Standing on the middle of the Saskatchewan Prairie it is almost as though you can feel the history of the place. Close your eyes and visualize a young bride pulling into the yard escorted by her father, the nervous excitement gripping her body. Or sense the energy of children rushing by excited for a Sunday visit. The joyful chatter of the annual Bizarre reverberates from the basement. The few cracks in the foundation aren’t wrinkles from strain they are the laugh-lines of memories shared. There is also the sense of tears and sorrow lingering from the near century of mourners who have descended the front stairs of the church and proceeded to the cemetery on the grounds.
This place is the Blumenfeld Heritage Site located 16 kilometers South and 6 km East of Leader just off of Highway 21. The Church’s records go back 100 years to March 17, 1912. They are among the first official records to document the early years of settlers in the area and tell the story of what was once a thriving rural parish.
Now the church bell tower with belfry, spire and cross rises above the prairie floor and seen for miles remains as a reminder of the original “Saskatchewan way of life.”
The following are snippets taken from at history of Blumenfeld written in May, 1955. Less than a half century from the time the first settlers arrived and nearly half a century ago the author of the historic account begins lamenting the “urbanization” of the parishioners.
“In speaking to some of the old Timers, they refer to the year 1908, when the first Catholic settlers arrived in the district of blumenfeld,” begins the author. The early German settlers came from Romania, Krasna and Bessarabia. Some of the original family names to the area are Hoffart, Guckert, Duchscherer, Drescher, Ziebert, Riffel and Weisgerber.
“The Church of Saints Peter and Paul, and Parish of Blumenfeld, is the Mother Church of the district … Similarly to a mother, who sees her children depart to make their own homes, so too the mother church of Blumenfeld has witnessed the beginnings of flourishing new parishes all around here, which at one time belonged to her care …
“In numbers, Blumenfeld has dwindled, from a once flourishing parish of between 80 to 100 families to the present status of some 35 families. Some of the contributing factors to this regrettable trend have been; the drought years of the thirties; the war years and the then available occupational jobs in cities and towns; the school system of recent years, or centralization, which has created a serious problem for country people who strive to afford an education for their children; then too moreover, the modern way of farming – which affords more than one a reason to literally from ‘town.’ “
In 1964, less than 10 years after the writing of the early history, the Blumenfeld Parish celebrated its last regular Mass.
“I remember where a lot of people sat,” Tumbach reflected. He as recalled the winter chill in the parish heated by two large registers at the front near the alter fueled by coal-burning furnace.
“My dad and I drove up here for Christmas one night, it was colder than hell, we drove up with the horses and bobsleigh,” described Tumbach. “There was a chandelier, hanging right down the middle. It was about 10 feet around and with green balls and lit up with candles.” The Chandelier is now gone and only a memory.
Today, local volunteers care for the site and give tours of the church on Sundays in July and August. Other than the annual pilgrimage in June it is only used for the occasional wedding or funeral.
Each year the parish yard is brought back to life for the afternoon of the annual pilgrimage. It is a tradition that began in during the 1930’s. Those were tough years for the locals, so much so that, Rev. Father Henry Kelz O.M.I stayed with the Karl Duchscherer “Because of lack of funds to supply fuel and other needs to the upkeep of the parish rectory.”
Nevertheless, the parishioners worked to build a place of pilgrimage hauling in rocks from miles around the site. On 1936 the Grotto was blessed for the first pilgrimage.
The lament of Tumbach nearly 50 years after the first historical account sounds familiar. It has been the lament of rural Saskatchewan for years.
“Last year there was 150 people,” he said. “There used to be up to 2,000 people … Everybody would stop a ½ mile down the road and walk in … it was an all day affair … Now, there are no people left in the country and it is slowly falling by the wayside.”
The committee of volunteers continues to work at maintaining the site, a few years ago the windows on the Northside of the building were replaced for $23,000. It is hard to believe that they original church, complete with a basement, cost just over $10,500 to build, and the rectory a meager $1200.
How to get there
Drive South of Leader or West from Liebenthal on Highway 21. Turn West at Blumenfeld Road (You will be able to see the church’s steeple in the distance directly West. Once you have turned, simply drive about 4 miles until you arrive at the church. (It really is that simple). I have attached a map of the Great Sandhills, which are in the same general area. The Blumenfeld Heritage Site is located at the Red Pin.
Make sure you take a tinkle before you visit the heritage site. There are no washrooms on the premises.