This photo captures the interior of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Church at Kysylew.


This photo captures the interior of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Church at Kysylew.

June 18, 2012

Christian George and Christophe Potworowski met, appropriately enough, in church about three years ago.

The two men started talking and realized that they had a lot in common. Both men live in St. Albert. While Potworowski, a McGill University theology professor, is of Polish descent, both men were born in France, a mere 70 km apart. Another commonality is their passion for photography.

While seeking a project on which they could collaborate, they stumbled on a booklet called Church Capital of North America: Lamont County. The booklet appealed to them, and they decided that photographing all 47 churches listed in the booklet would be a great idea.

"We'd choose a group of churches that we were going to do in one day, and we went in the summer and again in the winter. We are not quite done with the winter shots, and we are trying to do the interiors now," said George.

Two of the churches were forever lost, unfortunately. One burned to the ground after being struck by lightning, and another was decommissioned after being deemed unsafe to enter.

"This pushed us on to take the pictures because one by one they are disappearing. Another church is slated for demolition," said George.

Karen Lemiski, curator and associate director of Basilian Fathers Museum in Mundare, said, "We need something to memorialize the churches, to capture their spirit now."

Hazel Anaka, event coordinator for Lamont County's seventh annual Doors Open weekend, visited an Edmonton showing of their work, and was impressed with what she saw. Doors Open, held June 1-3 this year, is an event where churches in Lamont County are open for public viewing.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross Ukrainian Church in Skaro is seen in a winter setting.


The Exaltation of the Holy Cross Ukrainian Church in Skaro is seen in a winter setting.

Through her persistence, the photographic works of George and Potworowski are now displayed at the museum in Mundare. The grand opening of the photo exhibit was held June 1. About 70 museum visitors saw the 24 images on display. The initial thought was to keep the display for about a month, but now Lemiski hopes to keep them longer.

"They have done a fantastic job in capturing the grandeur of these structures," said Lemiski.

About half of the museum covers the early Ukrainian settlers and the other half covers the arrival of the Basilian Fathers, so the photo exhibit fits in well with both themes.

Guests at the opening of the photo exhibit were amazed by the quality of the photos. Most photos captured not only the church buildings themselves, but other elements such as the fields or church bells in the foreground or the prairie sky in the background.


"The pioneers worked so hard and put together money to build these churches and furnish them," said Lemiski.

Even today these churches serve as landmarks to residents and visitors.

George said there is more to the project than snapping pictures. When he looked at those beautiful structures, he could not stop thinking of the pioneers who came to Alberta in hopes of a better life and felt the need to build a place where they could profess their faith.

In many instances, those early settlers built a church first, and then the rest of the community around it. Often journeying to the local church was their only option for Sunday worship.

"Those men and women had to endure hardships with tremendous courage and succeeded. Therefore, when I see churches sitting like a beacon on the vast farmland I cannot think of anything else but faith, hope, love, courage and determination," said George.

A few of these churches still have monthly services. Others are used once or twice a year, perhaps for feast days or special occasions. Yet the volunteers who maintain them keep them clean as if they were used daily.

"In the Ukrainian tradition, after Easter, the graveyards are blessed. The churches are cleaned, decorated and made ready for the service," said Lemiski.

The next project for George and Potworowski involves taking photos of the chueches caretakers. In many instances, the caretakers are descendants of the families who built the churches, maintaining a modern link to those pioneers.