A Brief History of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
The story of St. Paul’s begins in 1866 with the arrival of the Rev. James and Mrs. Mary Nisbet and their party sent here as missionaries to the Cree people from the Old Kildonan Church on the banks of the Red River. With the assistance of others in his party and burgeoning settlement – notably such persons as George Flett, John McKay, and William McBeath – Rev. Nisbet, a carpenter by trade, laboured hard to build the original church and outbuildings, some of which are relocated as historical sites in Kinsmen Park. He also named the little settlement developing around the mission “Prince Albert, after the husband of Queen Victoria. He quickly won the respect and trust of the Cree people by his gracious manner and by his ingenuity in developing a crude but effective form of vaccination that saved many from a small-pox outbreak in 1869-70. The respect of the local indigenous people for Nisbet and the Presbyterian people who followed him was shown by the protection they offered the church and its surrounding community during the Northwest Rebellion and by Chief Mistawasis inviting the Presbyterian Church to establish a congregation on his Reserve – a congregation that continues to this day. Its first missionary, at the insistence of Chief Mistawasis, was an original member of the Nisbet Party and a Cree-speaker, John McKay.
From the beginning, education was a primary focus of the St. Paul’s mission and congregation. In response to Rev. Nisbet’s appeal, Adam McBeath arrived in 1867 as the first teacher for the mission. In 1879, Lucy Baker arrived and taught in Prince Albert and District until ill health forced her retirement in 1905. The central importance of her work is recognized in that her portrait and that of James Nisbet hang on either side of the large stained glass window in the sanctuary of the building that housed St. Paul’s congregation from 1906 until 2013. Over the generations, the priority given to education – especially among the local indigenous peoples – was shown in the establishment of several schools in and around Prince Albert, as well as residences provided for out-of-town students. To this day, that priority continues, with the St. Paul’s congregation partnering with several local schools to provide support for their students and families, including ensuring that children and young people have the opportunity for personal and leadership development through attending summer programs at Camp Christopher.
Over the generations, at least four buildings have served as meeting places for the St. Paul’s congregation. When structural problems discovered in the Fall of 2013 forced the closure of the beautiful and historic building on the corner of 12th Street and First Avenue East, the congregation was invited to worship with Wesley United Church located just behind. This arrangement is presently in place and serving both congregations well as St. Paul’s considers its future directions under the leadership of their Interim Minister, the Rev. Ted Hicks, the 27th minister in the congregation’s on-going and storied life.
The determined, sacrificial, and pioneering spirit of St. Paul’s has allowed the congregation to meet many challenges in its history and to find imaginative ways to be faithful, in Christ’s name, in expressing the love of God in community-building and life-changing ways. That Spirit is alive today, as St. Paul’s lives on in expectancy of where God is calling the congregation now to be on the vanguard of a new kind of church for these times.