St. Vincent is located near St. Paul, Alberta, 230 kilometres
northwest of Edmonton. Established in 1906, the small settlement
relocated in the anticipation of rail service but, by 1918, the
railroad bypassed the town. That year, arson destroyed the
parish church, still under construction. Attempts to acquire a
rail spur line and rebuild the church failed, which devastated the fledgling village.
When Fr. Charles Chalifoux arrived in 1933, the community was
struggling with the sudden deaths of the two previous parish priests
as well as the
effects of the Great Depression. Nonetheless, Fr. Chalifoux proposed that the people
of the community begin
building a church, supported by workbees to prepare the
lumber and lay the foundations.
By the time the church was near completion in 1936, Fr. Chalifoux
began to furnish the interior. With no money for luxuries, Fr.
Chalifoux used a foot-powered fretwork saw to cut patterns from
the thin veneers and planks salvaged from shipping boxes.
Inspired by the décor of French churches he had seen, Fr.
Chalifoux began work on a chancel screen with images of the twelve
apostles. Each of the screens comprised thirty five pieces,
each taking four hours to saw. Fr. Chalifoux recruited young men
from the parish to pedal the saw. It took two years to complete
In the following years, Fr. Chalifoux continued his work, creating
a baptismal font, communion rails, confessional panels and a
raised altar with a wooden canopy that was decorated with a crown
of golden tin.
The results of Fr. Chalifoux's craftsmanship served the parish
church until the early 1970s, when his work was nearly destroyed
with the demolition of the old church. Two astute parishioners
salvaged the decorative work and removed it to safe storage,
ensuring that his legacy in wood would endure.
Charles Joseph Chalifoux was born in 1897 in Vermont to parents of
French-Canadian descent. The youngest of a family of eleven, eight
of whom did not survive beyond five years of age, he excelled in
school and attended the school and novitiate of the Holy
Ghost Fathers near Hull, Quebec.
In 1923, he was ordained and worked in the missions of Cameroon
until he was stricken with yellow fever and returned to Canada
where he worked to bring vocations to his religious order, the
Holy Ghost Fathers. Hearing that Archbishop O'Leary needed priests
for parishes in the Diocese of Edmonton, he applied and was posted
near Lac La Biche before arriving in St. Vincent in 1933, where he
remained for thirty years. Fr. Chalifoux died April 18, 1970 and
is buried in the graveyard at St. Vincent.
(Source: Legacy in Wood: The Fretwork Decor
of St. Vincent Church and the Sacred
Works of Art of Father Charles Chalifoux, CSSP. Dr. Juliette Champagne
and Musée historique de Saint-Paul, 1993)
This digital collection was
produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital
Collections initiative, Industry Canada.