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The Renewal of Chapelle St. Thérèse

by André de Leyssac

Manitoba History, Number 20, Autumn 1990

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

The following remarks were given by Dr. Andre de Leyssac at the formal inauguration of the restoration of the Chapelle St. Therese in the town of Cardinal, Manitoba, located just west of Carman. The building will be placed on a new foundation on its original site immediately behind the present one.

On May 27, 1990 a sunny Sunday afternoon, a sod turning ceremony took place in Cardinal to inaugurate the restoration work to be done on the local church. For this small town the importance of the day was evidenced by the number of people present including the Honourable Denis Rocan, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and Mr. Gerald Badiou, Councillor for the Municipality of Lorne.

Chapelle St. Thérèse de Cardinal, July 1989.
Source: Historic Resources Branch

Indeed, this event had great symbolic importance because it strengthened the ties between the past and the present. More than a half century ago, a similar ceremony started the building of the church amid great enthusiasm among the participants, an enthusiasm worthy of builders of cathedrals. As well, the original construction of the church marked the end of a long battle which featured difficulties similar to those encountered in the attempt to preserve this building.

Let us reconstruct together the struggle which must have taken place between the years 1900 and 1935, and which did not pass without amusing episodes. We’ll assume that we find ourselves in Cardinal, Manitoba in the year 1920. Cardinal is a little village located a few kilometres south of Notre Dame de Lourdes which is an older town created by a religious congregation.

Cardinal, it seems, is a village which at this time is developing faster than many of its neighbouring villages. The Canadian National Railway has been established. As in other prosperous towns we have a grain elevator. We also have several stores. Our school was built even before Notre’s. Everything is going well for the residents of Cardinal until they decide that a church is needed. It is at this point that problems begin to surface. The clergy of Notre Dame opposes the building of a church by their neighbours. The residents of Cardinal are not discouraged. They form an association whose purpose is to gather funds to pay for the building.

Interior, Chapelle St. Thérèse, July 1989.
Source: Historic Resources Branch

For several years they organize fund raising activities to achieve their goal. Finally in 1927 the construction commences with the zealous support of builders like Theophile Toutant, Cyprien Cardinal, Jean-Baptiste Chateau, Lucien Vigier, Joseph Schumacher and other devoted persons. The church is built. Its towering steeple rises proudly towards the sky. In 1929 the construction is completed.

Unfortunately this period of prosperity did not last. In 1959 the CN Railway eliminated passenger service to Cardinal. Shortly thereafter the railway line was abandoned. The CN did this without warning, without compensation to a small village which would hurt badly as a result. The CNR would ruin a population which had worked so hard for her. As if this was not enough, the next year the ecclesiastical authorities closed the church, without however, removing its altar, its possessions or its fixtures.

All these events have not prevented the link of the past and the present to be rejoined. For the past year descendants of the first builders and residents of Cardinal have grouped to form a committee to save the church as a legacy of the past. Like their predecessors, they launched a fund raising campaign, appealed to the generosity of the community and gathered funds, not to construct anew, but to save this building which has now been declared a Municipal Heritage Site.

Construction of Chapelle St. Thérèse de Cardinal, circa 1925.
Source: Historic Resources Branch

It is encouraging to note that the fundraising campaign is well on its way to success. This is partly due to the Notre Dame Historical Society which sponsored the project, the Manitoba Historical Society, the grants received from the Manitoba Department of Culture, Heritage and Recreation, the Manitoba Heritage Federation, the Thomas Sill Foundation and the generosity of residents through donations and volunteer work.

As in the day of construction in 1927, this project has experienced some moments which were difficult and at other times somewhat amusing. A few years ago we were not entirely surprised to see our possessions disappear slowly, the church bell among others. However, due to a strong determination and good will, the newer generation continues the task started by our ancestors. The sod turning will now be done. The task will be completed. It is sincerely hoped that the building, once renovated, will merit the distinction which it has the privilege of receiving, that of being the first building to receive the designation of a Municipal Heritage Site in the Municipality of Lorne. Bravo Cardinal!

Page revised: 20 December 2011

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