1990 commemorating the Tyrrell Museum attaining its “royal” status corroborates this conclusion. The Mail ran a story stating the reconstruction of the church took place in 1990.
“Jim Fisher was the Mayor at the time and the city looked after the disposal of the former church as well as the transportation and placement of the reconstructed church on site. The project itself wasn’t really a secret it just wasn’t advertised. Certainly, the staff at the Institution knew it was taking place, as did the chamber executive. But the day the exchange was done, it was with little fanfare. The old version was whisked away early in the morning and the new version was in place only a few hours later. The purpose of being discrete about the exchange was to avoid invoking any unnecessary controversy or emotion over one of Drumheller’s much loved landmarks,” Gavel said in his letter.
“The church was constructed in the vocational carpentry shop at the institution under the direction of instructor Joe Mergen. It was a good project for that shop as it enabled him to use it to teach framing and construction carpentry. Otherwise the shop was limited to much smaller projects.”
He recalls that Mergen apprenticed under the original creator of the church Tig Sealand. While he is not sure if the building they replaced in 1990 was the original, he said Mergen treated it as if it were Sealand’s work.
“(Mergen) treated the old Church as if it were the original, even to the point of going on his own time to measure every possible dimension of the building to ensure the replacement would be as exact a replica as possible. The steeple was too tall for the church to pass intact through the doorway from the shop to the truck so it had to be loaded in two pieces, with the steeple unattached. The steeple was later mounted on the main building after it was placed on site,” Gavel wrote.
The story of the Little Church also stirred up memories from Kris Kucher. She is the great grand daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frederic K. Smith, who donated the land on which the church sits. She recalls helping her great aunt, Shirley Campbell and my mother Doreen McLellan clean the church. It was closed three or four time a week for cleaning and the women would dust, sweep and wipe the walls, clean the glass and scrub the floors.
In her correspondence, she acknowledges the church underwent a couple restorations. She says the first was in 1980 by Garry Nargang and Peter Boldt. She also remembers the second restoration, and while her date of 1984-1985 does not correspond with Gavel’s recollections, the overnight demolition and reconstruction seems familiar.
“We the family were well aware that the church was demolished and replaced overnight (under the supervision of Dale Gavel) but were asked not to reveal this secret,” she said.
One piece of the history that Gavel laments is the loss of the church bell.
“The bell was donated by the CPR and fitted perfectly into the scale of the church. Before leaving Drumheller, I had heard that the disappearance of the bell wasn’t just another act of vandalism, and the Lord knows there were many of those. Apparently the bell was “borrowed” and is in good condition, residing somewhere not far from the site of the church. It would be wonderful if the “borrower” would one day find it in his/her heart to find a discrete way to return it to the Chamber so it could again adorn the Little Church and charm its many visitors,” he writes.