Fr. Boniface Heidmeier was no stranger to the cold and snow of Canadian winters. Arriving in Alberta in 1909, Fr. Boniface and the Franciscan community served north Edmonton and its surrounding missions. With numerous towns to visit even when the temperature was way below zero, Fr. Boniface faced the full force of winter with gentle good humour.
In his memoirs, he recalls a time when the church in Chipman bought two stoves to warm the building for winter:
“Then winter came along and we prepared for it by getting two big stoves into the church. They were beautiful looking articles and our hopes ran high. Everybody came to have a look at these monsters, the biggest ever seen in the district. All Saints Day was a very cold day, and both stoves were expected to do their best—and they did—in smoking. It took about half-an-hour to fill the building with such a dense smoke that even the bravest took to flight, coughing and weeping. The doors were thrown wide open but proved to be too small to cope with the stoves. Two men, in self-defence, grabbed the stove nearest the door and threw it out; the second met with a like fate, and neither of them saw the inside of the church again.“
Travel was also made more difficult in the winter. At one time, Fr. Boniface was required to say Mass on Sundays in Chipman, then drive to Skaro, Wostok, Krakow, and Mundare as quickly as possible. However, the old Ford car needed to be cranked to start in the cold and the engine would often die in the attempt to plough through heavy snowdrifts. A desperate effort to resuscitate the engine would follow until the car was willing to run normally. Then began the work with a shovel to clear a track through the snowbank, but always with both ears open to the motor in case the car stopped running again.
But perhaps the most vivid picture of the fierce winters is Fr. Boniface’s description of a typical Mass in 1909: “[the faithful] in that little church, standing round the red-hot stove, tapping the floor with their frozen feet during Mass, whilst at the altar the very wine and water turned into a lump of ice, and the chalice could not be touched without the fingers clinging to it!”
The Franciscan Archives of Western Canada preserves and provides access to the history and heritage of the Franciscan Holy Spirit Province Saint-Esprit of Canada. The Archives contains records from Western Canada, including British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. To learn more, visit us at archives.franciscanfriars.ca or email the archivist at ofm.archives[at]gmail.com.