Father Grouard, who later became the Revered Bishop Grouard, came to the Peace River country as a young man, and built his first church at Dunvegan. He was a pioneer in every respect and his great versatility was evidenced form the outset. With his own hands, and the assistance of natives, he erected the log church building which still stands on the river bank near the ferry landing at Dunvegan. One of his acts which has received much public attention was the painting of sacred pictures. A gifted artist, he had brought some paints with him, but the matter of canvas was another question. So he procured two moose hides, tanned by the natives, and after joining these to make his “canvas” sufficiently wide, he proceeded to paint his picture of The Christ, which now adorns the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Peace River.
Father Grouard made many missionary visits to Buffalo Lakes, where the Hudson’s Bay Company maintained a post, and to other points in the district. Later, when a settlement began to be established at Lake Saskatoon, Father LeTreste established the first Roman Catholic Mission on the Prairie at that point. When settlement began at the present townsite of Grande Prairie he took down the log building log after log and moved it to Grand Prairie. The later history of the Roman Catholic Church is combined in the story of Rev. Father Josse, who for many years was in charge of this parish.
In 1913 Rev. Hugh Speke, rector of Curey River, Somerset, took charge of the mission at Lake Saskatoon and was very active, taking services as far east as the Smoky River, west to Pouce Coupe and Buffalo Lakes in the north, where a log church was built. A South African War veteran, he joined his regiment early in the Great War, and was killed a year later. The Rev. F.V. Abbott succeeded him, moving to Appleton — between Beaver Lodge and Lalcourt — when the Rev. Robert Holmes of Shaftesbury mission was transferred to Lake Saskatoon. He died in 1916 and was succeeded by Rev. Randall, then Rev. Washburn in 1918. On the resignation of Rev. Washburn, the Rev. F.W. Abbott, having previously been moved to Grande Prairie City, undertook Lake Saskatoon district until the arrival of the Rev. J.A. Burness in the fall of 1919. From then on, the pioneer conditions practically disappeared with the advent of cars, and these clergy who laid the foundation of the Church in the Grande Prairie district deserve great credit for the long drives they had to make in all weather and temperatures.
It would not be fitting to omit mention of the ladies who have made it possible for the work of the church to be carried on. As it would be impossible to name them all, we will name two who have been outstanding, and who are now life members of the W.A. namely Mrs. Robert Holmes, now residing at the Indian Residential School, Edmonton, and Mrs. W.F. Bredin, residing at Bredin.
It would appear that one of the first efforts toward church cooperation, which later led to the union of the Methodist and Presbyterian congregations, was made in this area. Rev. Forbes, representing the Presbyterians and Rev. C.F. Hopkins, a minister of the Methodist faith, divided the district by an imaginary line north and south through Saskatoon Lake. Mr. Hopkins ministered to the district west of the line, and Mr. Forbes took the part to the east.
In May 1910 services were begun at Bear Creek, which later became the town of Grande Prairie, in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and McQueen Presbyterian church was opened on October 8, 1911. Other points that were ministered to were Bear Lake, Twin Lakes, Spring Creek, Flying Shot, Glen Leslie and Bezanson — services at these points were held in various homes. At Spring Creek and Glen Leslie churches were later built.
The work of Dr. Forbes continued until 1925, when the congregation at Grande Prairie entered church union. Dr. Forbes left for an Ontario pastorate and was succeeded by Rev. Alex Graham as the first minister of the United Church. Under his aggressive leadership the local congregation became self-supporting and the present church was built and dedicated in 1926.
Rev. Graham was succeeded by Rev. I.C. McKenzie who later moved to Victoria, B.C. and was succeeded by Rev. McCartney Wilson of Trinidad, B.W.I. Rev. Wilson remained only a few months, when the present pastor, Rev. Nelson Chappel, was called from the graduate school of the University of Chicago in 1930.
It is interesting to note that the territory served by the Rev. Forbes and Rev. C.F. Hopkins has so developed that it is now served by ten ordained ministers and four student minister of United Church of Canada. There are also several ministers of the Presbyterian Church, which re-entered the field in 1929, when Rev. E.A. Wright arrived in September. He renewed the work of the continuing Presbyterian Church through his energetic leadership and secured the erection of the present fine church on the site so fittingly erected on property that was originally a part of the Forbes homestead. The Presbyterian Church has progressed steadily since 1929, and now has five permanent workers in the field, and 19 preaching stations.
Grande Prairie Herald Old Timers Historical Edition, 1935 — Transcribed in 1973