Blueberry Presbyterian Church From The Signal

From the Signal back in 1990

Munro Presbyterian 50 years young.

This is a long article but worth the read. Who remembers this?

Blueberry Mountain congregation was formed on September 8, 1940.

Three ministers who served Blueberry Mountain’s Munro Presbyterian Church in its formative years were on hand over the weekend to help celebrate the congregations’ 50th anniversary.

Included was Dr. Alex MacSween, now of Victoria, BC, who was the Presbyterian minister when the congregation was officially formed on September 8, 1940.

Also in attendance were Dr. Ronald A. Davidson, now of Saskatoon, SK, who ministered at Forbes Presbyterian Church in Grande Prairie during the time the church was being constructed and officiated at the Dedication service on July 29, 1951.

The third former Munro Presbyterian minister attending the weekend anniversary celebration was Rev. George Johnston, now of Edmonton, who served as a summer student in 1942 and is now Superintendent of Missions for the synod of Alberta.

About 60 people attended an anniversary supper and social hour at the Blueberry Mountain Hall on Saturday and on Sunday the little church was filled for the special 50th anniversary service at which Rev. Dr. Davidson delivered the sermon.

A highlight of Sunday’s service was the presentation of certificates to two of the surviving members of the church that was formed 50 years ago – Graeme Thomlinson of Blueberry Mountain and Florence Jeffrey, who now resides in Spirit River.

The church’s present minister, Rev. James T. Hurd of Wanham, was master of ceremonies for Saturday’s gathering. He noted that the two long-time members ‘are still active and faithful members of the congregation.’ In fact, Thomlinson provided the keyboard accompaniment for the inspirational group singing and was called on to set the stage for the reminiscing that was to follow.

Among his recollections was having to pull Dr. MacSween out of the mudholes on Highway 49 before it was a highway and travelling to Gordondale with the ministers for services there.

Saturday’s social gathering at the hall was a time for reminiscing and paying tribute to those who recognized the value of maintaining a Gospel-inspired community.

Dr. MacSween said he and his wife Marie (who was originally from Pouce Coupe, BC) had been looking forward to a return to Blueberry Mountain for a long time. He came to the Peace Rive Country in 1935 as a student minister and was stationed at Pouce Coupe and Fort St. John before moving to Wanham in 1938 and accepting his first charge as an ordained minister.

While at Wanham, he was responsible for services at Blueberry Mountain and during his tenure, the congregation of Munro Presbyterian was officially formed on September 8, 1940.

After leaving Wanham, Dr. MacSween became general secretary for missions in Canada and was called to be Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in 1980. He and his wife now live in Victoria, where they are retired.

Dr. MacSween delighted his audience with reminiscences of the early days.

He told of one Saturday night when he arrived at Gordondale in a 10-year-old car he had bought for $275. in time to listen to Foster Hewitt’s Hockey Night in Canada before retiring for the night and conducting a service on Sunday. Just as the radio broadcast was beginning, however, a crisis involving a young boy who ‘was out cold and stiff as a board’ occurred and since Dr. MacSween had the only car, it was he who had to make the ambulance trip to Spirit River over the only existing road – an old railway grading that had been abandoned in 1914.

Bundling mother and youngster in the back seat, ‘we rushed over beaver dams and around the stumps to Spirit River.’

The mission was successful, fortunately, but Dr. MacSween barely made it back to Gordondale in time for Sunday’s service.

Dr. MacSween recalled the primitive conditions to which people came – many of them from the prairies where they had lost everything in the Depression.

“They came here with all their belongings in a wagon … and cows and horses tied behind. They located first in tents, then log shacks and then houses. It’s great to see the changes that have taken place since then,” he told his gathering. “I’m delighted to see the way the community has developed.”

Dr. MacSween recalled the work ethic of the early settlers and their sense of neighborliness. “It did not matter how tough a task was – actually they didn’t have much choice, they knuckled down and did it. The people had a lot of courage and backbone, morally and spiritually. They were people who recognized the value of a Gospel – inspired community. They knew about being their brother’s keeper and depended on their brothers and neighbors in those days – they had no one else. In emergencies they called on their neighbors and were not afraid to ask for help.”

Sadly, Dr. MacSween noted that that pioneer spirit has gone. “A spirit of greed, lust and covetousness seems to have taken over all across Canada and around the world. The need for the Gospel never ends.”

Dr. MacSween said that on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Presbyterian congregation at Blueberry Mountain, “the best way to honor those who laid the groundwork and formed the congregation would be to pick up and carry on with the job they began.”

Dr. Davidson came to Forbes Presbyterian Church in Grande Prairie in the late 1940’s and was there until 1953. From there, he moved to Brandon, Manitoba, and then to Saskatoon where he has just retired. While in Grande Prairie, Munro Presbyterian Church was under construction at Blueberry Mountain and he became associated with the project.

Dr. Davidson, who was back for the Blueberry Mountain reunion 10 years ago, said his introduction to the Peace River had come in 1939 by way of a letter from Dr. MacSween telling what a wonderful place it was. But he did not come north at the time. He went to Moose Jaw, SK instead.

Dr. Davidson remembered Dr. MacSween’s letter, however, and in 1948 on learning from J.A. Munro (in Prince Albert, SK) that ministers were needed in Peace River Country, “I said I’d go. That’s how I landed in Grande Prairie.”

That’s also how he came to realize the extremes of weather that could be experienced in the Peace River Country as well as the roads and general conditions those pioneering people experienced.

“I pay tribute on this anniversary to those people who did so much to lay the foundation,” he said.

Rev. Johnson's first student charge was at Blueberry Mountain in the summer of 1942 when he was introduced to 'Brownie', the saddle horse the congregation had purchased for use by its student ministers.

“The highway was just a dirt road through the bush, and it was just bush, bush and more bush,” Rev. Johnston said. He said that late in the evening, after travelling a considerable distance, Brownie showed signs of wanting to leave the road and follow a small trail into the bush but he convinced the horse to follow the road west. Sometime later, at 11 p.m., he saw the first house he had seen since leaving Blueberry Mountain and stopped to ask directions. To his chagrin, he was pointed back to the trail that Brownie had wanted to take earlier in the evening.

Rev. Johnston said he wondered in later years about the sermons he had preached in those early days. “They must have been pretty horrible,” he said. “The people I was speaking to were so much wiser and so much more experienced than me.”

The weekend celebration was organized by the Blueberry congregation and Rev. James T. Hurd of Wanham, who conducts regular services at Munro Presbyterian Church on Sunday afternoons at 2:30PM.

Rev. Hurd deemed it a ‘privilege and joy for me to be minister here for the past four years.’ He thanked al those who have cooperated in maintaining the church at Blueberry Mountain.



Thank You To The Central Peace Signal

 IMage of Central Peace Signal logo

The Central Peace Signal has been publishing since 1977, covering northern Alberta’s Central Peace region. They have kindly agreed to share stories about the areas of the County from their archives.