HIStory & HERitage
While it may not look like it now, the Willow Lake Church in Anzac was once a beautiful building, bursting at the seams with a crowd of people. For over 50 years, the Church was the centre of the community. It was where residents met to discuss projects and concerns, where young couples exchanged martial vows, where children were baptized, and where friends and family gathered to say goodbye to their dearly departed.
Looking at the dilapidated structure, it’s difficult to imagine that this little church was part of an internationally historic event: the Cold War.
As a defensive measure during the Cold War, Canada constructed the Mid-Canada Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line in the mid-1950s. This was a line of radar stations, stretching across the country along the 55th parallel. Its purpose was to detect incoming Soviet aircraft attacks on North America.
One of these stations, and the only one of its kind in Alberta, was located at Stoney Mountain, near Anzac. It was in operation by 1957. However, due to advancements in jet aircraft, the Mid-Canada DEW Line became obsolete shortly after it was established. In 1964, the Stoney Mountain station was closed and its buildings were either destroyed or moved.
The Willow Lake Church (which was the Protestant church at Stoney Mountain) was moved to Anzac around 1962. Anzac was chosen because the community had recently lost their church to a fire.
Following the relocation, the building was slightly modified. A larger entrance was added to the front and a steeple was attached to the roof. The Mennonite Mission used the building as a school from 1962 until 1966.
The Mennonites then donated the building to the community as a non-denominational church. Over time, the church was also used as as a meeting place for groups and organizations until a larger church was built in Anzac about 10 years ago.