Our Historic Heritage Church

The Parish of St. James

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The old church in the cemetery across from Polo Park Shopping Centre is not just a quaint place to visit, it is also an important piece of Winnipeg’s (and Manitoba’s) history. It is from this church that the community developing around it took its name.

The Parish of St. James was founded June 17, 1851 on a provisional land grant from the Hudson Bay Company to serve settlers, military pensioners, and retired HBC personnel. Early notes indicated that it extended for seven miles along the Assiniboine River, but checking the maps it is actually four miles from the Forks,  and covered 284.4 acres.

Rev. W. H. Taylor was the first rector and is the person who gave the name of St. James to the new parish, in the district of Assiniboia. (Read about Saint James the Apostle. )

The site of the church is near an old Aboriginal Burial Ground. This spot was chosen because there was a ford nearby for people living on the south side of the Assiniboine River to cross over, and because the land had never been flooded. In fact, during the great flood of 1852, settlers camped here to escape the waters, and the rectory that had already been built acted as a refuge for others. The original timbers were washed away, and new lumber had to be rafted down from Baie St. Paul, to be hand-hewn and fitted into place by volunteers from the parish.

Originally, there was a tower at the front of the church, but it was removed in 1871 due to structural problems with its foundation. During the ‘Riel Rebellion’ of 1869-70, it was used as a Watch Tower from which riders could be seen approaching from Portage la Prairie to attempt to free Riel’s prisoners.

This original church served as the centre of parish life until November 26, 1922 when the new church opened. In 1936 the Heritage Church was condemned; annual services were held on the cemetery grounds to fulfill the spirit of the original land grant and to keep the ground as an ecclesiastic site. The City of St. James and the parish restored the building in 1967, as a Canadian Centennial project, and it was re-dedicated on June 21, 1967. ( For the many visitors who’ve been asking: restoration mainly involved the structure beneath the church, to make the foundation sound, as well as general repairs and appearance. The ceiling and the hardwood floors are ‘original’ in that they were added as improvements while the church was still in use, in Victorian times, probably around the turn of the 19th-20th centuries.)

The Heritage Church was designated a Provincial Heritage Site on June 25, 1978 (and again in 1998 as the government updated its system).

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Photos of our Heritage Church can be found here, as well as: 2009 Opening Service, 2010 Opening Service and Re-enactment, Summer Concert Series

Website designed by Elizabeth Bonnett