St. Mary’s Cathedral

On a snowy November day in 2023, I was granted permission to tour the inside of Winnipeg’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, and I hurried over to be present for the 15 minute time slot available that day, which was between a funeral and mass.

I don’t live in Winnipeg, and this was my last day there on a research trip, so I grabbed my gear and was on my way. I wanted to see inside the church because it’s an important setting in my historical novel-in-progress currently titled The Lady Photographer.

There’s nothing like experiencing a place to gain the concrete details needed to make a scene come alive. When I was there, I learned that the gallery hadn’t been built yet when my novel takes place, and that the front entrance was added later. In 1885, when you walked in the church, you literally walked right into the area where the pews are.

I recorded all kinds of minor details about the physicality of the place, and with time running out and little old ladies already claiming the front pew for mass, I turned my attention to my historical overview and relevance to my novel, and performed my ‘one-take’ presentation.

It’s not perfect. I’m glancing at my notes, but I’m proud of myself for not making a complete mess of it.

St. Mary’s was the site of two shows given by Oliver Brown Buell and spouse Alice Buell: one on April 18, 1885 and the other on March 29, 1886. In my novel there is a scene based on the show in 1885 that illustrates what Alice must do to prepare for a stereopticon show in that venue. The scene also provides insight into her new dream of having her own show in the future.

Click here for more info about The Lady Photographer.

Thank you to Calgary Arts Development for their support of this research, and to Aaron Shannon for his videography and creative editing skills.

Click here to watch the video.

And here’s a nifty old ad for one of these shows.

For more information about the history of St. Mary’s, click here.