The beautiful fieldstone church that stands at the corner of Deloraine's Mountain Street and South Railway Avenue has seen quite the changes over its 127 years. But since last fall, the iconic building has been welcoming folks back in through its century-old doors to celebrate with its community again. Having been fully restored, the main level is being offered as an events center.
"It's absolutely beautiful with the original floors and the original ceiling," shares Turtle Mountain Souris Plains Heritage Association (TMSPHA) Board Chair, Jan McClelland.
"They took all of the interior out and brought it down to the bare bones," she says. "There was nothing left but stones to reinsulate and they've reinsulated the ceiling to make it much more energy efficient. It's just become a beautiful space for small events, like weddings and celebrations of life, some concerts. It's absolutely beautiful!"
The Presbyterian Church was built between 1896 and 1897 by the local Presbyterian congregation. It was used until 1917 when the congregation joined with Methodists and services were transferred to a different church building nearby, and the stone church was used as the church hall. It was only about 20 years old, and so was still fairly new.
In the 1930s the building was acquired by the Town of Deloraine and became their community hall, providing space for concerts, plays, debates, and conferences.
In 1935 the Deloraine high school burned down, and classes moved into the old church which came to be known as Falconer Collegiate, named in honour of a long-serving school board member. After almost 20 years of holding classes, the building was left empty again when the school district built a new school.
From 1959 it was used as council chambers and offices for the Town of Deloraine and the Rural Municipality of Winchester, as well as the town jail. Manitoba Crop Insurance and Turtle Mountain Conservation District moved into the building in 1974 and 1978 respectively. The town and municipal offices moved out in 1980, making room for the office of the Brenda-Winchester Weed District and Ag Representatives.
In 1991 everything changed when the groups using the building all found housing elsewhere in Deloraine.
Was the old church going to be forgotten?
Designated a municipal historic site in October 1992, the building underwent renovations during the early 2000s as part of the Manitoba Prairie Churches Project, headed up by Deloraine Times and Star editor, Ben Kroeker, who also led the way in Prairie Skills Inc.
A full restoration of the building was the primary goal, all while continuing to provide resources, courses and training programs through the employment services project. As of 2007, its basement has been used as the community resource centre, Prairie Skills Inc, and the main floor had been awaiting renovation as a community cultural space.
Finally complete, McClelland says she can't say enough about the Prairie Skills board members and volunteers who persevered to finally finish the restoration project last fall.
"The folks on that board have just done a marvelous job and they put a lot of their own blood, sweat and tears into the finishing and getting it ready, painting and cleaning and all of those good things once the construction work was done," she says.
One of the most fascinating features is the 16-foot square tower with windows on each side of the second floor. "When you step into the building now and look up there is a plex-glass ceiling. So now you can actually see how the church was constructed," explains McClelland, "and then the light comes in from those four windows."
"It's beautiful in the daylight, and in the evening there's a light left on at night now so that the light shines out from the turret and out onto the street," she adds. "It's so warm and welcoming. It's just wonderful!"
"I can't say enough about this restoration and renovation, or about that group," repeats Jan McClelland. "They've just done a marvelous job!"
The Prairie Skills building is the only building that has been deemed a municipal historic site in Deloraine.
(Photo credit of the tower looking up through the plexiglass, and the night photo of the church, from Deloraine-Winchester Facebook)
At the most recent TMSPHA board meeting held at Killarney's J.A.V. David Museum, Board Chair Jan McClelland was given an old photograph of the Deloraine Presbyterian Church when it was Falconer Collegiate (written at bottom left in white).