Documenting rural places of worship

Reviewed by: Heather Polischuk

They can be found in and around small towns, at the end of muddy country roads, nestled in between fields, perched on the edge of picturesque bodies of water or even carved into stone.

They can even simply be beautiful places in nature.

Whether they are easy to reach or take planning or even guides to locate, a local photographer and a pair of authors/historians found a way to document the province's rural places of worship.

The product is the followup to the successful book Legacy of Stone: Saskatchewan's Stone Buildings. Entitled Legacy of Worship: Sacred Places in Rural Saskatchewan, the book - co-authored by Margaret Hryniuk and Frank Korvemaker with photographs by Larry Easton and published by Coteau Books - takes readers on a tour through some of the province's most historic and often stunning sites.

Hryniuk is careful to point out the book is not intended to be "churchy" or geared toward any particular religion. While Legacy of Worship explores many Christian churches, it also explores Jewish synagogues and places considered sacred to First Nations people, for example. And while the physical structure of these sites is fascinating to many, she says the book is intended to be as much - if not more so - a story of the people who honour these places.

"Frank pointed out some people will think it's too churchy and others will think it's not churchy enough," Hryniuk says. "But I finally decided, really, what I tried to do was put a human face on these churches. They're not just institutions. And really, when it gets down to it, churches are just all about people. The extremes of emotion take place in a church."

The stories in the book run the gamut of human experience, from tragedy and grief to love and hope. There are also the quirky tales, like a group of travellers from Ukraine who turned up at a church near Canora to look for the burial place of Andy Warhol's relatives. The tale put Hryniuk in contact with Warhol's nephew and became a late addition to the book.

As far as photography goes, Easton says churches often lend themselves perfectly to that art. Even so, photographing and writing the book was a challenging five-year process in which Easton had to struggle to get into some of the buildings and the authors to dig up history and stories about the sites.

But, for them, the challenges are worth it.

"I think (it's important) for the archival aspect of it, for future generations to be able to see what was there, because there are a few that we've looked at that I can tell you right now that our present grandchildren, they'll live to see all these gone," Easton says. "They'll go out there and there won't be a church anymore. There will just be a cemetery. And so we need to preserve some of our past history, just like the stone buildings."

For the full review, click here.

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