Century-old Catholic church converted into vacation rental in Crowsnest Pass
Stained glass and murals preserved during renovations of Alberta church built in 1905
An old Catholic church in Alberta's Crowsnest Pass is getting a new lease on life.
The Holy Ghost Church was erected in 1905 in the community of Coleman, about 230 kilometres south of Calgary.
Current owner Kym Howse turned it into the Blackbird Coffee House after buying it in 2007.
Over a decade later, Howse is now converting the cafe into a vacation rental for out-of-towners to stay, and it's a fitting use for the building that she once admired on highway drives before she owned it.
"I would just pass by it and I would just think, 'Oh my gosh, wouldn't that be a romantic place to live,'" Howse told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.
"One time I drove past, it had a for sale sign on it … and, you know, six months later I bought a church."
The hub of the community
The land for the church was donated to the community by the International Coal and Coke Company, according to the Alberta Register of Historic Places. It's the U.S. corporation that laid out the townsite in 1903 to service its new coal mine nearby.
The church was built by parish volunteers, and Howse said many people from Coleman remembered visiting it.
"It was the hub of the community for years and years," Howse said.
The old church has a high-pitched, hipped-gable roof and features wood clapboard siding. It has a central bell tower and two smaller towers.
Howse is the church's second owner, and at first she wasn't sure what to do with it.
She converted it into a cafe, which evolved into a live music venue. But eventually Howse was spending more time in Calgary — and away from the property — as her kids started going to school.
The family decided to put it up for sale, but when Howse revisited it during the pandemic, she realized she wasn't ready to let it go. Inspiration struck.
"All of a sudden, I had a lot of time on my hands, so I decided to revisit the old church, and I went out there and … honestly, I just fell in love all over again," Howse said.
"I had the same exact feeling I did in 2007 — thinking this could be something really, really special."
The process of transforming the church into the Blackbird vacation rental began.
Where the pews used to be is now a kitchen, living room and dining room, Howse said, soon to be equipped with a Ping-Pong table.
The choir loft now features a daybed and a view, and bedrooms have been walled off where the altar used to be.
The entire space is full of nooks and crannies where Howse has found everything from discarded marbles to raccoon fur coats.
The goal is to begin renting the space for the first week of June, and Howse says it is an ideal location for mountain bikers, fly-fishers, or families with kids who want to explore the outdoors as well as the property.
"It's sort of that idea of a destination within a destination — that whole trend toward experience-based travel," Howse said. "You're definitely not staying in a hotel room."