History of Trinity United Church

Our Roots

history page - bannerTrinity United Church is located in the heart of downtown Portage la Prairie.   We trace our roots back through the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches of Portage la Prairie and surrounding area.

The present building was built by our Presbyterian ancestors as Knox Presbyterian Church in 1897. Our Methodist ancestors built a church in 1880 (and rebuilt in 1891 following a fire) called Grace Methodist Church on what is now Royal Road (near the present site of the Herman Prior Centre).

In 1925, The United Church of Canada was created by the Union of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist Churches of Canada as well as a number of Local Union Churches scattered primarily through Western Canada. Both Grace Methodist Church and Knox Presbyterian Church became part of the United Church of Canada as Grace United and Knox United respectively. A number of members of Knox wished to continue to be Presbyterians, so they left Knox and established First Presbyterian Church.

In the 1930s, Knox and Grace United Churches decided to amalgamate to become The United Church of Portage la Prairie.

In 1957, McKenzie Mission which was originally begun by Knox Presbyterian Church in the late 1800s as a Sunday School mission in the west end of Portage was well established and permission was granted for it to become a congregation in its own right. With the creation of McKenzie United Church, the downtown church decided it was no longer appropriate to call itself The United Church of Portage la Prairie and the name was changed to the present Trinity United Church.

Portage Indian Residential School

In a spirit of truth and reconciliation, Trinity United acknowledges our connection with the history of the Portage Indian Residential School.  In 1886, a group of women from Knox Presbyterian (now Trinity United) started a day school for the local Sioux population.  This school soon became a boarding school and continued operations in various forms until 1975.  Children from the school were involved in various activities at Trinity including CGIT (Canadian Girls in Training), Junior Choir and Sunday Worship.  Read a more detailed history of the Portage Indian Residential School.  Read more about the apologies offered by The United Church of Canada.

Fun Facts from Our History

  • The property on which the current church stands was purchased for $1095 in the 1890s.
  • When the first pipe organ was installed in 1904, it cost $2938 including shipping and installation and it did not have an electric motor so there was a team of young boys who earned a small fee for organ blowing on Sunday mornings and evenings.
  • In the early 1900s, the Knox Sunday School would engage a whole railway car to take them on the annual picnic excursion to destinations such as Westbourne, Gladstone, Winnipeg and Carberry.
  • On June 22, 1922, a cyclone hit Portage la Prairie. Both Knox and Grace churches suffered substantial damage.  At Knox, the windows were blown out, the roof torn off and the organ fell through the collapsed floor and was essentially destroyed.  At Grace, there was substantial damage to the roof and the spire of the church literally fell on the parsonage (minister’s house) happily not injuring the minister.
  • The vote for United Church union in 1925 at Grace Methodist Church was unanimous in favour of union.
  • On June 4, 1939, Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth attended worship at The United Church of Portage la Prairie at 10 a.m. The pew they sat in has a special plaque on it and the baptismal font and bible case were donated by them.
  • During the Second World War when there were fuel shortages, the congregation met in the lower hall to avoid having to heat the sanctuary.

Building on Our Foundations

Trinity has continued to change and grow throughout the years in response to the needs of our community.

Worship is at the heart of our community and we have undertaken a number of renovation projects to ensure that our sanctuary space continues to feel fresh and vibrant while maintaining its historic character.  In 2009, we undertook a technology project replacing our antique sound system with a new one to help people hear better and installing projectors and screens so we could make more extensive use of visuals to enhance our worship.  The sanctuary space was refreshed in 2011 with refinished hardwood floors, new carpet and a fresh coat of paint so that it would continue to be an appealing space to praise God for the coming decades.

Once bursting at the seams with students, the Christian Education wing built in the late 1950s  so that students did not have to walk down the street for classes in the Elks Hall gradually became less used except for the kitchen and auditorium.  Sunday School was now held in the recently renovated space under the sanctuary where it had originally been held when the building was first constructed.   Ministers’ and administrative offices had also moved to new spaces underneath the sanctuary.  For a number of years, the congregation struggled with how to make good use of the space that remained in the West Wing (which was the new name for the Christian Education wing since it is at the west-end of the building).

In 2013, we undertook extensive renovations of the West Wing to welcome the Portage Ukrainian Nursery School and in September were delighted to have that space filled with the sound of small children again.  At that time, we also expanded the parlour so that it now has windows and we renovated what had been the ministers’ offices in the lower level of the West Wing with the hope of finding another group to use that space.  In 2015, we welcomed Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Portage la Prairie to those offices and our building began to feel fully utilized again.

We cannot guess what new challenges and adventures we will be called to as we continue to strive to serve God faithfully in this space throughout the coming decades.  Nevertheless, we look forward to the adventure.  If you would like to support us in maintaining our historic building, you can donate through Canada Helps selecting either Building Fund or General Fund or by dropping off a cheque at the church or sending a money transfer to trinityu@mts.net.  Thank you for your support as we continue to build on the foundations established by our ancestors in the faith!

“I feel at home at Trinity through all my life circumstances. At Trinity I experience meaningful and real connection… with myself, with people young and old from a variety of walks of life, and with God.”