Century-old Catholic church converted into vacation rental in Crowsnest Pass

·3 min read
The church has stood in the town of Coleman since 1905. Its current owner, Kym Howse, turned it into the Blackbird Coffee House after buying it 14 years ago. This photo was taken in 2018. (Google Street View - image credit)
The church has stood in the town of Coleman since 1905. Its current owner, Kym Howse, turned it into the Blackbird Coffee House after buying it 14 years ago. This photo was taken in 2018. (Google Street View - image credit)

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.

Howse decided to turn the property into a rental during the pandemic, when she had more time.
Howse decided to turn the property into a rental during the pandemic, when she had more time.(Submtited by Kym Howse)

"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 land was donated to the community by the International Coal and Coke Company, which established Coleman in 1903 to service its nearby coal mine.
The church land was donated to the community by the International Coal and Coke Company, which established Coleman in 1903 to service its nearby coal mine.(Submitted by Kym Howse)

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 church is full of nooks and crannies where Howse has found everything from discarded marbles to raccoon fur coats.
The church is full of nooks and crannies where Howse has found everything from discarded marbles to raccoon fur coats.(Submitted by Kym Howse)

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."

'Experience-based travel'

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.

A mural on the ceiling was originally covered in black coal dust and boarded up for decades, but it has since been restored.
A mural on the ceiling was originally covered in black coal dust and boarded up for decades, but it has since been restored.(Submitted by Kym Howse)

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.

Owner Kym Howse preserved features like the stained glass windows and says the church-turned-rental does not feel like a hotel room.
Owner Kym Howse preserved features like the stained glass windows and says the church-turned-rental does not feel like a hotel room.(Submitted by Kym Howse)

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."

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