Published: February 24, 2012
By ANDREW JOHNSON
THE spire of Holy Trinity Church marks out a tiny pocket of civilisation in the vast emptiness of Saskatchewan in central Canada.
To the 19th-century European fur trappers who managed to traverse the hundreds of miles of nothingness – and endured the sort of winter that freezes water in a glass almost as soon as it’s poured – the graceful white lines and dainty columns must have been a welcoming sight as it hove into view around the bend of the Churchill River; for the promise of supplies at the Hudson Bay Company Trading Post, if nothing else.
For the writer Margaret Hryniuk, who lives 400 miles away in Regina – still in Saskatchewan – the spire presents a tantalising mystery, however.
She is almost sure it is was inspired by St Mary’s Church in Upper Street, Angel.
Holy Trinity was built by an English missionary, Robert Hunt, between 1854 and 1860, with the help of just one “country carpenter” and a few aborigines he had converted to Christianity and taught to use a whiplash saw.
Building it must have been an enormously laborious task, but the result, Ms Hryniuk says, is the most accomplished and beautiful church in the province, as well as the oldest building.
The spire also bears an uncanny resemblance to that of St Mary’s, almost 100 years its senior. Ms Hryniuk, who is writing a book about the churches in Saskatchewan, is almost convinced Holy Trinity is based on St Mary’s. Her problem is that there are no records or plans of Holy Trinity, so it can’t be proved.
What is known for sure, however, is that Hunt spent three years training at the Church Missionary Society, then based a few streets from St Mary’s in College Cross.
It is more than likely that while there he worshipped at St Mary’s, according to the Rev Simon Harvey, the current vicar at St Mary’s. “The church and college had very strong links,” he said. “College students would certainly have worshipped here.”
“We have a big mystery at Holy Trinity,” Ms Hryniuk continues. “It was up there in the northern part of the province and the population is very sparse up there. It’s the wonder of Stanley, but where did the spire come from? There are no plans, but one must have existed. Hunt only had a country carpenter and only did a little bit of carpentry himself. It’s hard to understand how he could do it.”
Hunt and his wife Georgina arrived in Saskatchewan in 1850, determined to save the souls of the aboriginal peoples there, then known as the Woodland Cree.
Ms Hryniuk, 72, a former journalist on her local paper, The Regina Leader-Post, explained that the main settlement of Stanley Mission – named after Stanley Park in Gloucestershire, where Hunt’s wife grew up – was originally clustered around the church but is now across the river where the Hudson Bay Company established its trading post.
Georgina came from a wealthy family, and it is likely that she bankrolled the church – built in the English Gothic revival style. “The two spires do look very similar,” she said. “There’s a Canadian art historian, Malcolm Thurlby, who was bowled over by the church because it’s almost a perfect representation of that style –1850 is really early for us. That’s why we prize this church. The railroad didn’t get to my part of Saskatchewan until 1882 so it wasn’t until then that people really started coming. Before that the southern part was pretty much empty apart from aboriginals. Most of the people were in the north as that is where all the trapping was going on.
“Missionaries who trained at Church Mission went all over the world,” she continued. “Hunt and his wife were very zealous. The hardship they endured is unimaginable because our winters are almost unbearable even in a house with central heating. But they went through one winter living in a tent. I don’t know how they did it. They were saving souls and that’s what drove them.”