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Tramping Lake church celebrates centennial

St. Michael's Catholic Church hosted a celebration June 1.

TRAMPING LAKE — Tramping Lake expanded its population for one weekend when the community and visitors gather to celebrate the 100th anniversary of St. Michael’s Catholic Church in the village.

June 11 the church held a 100th anniversary mass at 4 p.m. followed by a short program and catered supper at the Tramping Lake Community Hall.

Just over 200 were in attendance at the mass officiated by Bishop Mark Hagemoen, Saskatoon; Monsignor Ray Senger, Saskatoon (raised in Tramping Lake); Father Greg Roth, Tramping Lake/Unity; Father Ed Gibney, Biggar; and Father Santhosh Thekkekulam from Wilkie.

Event organizers say people gathering from near and far stating that the farthest travellers for the event came from Regina, Edmonton and Calgary.

It bears noting that although the celebration was focused on the 100th anniversary of the church located in Tramping Lake, the parish itself was started 16 years earlier.

The historic building was constructed in 1922 and has been renovated and updated since then. In 1949, the church’s steeple was completed as well as a new heating system evolved from the wood stove and the exterior got a coat of white stucco. In 1950, a huge marble altar was erected, standing 22 feet high and 11 feet wide, costing $4,300.

In 1970, the church needed exterior repairs and local high school boys, Paul and Dale Elder and Jerome Hoffart were hired to tar and paint the outside of the steeple and cross above it. They used only ropes for safety and were paid $400 to split among them.

Also in 1970, the 14, life-size stations of the cross arrived from Winnipeg, weighing 125 pounds each.

Parishioners said many sisters came from the Tramping Lake area as well as two priests were ordained there, Faither Louis Hoffart and Father Raymond Senger. The choir was known far and wide and initially it was composed of all men, with many songs sung in German. People still talk about “O Jesu lien” and “Stille Nacht” with soloist Dennis Brandle.

Interior work includes many hours of labour as benches, statues and fixtures have to be removed. Everything needs to be vacuumed, dusted and washed.

Those who remain stay diligent in church's care and activity

“There are only a few of us left to attend St. Michael’s and look after it from 20 church families.  We are incredibly grateful to those who still contribute but no longer live here. It would be hard for us to continue without this help, but we will continue to try to keep St. Michael’s alive as long as we possibly can,” says community member, parishioner and one of the celebration organizers, Rose Simon.

Simon, says, “This church has been a gathering place for residents for a lot of years. We still hold services on Wednesdays and Sundays of each week, and in fact, there was a wedding held here in December of 2021. There has been a wedding held here every souple of years or so."

With only about 30 residents left in the village, which once held a population of 300 or more, both the church and the community hall are a large part of what binds the community.

The beautiful architecture includes large stations of the cross, elegant water fonts, historic statues and a ornate interior.

The first Catholic settlers arrived in Tramping Lake somewhere around 1906. In 1910, a wooden church was built on the same site St. Michael’s sits on today. The first mass was held in the present building on Christmas Eve in 1922.

Volunteers came together to build the church by hand, and it was estimated the initial cost was around $48,000. The basement was dug using horses and a scraper which equates to a basic scoop pulled by a team or horses.

There are 99 church buildings in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon that includes St. Michael’s out of Tramping Lake. It can hold up to 600 people, however the choir loft and basement are no longer used.

Simon notes, “We are a very small community with about 30 people. The pandemic has curtailed our usual fundraisers and fall suppers.”

In 2020, Tramping Lake Mayor and parishioner, Christine Lang, did a fundraiser on her own making homemade pasta and raised just under $1,700 for church expenses. In 2021, Lang recruited more help and worked for several weeks making and selling 220 bags of pasta, raising another $2,500.

Declining numbers has not deterred the community’s commitment to their church and community gathering place. In 2011, they managed to shingle the roof, then in 2018 paint the interior and repair the leaking tower. Simon says the 100th anniversary celebrations will give them a chance to celebrate their efforts, and the community camaraderie that goes along with gatherings here.

Simon says the 11 members of parish council maintains and looks after the church year-round. The Knights of Columbus also helped, but have folded in 2022. The CWL is semi-active, but Simon states that they are likely also on the verge of collapse.

Father Greg from Unity provides coverage at St. Michael’s.

St. Michael’s has a Facebook page to keep residents, parishioners and former residents up to date on the latest news from the church.

Simon adds, “At the height of our congregation in the ‘80s, Christmas Eve you used to have to come very early to get a seat as more than 300 people attended service.”

The church community hosted many fall suppers and bingos (formerly known as bazaars). They were a huge deal and supported by the whole community and surrounding districts, raising a few thousand dollars every year for maintenance and upgrades.

“St. Michael’s is this community’s pride and joy, it is all we have, and it unites everyone here. Because of our declining population, and since COVID-19, there just are not many left here anymore. Our time will come, and we know that. But for now, we will celebrate this milestone anniversary and all that this church has represented for its 10 decades.”

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