Built in 1961, St. Clare’s Roman Catholic Parish remains an established architectural presence within the urban community of Montrose. Inspired by the Prairie Style movement, the church is comprised of a two-storey sanctuary clad in sand-coloured brick masonry and capped by a vaulted roof. The church’s symmetrical floor plan is a traditional composition in the form of a cross –representing a more conservative approach at the time. The architect was careful to place the narrow face of the sanctuary –the primary entrance into the church– towards the busy street, and the altar towards the quiet realm of the neighbourhood, creating a sense of calm procession into the house of worship. Transepts to either side of the altar house the service programs of the church under flat roofs.
What is most evident in the design of this church is the architect's efforts to modernize classic architectural composition with contemporary building materials and aesthetic. In a fashion similar to the Gothic cathedral, St. Clare’s expresses structural freedom and orientation to heaven through use of vertical rhythm – created by linear stained glass units which interrupt the masonry facade. The formal entrance of the church is reminiscent of Gothic cathedral façades intended to draw significant attention to the church entry through ornamentation and proportional composition.
The main entry of St. Clare’s is divided into three vertical portions which form a single elemental massing, standing proud of the main sanctuary. Two plain and symmetrical masonry walls flank the central, ornamental portion of the facade and direct the viewer's gaze to a boxy, manufactured cross which adorns the church roof. Parishioners step from the street onto a concrete stoop covered by a cantilevered, precast concrete canopy in a zig-zag form, shielding their arrival and departure from the elements. Above a humble, unornamented wood door, modular glazing units continue the vertical rhythm and frame a simple, coloured tile mosaic, reflecting modern architectures’ principles around simplicity of ornament. Through massing, the architect sets the church entrance apart from the sanctuary. The importance of the sanctuary is emphasized through the use of open latticework masonry blocks to create aesthetic contrast, enhancing the street presence of the church.
Westmount Presbyterian Church, 1958 13820 - 109a Avenue, Edmonton Designed by: Hemingway and Laubenthal Neighbourhood: North Glenora
With possible zoning changes coming in the near future, the Westmount Presbyterian Church from 1958 remains a paramount example of Modernist design due to its simple massing and use of only the most necessary building components. Wood siding and concrete blocks, humble and locally-sourced material used in many buildings of the post-war era, were used in creative ways to create visual interest in lieu of decorative add-ons. An example of this can be seen in the pattern created by staggering concrete blocks on the exterior walls.
The changing depth of the eaves on the low-slope roofline creates a dynamic feel to this otherwise modest and low-profile building. The sanctuary is expressed through the vaulted interior ceiling utilizing a long span structure. Concrete block masonry composes the exterior wall of the sanctuary and is punctured by curtain wall glazing and placement of window-dividing mullions at human proportions. A flat roof extends over the front porch, supported by painted steel structural columns. There is a deep overhang at the front entrance that serves as a very practical response to Prairie winters, and creates a sense of entrance and a welcoming space to mingle – one of the most social aspects of attending church.
Linear motifs play a big role in the look and feel of Westmount Presbyterian. Long and low horizontal lines pay homage to the local landscape and are complemented by the lines in the tongue and groove wood soffits and siding. Asymmetrical stained glass windows and large expanses of glass throughout the front walls allow natural light inside and blur the division between the interior and exterior. Previously clad in brick, the lengthy services building has been re-clad in durable tin siding likely as an attempt to reduce maintenance costs to the overall structure.
St. Timothy's Anglican Church, 1965 8420 - 145 Street, Edmonton Designed by: Richards, Berretti and Jellinek Neighbourhood; Laurier Heights
According to the Modernist thinking which took shape after World War II, the modern building was to employ clarity of structure and make ample use of newly emerging fabrication technologies, and modern neighbourhoods were to be divided into parts that would encompass living, working, leisure and circulation. In this sense, St. Timothy's Anglican Church in the west Edmonton community of Laurier Heights, is a shining example of Modernist principles at play.
Situated amid well-kept bungalows and close to an adjacent park and community league, this church became not only a place of worship for neighbourhood residents, but also a canvas on which to project some very progressive ideals regarding both religion and design for its time. St. Timothy's was actively engaged in the social culture of its community and the bigger city - delivering sermons that incorporated live performance and artistic visuals. It could even be said that modern design was used as an advertising device for the church - a physical reflection of the church's acceptance of change. An example of this can be seen in the impressive and visually stunning stained glass window flanking the altar, custom-designed and installed by visiting Austrian artist, Ms. Ernestine Tahedl. This handcrafted element served to blend warmth and a touch of the personal with the stark implementation of mass-produced building technologies.
The building itself has a bold asymmetrical layout. A simple rectilinear massing highlights the double storey sanctuary supported by a single storey service space, forming an enclosed courtyard at the northern extent of the building. A glulam beam roof structure over the sanctuary is carried to the exterior to orient users to the building’s interior circulation. Formal entries are highlighted by black curtain wall glazing with inset black steel doors to emphasize entry to the church, while the modest white masonry brick facade capped by flat, black roofing contrasts the bungalow-developed neighbourhood and emphasizes the handcrafted coloured glass of the altar windows. The dramatic structural expression of this church sets it apart as a significant contributor to the city's Modernist architecture.
Kirk United Church — 1966 13535–122 Avenue, Edmonton Designed by: McKernan and Bouey Neighbourhood: Dovercourt
Kirk United Church is situated in the city’s northwest community of Dovercourt. It was named in recognition of the Kirks, the Reverend J.E. and his wife Clara, that formalized the congregation and began Sunday services in 1955. The church building, though humble in stature, has a very expressive and memorable structure with distinct exterior details that are very much in line with the Mid-Century Modern aesthetic and core values.
The asymmetrical roofline is an impressive aspect of the building. The roofline is enhanced by the clerestory glazing and checkmark-shaped lower roof. This combination creates a feeling of dynamic movement. Above the flat-roofed narthex, attached to the north wall of the sanctuary, prefabricated modular glazing units serve to break up the heaviness of the roof’s connection to the wall, creating the illusion that the roof has grown from the ground and rests weightless above the sanctuary. The glulam beam structure appears to shape itself to the presence of the sanctuary.
Much of the exterior of the building uses red brick masonry - a common choice for its perception as a solid and structurally-honest material in the local market during the era of construction. Additionally, integrated wood elements can be seen where congregants enter the building. The architects were careful to develop protected environments at entries and on site, likely as a practical response to Alberta's seasonal weather.
The function of the interior spaces have clearly shaped the massing of the building, with a large divine-scale space for the nave/chapel, and smaller, more human-scale spaces for the lobby and support areas. On the exterior, flying buttresses anchor the design and give a sense of rootedness to the earth. Tension is created by the heaviness of the anchoring buttresses as the whole structure seems to rise upward towards the heavens.
Grace United Church — 1961 6215 - 104 Avenue, Edmonton Designed by: McKernan and Bouey Neighbourhood: Fulton Place
Grace United Church, located in the city’s southeast neighbourhood of Fulton Place near Capilano, is a significant contribution to the Modernist movement in Edmonton. When it was built in the early 1960s, the church was a cornerstone for family and community life for neighbourhood residents and church congregants. In 1966, as many as 1100 children were enrolled in nursery, kindergarten, primary junior, intermediate and senior classes of the church Sunday school. And by the late 1970s, the church expanded to an adjacent property in order to accommodate the building of a 34-unit senior citizen residence.
This community focus is very much present in the overall design of the building. The prairie-style influence evident in the overhangs, and geometric window patternings create a very welcoming and “down to earth” atmosphere. A symmetrical single-storey massing with vaulted ceiling sanctuary shows that the building has two functions – the flat represents the educational and social hall areas, while the pitched roof represents the sacred. This duality continues onto the street with a gentle interplay between pedestrian traffic and the church building. In contrast to the height of the sanctuary, the front entrance is scaled to human use; a low stone wall provides a place for those to rest while also gently controlling the flow of people moving in and out.
The use of locally available materials of brick, stone and mosaic tile accents meant that builders could implement these practical and affordable materials in creative ways. A subtle pattern introduced into the red brick that shifts from horizontal striping to a new patterning on the chimney is an example of this creativity. There is visual interplay of horizontal and vertical lines throughout; the vertical rhythm of the windows with pronounced white mullions is a counterpoint to the long horizontal lines of the fascia. This rhythm blends nicely with the architects’ use of prefabricated glazing units, curtain wall glazing and brick masonry which were typical of the building culture prevalent in 1960s Alberta.
Chalmers-Castle Downs United Church - 1961 12315-132 Avenue, Edmonton Designed by: Howard Bouey Neighbourhood: Calder
Chalmers-Castle Downs United Church is a unique example of Modernist Architecture in Edmonton due to its structuralist design principles applied to a place of worship. Exposed precast concrete columns, tapered in form, extend to the height of the upper band of windows. This upper window area, known as the clerestory, is comprised of a horizontal ribbon of glazing and gently lets natural light fall into the church interior below. Together the columns and upper clerestory reveal the HSS steel structure – and instead of heaviness, the vaulted ceiling of the building appears to float.
The flat roof canopy over the main entrance is a generous gesture used to create a sense of entry and to protect congregants from the weather. Clad in beaded tongue and groove siding, the building form consists of a rectilinear sanctuary and modular program additions with a flat roof at both its east and west extents. The vertical rhythm of windows and doors contrast with the overall feel of the "boxy" support spaces.
The overall design is a clear expression of the Modernist ideal for its simplicity – from the economical low-slope roof on the chapel portion to the steel cross steeple adorning the west peak of the sanctuary. The overall structure of the building defines the character of the church, without the need to implement unnecessary decoration.
The building was originally called Chalmers United Church. The name was changed to Chalmers-Castle Downs United Church in 1994 after amalgamating with Castle Downs United Church.
Ebenezer United Church, 1965 16302 106 Avenue, Edmonton Neighbourhood: Jasper Place
Ebenezer United Church, 1965
16302 106 Avenue, Edmonton
Era: The Post-War Years
Area: Jasper Place
Built in 1965 to replace an over-capacity building that was built only six years earlier, the story of Ebenezer United Church typifies the renewed interest churches saw in Edmonton’s burgeoning suburbs, and the role these buildings played in the new post-war communities. The new building, built in the then-separate town of Jasper Place, welcomed 352 churchgoers, with room to accommodate 400 if necessary. In the years following World War II, Jasper Place had experienced a flourishing of Dutch immigrants who left Europe, and the church played a key role in the life of this community.
The two-storey structure was built from modest brick and stucco. Its exaggerated, needle-sharp steeple creates an iconic juxtaposition to the stocky, horizontal mass of the building’s square body. The overhangs of the double roof provide an opportunity for clerestory glazing to create contrasting moments of lightness against the building’s mass. A central skylight provides additional daylighting to the nave, whose roof is supported by wooden glulam arches - a newer technology for the time, which allowed greater economy of form as the structure itself was pressed into service in beautifying the interior.
Ebenezer had many notable ministers and community members over the years, including Gwen Symington, ordained in 1959 and minister from 1972 to 1976, at a time when female ministers were still quite controversial. The church also shared its space with a variety of other religious groups over its history, such as the Maranatha Fellowship (from 1975 to 1983) and First Dutch Reformed Church (from 1980 to 1986). Following a shift in the neighbourhood’s demographics and lower church attendance rates overall, the congregation found itself struggling to maintain its numbers; as of 2015 the church was slated to close, its remaining members being welcomed at nearby St. Andrews United. The building was sold to the Saint Virgin Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, enabling this unique building to provide a home for worship to a different group of newcomers to Canada.
In 1929, the First Swedish Lutheran Church began holding services in downtown Edmonton at what was then the YMCA. By 1944, the congregation had grown to more than 200 people. This trend towards growth through the Post-War period was very much in line with what was happening in neighbourhoods throughout the city, where the community church was a cornerstone of modern neighbourhood design and social etiquette. Consequently, a new iteration of the church was built in 1953 to house the growing numbers, later becoming Augustana Lutheran Church – the same church that would eventually close its doors for good in 2014 to make way for a proposed condo tower.
The church building itself was on the humble side of Modernist design. Modest in appearance and built using locally-sourced and economical materials, it could be said (save for the steeple, erected on top of the church with the help of a ladder and fire truck) that the overall design was austere, restrained and void of much dramatic flair. Honest too, in the sense that practicality and function were front and centre both in the simple gathering spaces in the basement level attached to the parish hall, and most noticeably in the massive wooden trusses: utilitarian, exposed and unadorned in the main sanctuary. This was a church about service – and not one that liked to show off.
So it came as no surprise when on December 28, 2014, the once blooming congregation, now sparse and overlooked in a changing urban landscape, made the practical decision to amalgamate with Holy Spirit Lutheran Church on 51 Avenue after selling the church building and adjacent lands to a developer. What did surprise many, however, is what the congregation decided to do with the revenue from the sale. Using the approximately $1.5 million in proceeds, they created an endowment fund through the Edmonton Community Foundation to enable many local charities the opportunity to benefit in perpetuity. In addition, one-time grants were also given to a number of causes, as were annual grants of $20,000 to foundations such as the Brian Rude El Salvador Mission, ministry work at Alberta’s post-secondary campuses, and to E4C, a charity providing services to address poverty in Edmonton.
The physical legacy of Augustana Lutheran Church lives on too in very practical ways – much like the spirit in which this church was built on in 1953. The pews were sold to a church in Manitoba, the welcome sign is now hosted at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, and the front doors, with their inlaid crosses, have now been made into a table at Christ Lutheran Church in Rhein, Saskatchewan. Even the trademark trusses are said to be going to a future development. As the physical church continues to adjust and adapt to neighbourhood use and development after the Post-War Years, the legacy of Augustana Lutheran Church causes us to pause for a moment and reflect on the role of the church socially and architecturally in a modern city – and how it chooses to adapt to changing times.
Trinity United Church - 1964 8810 Meadowlark Road, Edmonton Designed by: Howard and Robert Bouey Neighbourhood: Meadowlark Park / Jasper Park
Trinity United Church, located in the west-end communities of Meadowlark Park and Jasper Park, is an expressive structure that makes use of many Modernist design elements and philosophies. Perhaps one of the most notable features of this building is the steeply pitched roof with an accentuated swooping curve. This feature provides a sense of movement and drama - particularly when seen in combination with the asymmetrical and boxy floor plan of the sanctuary and single story massing of the services areas. The curved roof also accentuates the curve in the adjacent roadway - heightening the experience of moving in an arc for visitors approaching the site. Another distinct design detail is the deep eave with perforated soffit on the roofline, creating the illusion of a cavity in the roof construction.
Like many of the churches built in this style and in the post-war era, materials are locally sourced and humble. Common brick masonry flanks the building façade. Precast concrete stairs are used for the emergency exit from the sanctuary. Precast concrete columns express structure on the exterior of the building mass - mimicking through their shape the swooping arc of the roofline. There is also a precast concrete steeple at the front of the church. Wood details are introduced in the building’s interior, as seen in the exposed wood glulam roof beams in the large sanctuary. The use of light as a design element is expressed by the modular window system of clerestory glazing, where stained glass is thoughtfully interwoven throughout the design.
Trinity United Church is very much a “community” church. This aspect of reaching out into the community can be seen in the design and exterior space. When it opened in the 1960’s, the church served as many as 1,000 families at one time, including hundreds of children enrolled in Sunday school classes and youth groups. In 1978, the congregation celebrated the end of church debt, commemorated by a mortgage burning ceremony. And in 2011, the church’s doors were opened to community members of a different kind: animals. A unique ceremony was held to bless the pets and animals of congregants, garnering lots of interest and media attention.
St. Luke’s Anglican Parish, 1959 8424 - 95 Ave, Edmonton Designed by: K.C. Stanley and Company; signing architect G.L. Giles, designer H.W. Seton Neighbourhood: Holyrood / Strathearn / Bonnie Doon
According to the 2001 federal census, just over half of the homes in Strathern were built sometime between the end of the Second World War and 1960, placing St. Luke’s Anglican Parish in the centre of a Modernist building boom. This was very much a community church - servicing the many young families living in the Holyrood, Strathearn and Bonnie Doon neighbourhoods. When the church opened in 1959, there were two weekly services, and many programs for children.
From an architectural point of view, this church building used concrete masonry units to aesthetically create flow and pattern, reminiscent of textures from modular units found in Prairie Style architecture. Other details such as decorative coloured glass block inserts highlighted on the exterior walls continue to pick up on this rhythm. Adding to the material palette are porcelain enamel and cement asbestos panels.
The introduction of curtain wall glazing - a relatively new building technology in the post-war period - allowed the structure to be separated from the building envelope. The heaviness of the concrete block structure contrasts against the lightness of the window areas in the more public portions of the building, creating a feeling of openness and invitation.
The architects’ deployment of spatial volumes clearly communicate the building’s interior configuration on the exterior: the flat-roofed areas identify entries and support spaces, and the low-sloped peaked roof expressed the volume of the nave. The interior of the nave engenders an amazing warmth, created through the use of tongue and groove wooden ceilings above gracefully curved precast concrete arches, fir plywood wall panelling, and wooden pews.
The building demonstrates an expressive use of structural technology, including zigzag cantilevered concrete canopies to protect the entry and windows at the south face of the building, shielding the nave from excessive summer sun and its parishoners from snow and rain.
In 2010, St Luke’s celebrated 100 years of service to the community, and even at the time of its construction 51 years earlier, the church found creative ways to incorporate memory and artifacts from throughout the congregation’s history. The old engine bell in the bell tower was donated by the railroad, and was dedicated in honour of the congregation’s senior citizens.Windows from the congregation’s old church were incorporated as the back wall of the nave in the present building, bringing a piece of the community’s history into this small gem of a church.
St. Basil’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church— 1966 7007 - 109 Street, Edmonton Designed by: Eugene Oleshky Area: Allendale/Parkallen
St. Basil’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church is an excellent example of modern architecture through its use of precast and cast-in-place concrete structure, with the rectilinear massing and dome features characteristic of Ukrainian churches. The exposed concrete structure implements the architect’s intentions for prospect and refuge, wherein the 3 ft. colonnade encircling the church becomes a magnificently proportioned porch from the the street. As well, the church campus plays a significant role of informing community presence through the relationships of church, community hall, manse with administration office, and seniors’ housing development adjacent.
The church was built as a Centennial project - replacing a former army-surplus store with the church, monastery and cultural centre over an entire city block. The overall building project played a huge role in influencing and supporting Edmonton’s Ukrainian community, providing more than 23,000 sq. ft. of space for children’s classes, youth meetings, a library, seniors’ lounge, cooking facilities, auditorium, and private quarters for church priests. The church itself can accommodate 1200 parishioners.
There is extensive use of precast concrete elements in the design of church. This is evident inthe expression of structural form, decorative concrete panels, and use of precast concrete design elements framing two-storey window boxes to the concrete columns flank the exterior of the church. The precast columns flanking the exterior and structural elements are expressive and a progressive building technology for their time.
The use of finely-textured surface at circulation level, accompanied by the exterior security lighting near exits, creates a very warm glow before entering the sanctuary at dusk. The effect created by the colored mosaic tiles at circulation level is affected by the colour of light – white-washed in natural sunlight, golden in exterior lighting.
Perhaps most noteworthy, however, is the golden dome which rises 90 feet above the floor. It is made of lightweight concrete and set in place in “orange peel” slab segments. The underside of the dome is finished in white plaster and asbestos. The exterior is covered in a golden plastic coating - rendering it virtually maintenance-free.
St. Matthew’s Roman Catholic Parish, 1967 13131 - 86 street, Edmonton Designed by: Eugene Olekshy Area: Killarney / Glengarry
Located on a calm street between two residential schools and a neighborhood of mid-century bungalows, the church massing of St. Matthew’s Roman Catholic Parish complements the scale of its surrounding community. Celebrated by its street prominence, the circular massing of the church is balanced by the square floor plate of the rectory, seamlessly blending into the neighbouring bungalows. Visitors enter directly into the church sanctuary with a uniquely offset aisle, allowing the choir to nestle within the congregation. Service rooms are placed behind the altar in a wedge shape, leading to the church offices and rectory.
St. Matthew’s Roman Catholic Parish is a striking architectural form representative of Modernist churches built in the post-war building boom of Edmonton. A single-storey, circular floor plan places the focus of the congregation towards the central altar, sitting directly below a seemingly endless roof vault. Precast concrete beams bent in a dramatic shape are suspended above the open plan, and locked in place by structural concrete tension rings at the base and peak of the inward-leaning peak of the roof beams.
A brick masonry facade complements the curved exterior wall and provides aesthetic weight to the church elevation; a counterpoint to the seemingly weightless roof, suggested by its dynamic volume. The architect maintains a textured materiality throughout the design of the church, experimenting with the texture and patterning of masonry design to create unique moments within the church interior.
The curved brick façade and conical roof are two distinctive design elements which make this church truly memorable.
St. Augustine's Anglican Church, 1966 6115 Fulton Road, Edmonton Designed by: John McIntosh of Middleton & Sinclair Architects; stamped by EE Middleton Area: North Capilano / Fulton Place
Among Edmonton’s most architecturally ambitious Mid-Century Modern buildings, St. Augustine’s Anglican Church reflects the changing theology of the day. It is a distinct example of a building designed to outwardly reflect the spiritual and ideological values of the congregation.
The church’s iconic roof, constructed of wooden glulam beams with cedar decking structure above, is a hyperbolic paraboloid form - swooping down from the steeple, over the altar, then up again over the sacristy. According to Reverend Glen Bresee, the minister presiding over the congregation during construction, the form tries to express “both the closeness and remoteness of God.” Discussion of the building in the press at the time commented on its “striking exterior design.” It was also described as looking like “the hull of a ship with one bare mast standing at the bow," and like a “ship with a fire in its hold” –clearly demonstrating how architecturally progressive it was for its time.
Several architectural decisions reflected the new openness and focus on community participation within the church. Described in an Edmonton Journal article (1966) as “a cross between the traditional church architecture and the new circular churches with the altar in the centre,” a link was drawn by those involved in the design between the architecture and the church’s theological ambitions. Reverend Glen Bresee described the architecture as reflecting changes in the theology of the church towards a new informality. The sweeping roof form, he said, suggested “God is in the centre, but... cannot be contained.” The organization of the nave has also been carefully conceived to better include lay people in services: the altar projects into the congregation, and even the cross is hung from the ceiling at the back of the sanctuary to avoid separating the minister and the congregation. The small scale of the church - just seven rows of pews - tries to maintain closeness of the community to the clergy, and paid homage to the early days of the congregation, when they met in each other’s homes.