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Father Chalifoux Image Gallery
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Charles Chalifoux was born in Websterville, Vermont, 16 May 1897, near Graniteville, where he was baptized. Granite quarries and industries were the main industry of this area of New England. The family was closely tied to its Québec relatives who lived in Boileau, north of Montreal, and St. Rémi d'Amherst, also in that area. The family may have moved around quite a bit, and Chalifoux made his first communion and was confirmed at Boileau. When he was 12, his mother died and he was sent to live with his uncle. He subsequently attended St. Alexander's College, near the Gatineau river and the town of Ironsides, in Québec, an establishment run by the Fathers of the Holy Spirit, a catholic missionary order (Spiritains). Upon completing his studies, he joined the order, and in 1920 went on to study at the seminary at Orly, near Paris to prepare for work in foreign missions. He was ordained a priest on 28 October 1923 and went on to Cameroon during the summer of 1924, where he stayed until ill health from tropical diseases forced him to return to Canada in 1929. During part of 1929 and 1930, he worked for the Spiritain fathers promoting the order and recruiting members, travelling all over Québec and New England with promotional material, photos and films, accompanied by his nephew Ernest Forrend, who acted as his driver and helper. Many of the photos pertaining to the Spiritain fathers and St. Alexander's College in his collection date from this time. He loved his African experience and remained stayed in touch with friends and individuals he had met in the Cameroon all his life. 

The promotional work he has taken on was only a temporary measure for Fr. Chalifoux. Bishop Henry John O'Leary was seeking French speaking priests for the Diocese of Edmonton and he and his nephew came out in fall of 1930. He was posted at Boyle, north of Edmonton, where he visited missions in the pioneer communities in the Lac la Biche area. The conditions were very rustic, the parishioners were poor, wintertime travel was by horse drawn sleigh, but he enjoyed himself and made some life long friends. While he was there, he built the first church at Boyle.

In 1933, he was transferred to the parish of Saint-Vincent, a French speaking community where he was to stay for nearly thirty years. His organizational and artistic skills were put to good use there, where he helped the parishioners to build the parish landscape. Settlers had been in the area for nearly 25 years and, although they had built several churches, they had outgrown the first, lost a fine new church in 1918 to a fire, had been bypassed by the railroad and could not seem to manage to build anew. The parish was poor, several priests had died there, earning it the nickname of Aboneyard of the diocese, and the timing couldn't be worse, it was the time of the Great Depression. When he arrived, the temporary church could not seat all of the parishioners, and many had to stay outdoors to hear the mass. With the help of his parishioners, timber was sawn and hauled from the forests along the Beaver river to build the church, almost entirely with volunteer labour. Chalifoux had the wonderful idea of decorating the interior with fretsaw lacework from wood salvaged from packing cases. He designed the church, and it was beautiful, taking his inspiration from Spanish, Moorish and Art deco designs. But to the great chagrin of many of the parishioners, their beloved church was torn down in 1973, as chronic water seepage in the basement  undermined the foundations and heating costs increased hugely when the parish switched to fossil fuels rather than firewood, which was practically free, but depended on volunteers to saw the wood and an employee to stoke the furnace. Local admirers managed to save most of the church's decor, which would have otherwise ended up at the local dump. As for the demolition crew, they had a hard time taking apart the supposedly unsound building and, ironically, the parish made more money selling the scrap lumber than it had cost originally to build the church. More information on the fretwork decor can be found at Héritage Unique/Legacy in Wood.

Chalifoux was an energetic person and established a mission at Rife, east of Saint-Vincent, where Saint Anne's chapel was built. He also visited the Polish community at Flat Lake, until a full time parish priest was established there. Upon need, he tended the neighbouring parishes of Saint-Lina, Mallaig and Thérien. In 1936, Saint Vincent hosted the Eucharistic Congress of the Diocese of Edmonton (the Diocese of Saint-Paul was only established in 1948), Several pictures of this event can be seen in his photo collection. With his help, the parish established a boarding school for the local children in the 1940s, and which continued to exist until the arrival of a school bus in 1955. After this time, the large dormitory was moved to the parish's birthplace on the north side of Vincent Lake and become a summer camp which served the children of the diocese of St. Paul for many years. A product of his time, he encouraged French-Canadians to stay on the farm and fretted with they took on work Aoutside@, as many of them did when the Cold Lake Air Base was built in the early 1950s.

Father Chalifoux retired at Saint-Vincent in 1961 and left the rectory where he had lived since his arrival, and joined his nephew Ernest Forrend and his wife Laura (Brousseau) who had moved west of the hamlet. After this time he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and eventually was interned at St. Joseph's Hospital in Edmonton, where he died on 18 April 1970. He was nearly 73 years old. He was buried in Saint-Vincent which had been his home and his love for so many years.

After his death, Laura and her husband sent many photos of him to his remaining family in Québec and kept the rest of the collection, which she gave to me for safekeeping a few years ago. Together we went through the collection, numbering all of the photos and documenting them as best we could, which is quite a feat as Laura is legally blind. Suffering from macular degeneration, she could glimpse the photos in a blurry sort of way, and I was obliged to describe all 700 photos to her. She remembered most of them and knew of many of Fr. Chalifoux's friends, as she was  the cook and housekeeper at the rectory for many years before (and after) her marriage, and had often heard stories of Chalifoux's travels abroad.  

—Dr. Juliette Champagne



All images are copyright of Dr. Juliette Champagne