ST. AIDAN’S CHURCH OF ENGLAND IN COWLEY
Researched by Donna Cisar
Written by Farley Wuth
The official history of St. Aidan’s Church of England in Cowley can be traced back to December 1909 when the church was dedicated and opened for services. However, the local roots of the church originate with the religious work of the Reverend William H. Mowat, the 33 year old Anglican Priest who first came to southwestern Alberta in 1907. His three-year tenure in this part of the foothills country resulted in the establishment of three Churches of England: St. Aidan’s in Cowley, St. Chad’s in Lundbreck, and St. Martin’s at Livingstone. An old newspaper article from the spring of 1909 noted that Mowat “the clergyman in charge of the mission is popular and highly esteemed throughout his large territory”.
Religious zeal started early. October 1908 saw one of the earliest Church of England wedding ceremonies performed in Cowley, when the Reverend Mowat wed Edith Mary Day and Edward Grove. The Cowley Methodist Church was used for the happy event. Some six months later a large Anglican service in Cowley was hosted by the Bishop and assisted by Reverend Mowat. Nine people were confirmed that Sunday evening. The following October, a special harvest home festival was hosted by the Anglican faith, utilizing the nearby Methodist Church building. The afternoon service starting at 3:15 p.m. saw Reverend Mowat give a stirring sermon, accompanied by a wide selection of religious music.
Special fundraising efforts went into paying for the Church’s construction costs. The ladies organized a very successful bazaar the evening of Friday, September 3rd, 1909 when a number of utilitarian and fancy items made and donated by the women were sold to the public. Accompanying the sale was a church-sponsored dance hosted in the dining room of the Cowley Hotel. Press reports indicate that both events were well patronized and a significant dollar figure was raised for the building fund.
Physical progress on the building was witnessed that same autumn. By early November the framing, sheeting and flooring were completed. This allowed for the interior work to continue in spite of adverse weather conditions. Work on the building’s exterior went ahead as weather allowed. Parishioners’ hopes that the Church would be completed by Christmas were soon realized as the one-storey St. Aidan’s quickly become a reality. The first service, on Christmas Day itself, was enthusiastically given by Reverend Mowat.
The Church’s religious work continued to be a staple at St. Aidan’s throughout the ensuing decades. Examples crop up throughout its history. Four and one-half month old Percie Margaret Freda Buchanan-White was baptized at St. Aidan’s on August 29th, 1913 by the Reverend R. J. Shires. Nearly half a century later a traditional christening was held for Christine Lank on Sunday, February 1st, 1959. Her christening gown had been in the family for four generations, a heritage spanning over a full century. That autumn, a special Thanksgiving Harvest Service was held on St. Luke’s Day, celebrated on October 18th. Food brought in for the festivities were donated to the Anglican Residential School on the Piikani First Nation’s Reserve. An impressive induction ceremony was held for the Reverend R. A. Ferguson on July 3rd, 1983. In the mid-1980s St. Chad’s celebrated Advent Sunday on December 2nd with nearly two dozen youngsters assisting with the service. A potluck dinner followed.
The Church ladies quickly organized themselves into a formal group known as the Ladies’ Auxiliary. Their primary function was to assist with St. Aiden’s theological, community and fund raising functions. At the group’s annual meeting in mid-January 1959, for instance, it was decided to host a Silver Tea on Saturday the 24th at the home of member Mrs. Gilroy. Subsequent reports indicate a good public turnout in spite of poor weather. Later that year the Auxiliary made plans for a tea and bake sale to be hosted at the Cowley Community Hall.
Ever aware of the importance of other community events, its autumn timing had to be postponed to the new year due to the official opening of the new Livingstone School in nearby Lundbreck. Plans for organizing a church choir were announced with practices to be held on Wednesday evenings. Members of that year’s executive included Mrs. Marjorie Haugen as President and Mrs. S. Warriner as Vice-President with Mrs. H. Gunn and Mrs. F. Tustian as sewing conveners. Religious readings by Anglican authors were regularly assigned to the members.
The ladies of St. Aidan’s Church hosted the first joint-deanery meeting held amoung the Anglican Churches in Cowley, Pincher Creek, Brocket, Fort Macleod and Claresholm with those in Cardston, Foremost, Coaldale, Iron Springs, Taber, and Grassy Lake. Eighty ladies were in attendance for this day long gathering on Tuesday, October 20th, 1959. Canon Grant was assisted in organizing the event by the Reverend Roger Burdon of Pincher Creek, Canon E. Doyle of Fort Macleod and the Reverend T. N. Nakayama of the Foremost Mission. Retired school teacher Miss Elsie Bray of Brocket, a longtime church volunteer, was honoured with a Life Membership in the Calgary Diocese Woman’s Auxiliary.
Building improvements over the years allowed St. Aidan’s to continue its church work. A service held on Sunday, May 3rd, 1981 was held in honour of the construction of the church’s basement. The service’s theme was the Holy Eucharist, which was administered by the Archdeacon of Bow Valley, Waverly Grant. An impressive total of 63 people joined in the celebrations. Following the morning service a dedication of the “Susie Hewitt Memorial Kitchen” was held. This resulted from a three-year Church effort to have a large basement complete with a church hall, kitchen, washrooms and a new entrance added to their complex.
St. Aidan’s elders had noted as early as 1978 the need for improvements to the structure. Church volunteers and contractors painstakingly moved the building aside in order that the concrete basement could be put in place. In spite of poor winter weather conditions the mission was accomplished without even cracking a window. A portion of the fundraising dollars for this project kindly came from the St. Chad’s Memorial Fund. The hall was dedicated in memory of “Bay” Burn, A. M. Connelly, Susan Hewitt, Monica Lynch-Staunton, Ethel Ritson, and Emma Tustian, all of whom were active worshippers at the Church.
Blessed with a lengthy history, St. Aidan’s celebrated its anniversaries with a variety of religious events. The Church honoured its 75th Anniversary with a banquet supper, heritage pageant, presentation of Holy Communion, and social hosted on Wednesday, June 10th, 1984. The home cooked meal was served in the new church hall, and the pageant, carefully scripted by church volunteer Marjorie Haugen, appropriately presented the times and lives of Saints Aidan and Chad. Locals acted out the parts. Visiting and mingling followed. Special guests of honour included Hugh Mowat, son of Reverend W. H. Mowat, who came in from England for the festivities, Reverends R. A. Ferguson and Derek Hoskins and Bishop Curtis. A religious service, The Holy Eucharist a Great Thanksgiving, was held the previous Sunday morning.
A generation later, St. Aidan’s centennial was honoured with a religious service the morning of Sunday, May 31st, 2009. A roast beef dinner and musical entertainment, accompanied by an eye-catching photo and heritage exhibit, followed at the Cowley Community Hall, located within walking distance of the Church.
Today, Cowley’s St. Aidan’s Church, still very much active in the community, enjoys a religious heritage of more than a century.