Erskine chapel to host family heritage reunion

A chapel south of Erskine, nestled on a knoll in a secluded peaceful setting of rolling grassland with interspersed bluffs of poplar trees

A stone grotto stands near the historic chapel in the Erskine district. The Gendres plan to reunite at the chapel Aug. 16-18.

A chapel south of Erskine, nestled on a knoll in a secluded peaceful setting of rolling grassland with interspersed bluffs of poplar trees, has a colourful history.

Its unique heritage covers a span of more than 100 years.

In 1904, five Gendre brothers — Louis, Joseph, Armand, Henri and Charles — arrived in Canada from France to settle in the area south of Erskine, west of Ewing Lake.

The next year, they built a log building to house a chapel, which served their needs for four years.

The present chapel, built in 1909, known as Immaculate Conception chapel, has served the Gendre family well since that time.

The chapel is registered with the Catholic Archdiocese in Edmonton.

Lillianne Gendre, a granddaughter of the youngest brother Charles Gendre, recalled that as a child, she and her six siblings would walk to the chapel to play.

“One of us would always play the part of the priest,” Gendre said.

Through the devotion of family members, the chapel has been maintained in “immaculate” condition.

Gendre said a work bee earlier this summer saw many family members pitch in and scrap peeling paint from the chapel’s exterior and replace it with a fresh coat of paint.

The interior of the 104-year-old chapel is striking stained wood, with religious artifacts adorning the walls.

When the brothers arrived from France, they built their dwellings in a French-styled cluster, adding the chapel and a cemetery to their mini-settlement.

Most of the original buildings have since been demolished.

Four of the five original brothers that came to Canada are laid to rest in the cemetery, along with other generations of Gendres, including priest Alain Gendre.

Louis, who went on to become Brother Maurice Vital with the Catholic church, is buried in Quebec, Gendre said.

One non-member of the Gendre family, a Van Straten child, is buried in the cemetery. A shrine for a close neighbour, Cameron Forsyth, is also included on the property.

Gendre said that when the time comes, it’s her wish to be buried in the well-cared for cemetery, beside her mother Rose-Marie.

The serene setting includes a stone grotto, built near to where the original homes once sat.

Flowers bloom around the base of the grotto.

Once every four years, the Gendre family gathers for a family reunion at the site to embrace their heritage.

Gendre said different family members take turns hosting the event.

The next reunion happens later this month — on the Aug. 16-18 weekend.

The tranquil setting of the chapel, with its lengthy rich history, generates a sense of calmness and peace and rouses nostalgic memories of a time past.

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