Connecting with the past

St. John’s Anglican Cathedral looks forward as the 200th anniversary of the Peguis Selkirk Treaty

From The Winnipeg Free Press, July 8, 2017
By: Brenda Suderman, reporter (
photo by Wayne Glowacki

(The Very Rev. Paul Johnson in the St. John’s Anglican Cathedral at 135 Anderson Ave.)

THIS month, Manitobans mark the 200th anniversary of the Selkirk Treaty, which was signed on July 18, 1817, between Thomas Douglas, fifth Earl of Selkirk, and Chief Peguis along with four other Indigenous chiefs. Later, Lord Selkirk designated land to establish Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. St. John’s Anglican Cathedral was built on the west side of the Red River, near Point Douglas, and St. Boniface Roman Catholic Church was established on a large land grant on th


e east side, across from The Forks. Brenda Suderman visits both cathedrals to understand the challenges and concerns of these two faith communities two centuries later. For more information on the upcoming anniversary events, check out


Two centuries after a land grant established a church on the west bank of the Red River, the city’s oldest Anglican parish still searches to find its place in the community.

“How can we be of service?” asks Rev. Paul N. Johnson, rector of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Evangelist.

“How can we share in life together beyond these walls?”

That’s a significant question for a parish steeped in the history of Winnipeg. The expansive cemetery surrounding the Anderson Avenue cathedral is a who’s who of prominent city politicians, businesspeople and professionals.

“That’s our history, that’s our cloud of witnesses,” says parishioner Rene Jamieson, one of the writers of historical pamphlets on the graveyard and cathedral.

“There are some beautiful people buried in that graveyard.”

Located just east of Main Street between two city parks, the cathedral’s history reaches back to 1817, when Lord Selkirk and Chief Peguis signed the first treaty between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Western Canada.

Five years later, the first church building was constructed on the site, and by 1849, the church became a cathedral for the new Anglican diocese of Rupert’s Land.

“This particular cathedral really represents the birthplace of the Anglican church in the West,” Bishop Donald Phillips says.

“There is the whole sense of the historical importance of the Rupert’s Land territories and the church was very involved in it.”

With the parish’s history written on the gravestones and portrayed through the plaques, artifacts and stained glass windows inside the 91-year-old stone cathedral, it might be easy to remain mired in the past, Jamieson admits.

“People think we’re a museum. We’re not,” says Jamieson, a volunteer member of the pastoral team.

“We’re a live congregation.”

That living, breathing congregation of about 75 regular worshippers, of whom about half live within walking distance of the North End cathedral, continues to search out ways to connect with those beyond its doors, Johnson says.

Some of the connections are practical, such as hosting neighbourhood events, supporting refugees through nearby cathedral-owned Hospitality House, or providing hats, mittens, scarves and shawls to people in the parish and surrounding neighbourhood.

“Our prayers are extending outward and not just to people in the congregation but to people in the community who are sick and sad,” says Leanne Landriault, a member of the St. John’s Anglican Cathedral Friendship Circle, of knitting items for people in need.

The cemetery also opens doors to helping out the living, as Johnson fulfils requests to officiate at burials and funerals, including a recent service for an elderly man he had never met.

Shortly before he died, the man told his neighbour he had a plot at St. John’s, and the neighbour and his wife arranged a funeral with Johnson, and were the only mourners.

“I think the main (purpose) is to make the connection between the past and the living,” says Johnson, an ordained Lutheran pastor who has served in Anglican churches for the past seven years.

He says that connection includes building stronger relationships with Indigenous people, and acknowledging their joint stories through the upcoming commemoration of the 1817 treaty between Lord Selkirk and Chief Peguis.

“We recognize, we appreciate, we give thanks for our heritage,” says Johnson, a member of the planning team for the 200th anniversary of the treaty.

“We also recognize we need to repent as part of our healing journey.”