St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church
6 McMillan Avenue
Red Deer

Douglas Cardinal 1969

Described by Arran Timms (Sacred Spaces, in AlbertaViews magazine, Nov/Dec 2001) as a design that 'that far and away predates Frank Gehry's contemporary, titanium-clad sculptural musings at Bilbao', this brick-clad building stands in the bland suburbs of a small prairie city, and provides an astonishingly graceful contrast. The entire structure - the walls, the roofline, even the roof itself - is curved. The arcs of the long west wall, the vertical curves of the bell tower, the rounded towers of the confessionals, everything about the building seems organic and melded to the prairie landscape and its tall skies.

Inside, the church is built in the round and the exposed brick is largely unadorned. The floor slopes irresistibly toward the altar and the pulpit, and both are illuminated by a pair of deep skylights that seem to be natural extrusions of the ceiling, which itself echoes the slope of the floor. The ceiling is supported only by a row of narrow columns toward the back of the church. Almost every element inside the church reinforces the sinuous exterior of the building and no doubt contributes to its quiet ambience and remarkable acoustics.

The church is an early work by Canadian architect Douglas Cardinal, who rejected a controversial addition to the church made in 1995. A native Canadian Metis, Cardinal is probably best known for the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.



Nigel Brachi 2002 (updated 2009)

How to visit

Red Deer Alberta is about half way between Calgary and Edmonton, just off Highway 2. The church is in the eastern part of the city at the corner of 38 St and Mitchell Ave, about 5 minutes from the main north-south axis of the city. It is open to visitors on weekdays from 10am - 4pm; use the south entrance. To check opening times call +1 403 347 3114.

Books and other web sites

More information about Douglas Cardinal is available from his own web site at


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