STONEY NAKODA – Brenda McQueen had no idea what she was getting into when she signed up to be president of the McDougall Stoney Mission Society a year and a half ago.
Stepping into a role six months after the tragic and suspicious fire that burnt the 142-year-old little white church along Highway 1A, the great-great-great granddaughter of the late George McDougall, founder of the Methodist settlement of Morleyville who built the church, said she always knew she had ties to the historic site and wanted to ensure it moved forward.
"As a child, I came out here all the time, it is part of my life, my daughter was actually married out here in 2016, less than a year before the fire," McQueen said on Saturday (July 20) full of emotion.
"So I didn't know what I was getting into when I stepped up to be the president a year and a half ago – basically I knew the site meant a lot to me, but this year and a half it's grown so immensely."
While working with the board on how to move forward with the restoration process, that was approved by the province earlier this year, McQueen said the position is more than just building permits, proposals and paperwork.
Before the fire, the McDougall Church was a well-known spot for photographers, a place for motorists along the 1A to take a break and was also used to host special events such as weddings and birthdays. But it was also a site that reminded some of the neighbouring Stoney Nakoda Nation members of the trauma and history tied to residential schools.
McQueen said rebuilding the site also required rebuilding relationships. The society welcomed Stoney Nakoda Nation members earlier this summer for an inaugural teepee raising, and hosting cross-cultural celebrations with singing, prayers, drumming and smudging.
McQueen said this past weekend's family games day at the church was the fourth time a teepee has been raised.
"I know George and John McDougall had a relationship with the Stoneys and it has been lost and I’m very proud to say it is coming back and it is a lot of learning for both sides – we are making it very successful and that means a great deal to me," McQueen said.
The society wants to create a site where everyone feels welcomed.
Stoney Nakoda photographer Haze Bigcrow, who was invited to showcase his photography including a photo of the McDougall Church a week before the fire, agreed these are steps in the right direction.
“I think it’s good for the younger generation to get more immersed in the culture and to get more involved with the McDougalls and the Stoney people,” Bigcrow said.
Displaying several photographs of the area, Bigcrow touched on his luck to capture a shot of the little white building before the tragic fire.
“It’s good to capture a historic moment,” he said.
Hopefully by the end of next summer, individuals will be able to capture photos of the restored church once again, McQueen said.
“Hopefully the [restored] church will be completed by the end of next summer,” she said.
The board currently has two proposals, related to building permits, and is awaiting another two proposals to approve, with drawings for the outside and inside of the building, before submitting the complete detailed package to provincial officials.
Designated a restoration instead of a rebuild, board members explained 90 per cent of the burnt wood will be salvaged, along with other original parts.
“All of the nails – the nails from 1875 and they were all hammered individually, [we] kept all of those,” McQueen said.
“The bell unfortunately was melted in the fire, but we kept parts because we were thinking to rebuild the bell we can possibly use the old metal.”
While the rest of the details are being sorted out, the unofficial hopeful timeline is to have the outside of the church started by next spring and the inside to be worked on throughout the summer with fundraising events to be announced.
"This site has brought forth [learning] and it's the healing place to move forward to the future," McQueen said.
"As I've been told, it is for the next seven generations I am doing this for and it is an honour to be in this position."
To keep up to date on the society and events happening at the site, follow the official ‘McDougall Stoney Mission Society’ Facebook page or visit www.mcdougallstoneymission.com.