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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

No. 68: Reverend Forbes Homestead in Grande Prairie

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Among the oldest log buildings still standing in northern Alberta are those on the Reverend Forbes homestead in Grande Prairie.

Both Reverend and Mrs. Forbes were Scottish missionaries for the Presbyterian Church.

They came to Canada in the late 1890s and, after serving at Fort Saskatchewan for a number of years, they were sent north to establish a Presbyterian Church at Grande Prairie.

As historian Dorothy Field explains, without a railroad the only route north was overland.

So they hauled their belongings up in what was then known as a caboose. And it did look sort of look like a railway car in a way, but it was rather smaller and was pulled by horses or oxen. It could have wheels, or, if they went in the winter time, it would have had skis on the bottom.

Once on the homestead, Reverend Forbes and his wife went to work building their Presbyterian mission.

Well, the first thing that they built was a hospital, and then a church. They lived in their caboose until the following year, when they built a manse (which is a residence for a minister) which was attached to the original hospital that they had built. Mrs. Forbes was a trained nurse, and she provided medical care at the hospital. In 1913, another hospital, rather larger and more elaborate, was built on a different site.

The manse was named Montrose, after the Scottish birthplace of Mrs. Forbes.

The pine log buildings are a testament to the great resolve of two missionaries with limited resources, determined to forge a mission out of the wilderness.

The hospital, and the manse for that matter, were built of spruce logs that were fastened together at the corners using saddle notches, which is really the simplest kind of log construction. They weren't squared or finished in any particular way, and the result was a rather rough-looking building.

The hospital was only one storey high. The manse, which was attached to it, was one-and-a-half stories tall. Over the years, though, they gained a more refined look when larger windows were put in and clapboard siding was added to the outside.

Unfortunately, the North proved too much for Mrs. Forbes. She died in 1917. Reverend Forbes was made an honorary doctor of divinity by Robertson Theological College in Edmonton before he left Grande Prairie in the mid-1920s.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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