A Brief History of St. Anne’s Parish
The history of the community of Barrhead, Alberta can be traced back to the early years of the 20th century. Early settlements and missions were built around Barrhead during the Klondike Gold Rush and before the railroad was constructed in 1927. In those early years, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) missionaries from St. Alexander Mission, Rivière Qui Barre travelled on horseback to minister to the spiritual needs of the Catholic families of Barrhead. As there was no Catholic church, the house of Jean Baptiste Tetreau was made available to celebrate the Holy Mass and to administer the Sacraments. In 1916, Barrhead was raised as a mission and a small church was built at Mosside under the supervision of Fr. Georges Jean Vianney Cochette SCJ (Sacred Heart priest). The church was blessed in August 1917 and was named “Holy Cross Church”. The missionaries continued to make occasional visits to Mosside and surrounding areas.
From 1918 onwards, Fr. Francis Koolen SCJ from Clyde was in charge of the Barrhead mission and the surrounding area. He traveled throughout the district with his band of ponies, holding services in homes. Fr. Koolen was succeeded by Fr. James (Alfred) McIntyre in 1921. In 1923, the faith community of Naples built a small church dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Naples. In 1927 Fr. Rooney became the parish priest of Sancta Maria Church in Westlock with Barrhead as one of his missions.
In those days, the Holy Mass was celebrated in Barrhead in the houses of parishioners until 1929 when they decided to build their own church. The initiative was undertaken by Bill Williams, manager of Beaver Lumber, and Fred Fluet, who was in the construction business. The shell of the church was completed in the same year: pews were made of nail kegs and planks and the heating system was a barrel type wood heater that crackled noisily when in use. Mark Elvin, the grain elevator agent at Manola, donated a little organ, and the church bell was donated by St. Jean the Baptist Parish, Morinville.
In 1932, Barrhead had its first resident priest, Fr. John W. Carter, who was accompanied by his aged father. The need for a rectory and house keeper was urgent, so volunteers again collected necessary funds. He was succeeded by Fr. William McPhee in 1934. However, due to ill health, he had to go back and therefore, in 1935, there were no resident priests in Barrhead.
In 1936, Fr. Connelly W. Poirier was appointed parish priest and served the missions of Naples, Mosside, Fort Assiniboine, Linaria, Camp Creek, and Vega. He furnished the interior of the church as well as the rectory. A Catholic Women’s Guild was formed following his suggestion and joined the CWL of Canada in 1956.
In 1940, Missionaries of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph (R.H.S.J.) from Chatham, New Brunswick came to Barrhead and purchased the hospital run by Dr. E. J. Verreau. Sister Borden, Sister Kenny and Sister Doran formed the first community of R.H.S.J. in Barrhead. They took over the hospital on November 1, 1940 and became an active part of St. Anne’s parish community. As the town of Barrhead grew and the transportation facilities improved, the missions of Naples and Mosside were amalgamated to St. Anne’s Parish.
In 1947, the Sisters of R.H.S.J. left Barrhead due to lack of personnel and the administration of the hospital was taken over by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Pembroke (C.S.J.) in January 1947. Mother M. Clare together with Sisters M. Monica, M. Genevieve, M. Edith and M. Joseph formed the first community of C.S.J. in Barrhead. In 1974, due to lack of personnel, the Sisters relinquished their ownership of the hospital, sold the hospital to the Alberta Government and left Barrhead.
In 1948, a bell tower and front portion were added to the church, the steeple was removed, and a parish hall was constructed. In 1957, the sanctuary and sacristy were added. In 1963, the parishioners raised money and bought an electric organ dedicated to the fallen war heroes of World Wars I & II. In 1961 Swan Hills was added to St. Anne’s as its mission and Fr. Lucien Morissette was appointed assistant parish priest in charge of Swan Hills. Fr. Poirier retired in 1970 after serving the parish for 34 years.
Fr. Adolph Terré (1970-1973), Fr. Hervé Tanguay (1973-1975) and Fr. Edmond Croteau (1975-1980) directed the spiritual leadership of the parish for the next decade. Fr. Casimir Bukowski took charge in 1980, and he helped to establish a council of the Knights of Columbus. In 1987, Fr. Andrew Rybak served the parish for one year. As pastor in 1988, Fr. Gerard Gauthier supervised the construction of the current parish hall, rectory, and office, which increased potential for various parish activities.
Fr. John Joseph (1991-93) from India and Fr. Kim son Nguyen (1993-97) from Vietnam were appointed parish priests the following years. In 1997, during Fr. John Adamyk’s six years, the beautiful statue of Our Lady was donated by the Knights of Columbus and dedicated to the parish. The renovation at the cemetery was started in 2002.
Fr. Paul Thekkanath, a Carmelite priest from India, was appointed pastor in 2003. He completed the cemetery project, which included new concrete runners for the headstones, renovation of the crucifix, and a newly built shrine (2005) constructed entirely by volunteers. The property adjacent to the back of the church was purchased in 2005 for a parking lot.
Fr. Martin Jubinville arrived in June 2009. He was a young priest full of enthusiasm. During his time, the Knights of Columbus approved a Memorial for the Unborn, which was installed at St. Anne’s Cemetery in 2015. In 2012, Swan Hills’ Mission, St. John the Evangelist, was brought under St. Joseph’s Parish in Whitecourt. Due to the dwindling number of Catholics at Fort Assiniboine, the diocese closed St. John Vianney Church there in 2012. In 2014, we began the work of replacing the shingles of the roof of St. Anne’s Church and the hall and it was completed in 2015. Also, in those years we saw a major renovation of the kitchen in the hall to bring it up to code.
On June 15, 2014 Fr. Johnny Vadakkenath Chacko IMS from India was appointed pastor and Swan Hills Mission was once again brought under St. Anne’s parish. After a special request from the Catholics of Fort Assiniboine, the bishop reopened St. John Vianney Church for weekday Mass once a month. Thus, since August 27, 2014, Mass is celebrated on the last Wednesday of each month. In July 2015, the Novena to St. Anne was started in preparation for the parish patronal feast to highlight the significance of the patron saint of the parish as a model for the spiritual life of the parish. After more than 25 years, in June of 2016, the office and rectory got a facelift with new windows, flooring, paint and some remodelling of the upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms.
On October 29, 2016, the centenary of the parish (Barrhead was raised as a Mission in 1916) was celebrated with Bishop Paul Terrio presiding over the solemn Eucharistic Celebration at 5.00 pm followed by a fellowship meal in the hall. A Pictorial History cum Directory of the parish was published to mark the occasion. On May 4, 2019, the parish celebrated the Fr. Johnny’s 25th anniversary of ordination to priesthood with Bishop Paul Terrio presiding over the Eucharistic celebration at 5.00 pm followed by potluck supper.
…and the story of St. Anne’s Parish, Barrhead goes on.
A TRIBUTE FOR 34 YEARS OF SERVICE
Reverend Connoly William Poirier (January 15, 1909 – November 14, 1991)
By Hank Espeseth
Connoly William Poirier was born in Chapeau, Quebec on Jan. 15, 1909, son of William and Vivian. The Poiriers were farm folk as Father often talked about the family farm. Father’s youth and basic education took place “down east”, but when the call came for the priesthood, he headed west to attend St. Joseph’s Seminary in Edmonton. (Edmonton Archdiocese Archives)
From 1931 to 1935 Fr. Poirier studied at St. Joseph’s. At this time, the seminary was located on Victoria Avenue and 110 Street in Edmonton in the general area of the present St. Joachim’s Church. He was ordained by Bishop T.P. Ryan of Pembroke, Ontario on June 24, 1935 at St. Alphonse Liguori Church in Chapeau, Ontario.
In late 1935 or early 1936, Father Poirier was appointed parish priest in Barrhead and its missions including Mosside, Naples, Fort Assiniboine, Linaria, Belvedere, Camp Creek, Campsie, Topland, Timeu, Doris, Corbett Creek, Vega, Mystery Lake, and Moose Wallow. On October 12, 1939, Father Poirier also offered his services as chaplain for the Canadian forces.
In 1960, Fr. Poirier celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary of ordination at St. Anne’s church and continued to serve the Barrhead parish and surrounding missions faithfully until 1971.
Fr. Poirier moved to Edmonton and for some time worked at the Salvation Army Hostel. In 1974 and 1975 he did social work at Holy Spirit Parish in Edmonton. In the seventies, Fr. Poirier decided to spend his retirement years on the family farm in Ontario. Although he stayed there for a short time, he admitted he was homesick for the West and returned to Edmonton. In the late seventies or early eighties, Fr. Poirier resided at St. Andrew’s Centre until his passing on November 14, 1991.
A funeral mass for Father Connolly Poirier was said at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church on Monday, November 18, 1991 with Fr. Leo Cordeau as the celebrant. Burial was in the Priest’s Plot of Holy Cross.