Precious Blood Roman Catholic Church

The Église du Précieux Sang, built between 1967 and 1969 in St. Boniface, Manitoba, was designed by Étienne-Joseph Gaboury, of Gaboury, Lussier, Sigurdson Architects.

The Église du Précieux Sang, built between 1967 and 1969 in St. Boniface, Manitoba, was designed by Étienne-Joseph Gaboury, of Gaboury, Lussier, Sigurdson Architects. One of the most imaginative and inventive Canadian architects of his generation and author of a number of important civic projects - among them the Canadian Mint in Winnipeg and the Canadian Embassy in Mexico - Gaboury has excelled in the design of churches. After graduating from the University of Manitoba in 1958 and spending a year in Paris, Gaboury's activities centred in Winnipeg, where each of his church projects represents a distinctly unique approach to the challenging task of creating an inspiring space for worship.

The architectural diversity of these churches as well as other buildings in Manitoba bears witness not only to this architect's prodigious creativity, but also to the vibrant architectural scene of 1960s Winnipeg. Due in great measure to the presence of John Russell, under whose direction the University of Manitoba School of Architecture could boast of a distinguished international teaching staff and outstanding graduates, the city became an important centre of architectural exploration and innovation. It is in the context of that fertile creative climate that the Precious Blood Church stands out as a highly convincing architectural evocation of purpose, community, place and time.

The basic plan arrangement of the church respects the directives of the Second Vatican Council in that the congregation is placed in a semicircle in close proximity to the altar. Located on an open corner site, the curving low brick walls of the church establish a sympathetic scale relationship with the surrounding suburban homes, while the inclined cedar-shake-clad upper part produces a dramatic silhouette that dominates the skyline of this quiet residential area of the city. A sensitive response to the severe Manitoba climate can be seen in the minimal openings that also dramatically modulate the entering daylight to generate an otherworldly atmosphere in a place of transcendental tranquility.

As the church serves primarily a Métis community, a subtle cultural reference has been introduced: the structure and the resulting space suggest, but do not literally replicate, the basic configuration of a tipi. Incorporating the 20th-century technology of glue-laminated structural elements, and a bold asymmetry in the arrangement of its spatial components, the church is clearly a product of its time. Yet in the disciplined integration of geometry, structure and materials, it embodies those fundamental architectural values that transcend time and place. It is in this purpose- and culture-based formal coherence that the Precious Blood Church emerges as one of the most significant Canadian works of architecture.

Further Reading

  • Harold Kalman, A History of Canadian Architecture (1994); Peter Richardson and Douglas Richardson, Canadian Churches: an architectural history (2007).

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