Building profile: Église du Précieux-Sang

Lead photograph by Nickuzhov, 2019, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Église du Précieux-Sang, or the Church of the Precious Blood, was designed by Manitoban architect Etienne-Joseph Gaboury in the St. Boniface neighbourhood of Winnipeg. The building was completed in 1968 and continues to serve as a church to the parish through today.

Exterior of Église du Précieux-Sang. University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, Henry Kalen fonds

In the post-war era, many modernists were engaging with ideas of spirituality and monumentalism in architecture. There was a desire to examine the ways in which architecture played a role in the values of society, and how it could represent new understandings of spirituality, history, and identity. Précieux-Sang engaged in melding different religious, spiritual, and architectural traditions to create a building laden with regional meaning and identity.

The church’s structure is made of a glazed-brick base, undulating to include sacristies, confessionals, and side rooms. The roof reaches a height of 85 feet, culminating in a stained-glass window that lets in natural light into the main sanctuary. Rows of wooden benches provide 525 seats, circling the altar and drawing worshippers into the church services.[1]  

Left to right: 1. Image of the altar inside the church, 1968. University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, Henry Kalen fonds. 2. Interior of the church, 1969. Winnipeg Architecture Foundation via University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections.

The church’s design fused dramatic use of light with a plan that would allow for dynamic movement around the altar, encouraging spirituality and engagement with the rites of Roman Catholic practice.[2] The identifiable spiral roof echoes the spiral movement of the activity inside its walls, expressing the building’s dynamism in an outward fashion.

Left to right: 1. Roof detail of the church, 1968. University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, Henry Kalen fonds. 2. Interior photograph of the ceiling, 1968. University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, Henry Kalen fonds.

Evoking the tipi, the roof’s design also honours the parish’s Métis background, transposing Plains Indigenous history and spiritual connotations onto a Christian edifice that hosts a distinct people with a rich cultural heritage. At Précieux-Sang, Gaboury did not copy the tipi, but borrowed several key elements to meld ecclesiastical needs with modern and Indigenous architectural forms. The glue-laminated fir beams emblematic of modern architectural technology hold up the cedar shaked roof, reminiscent of the poles that hold up the tipi. The tipi’s traditional smoke hole is implied by the small window at the top of the roof,[3] often understood to not only be a response to the harsh winter climate of the region, but to be central to the church’s dramatic lighting, contributing to an atmosphere of transcendence.[4] The spiritual connotations of the tipi are prescient at Précieux-Sang, where the connections to the land, deities, and prayer central to the design of the structure’s poles, covering, and site,[5] are evoked in the church setting, encompassing a melding of spirituality that is central to local Métis identity.

The Église du Précieux-Sang is a model of a truly regional form of modernist Canadian architecture, speaking through local idioms to create a building whose use of form, light, and material would evoke a strong reaction within a spiritual context.

Interior of the Église du Precieux-Sang, 1968. University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, Henry Kalen fonds.


[1] Leon Whiteson, Modern Canadian Architecture, (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1983), pp. 100-101.

[2] Ibid., p. 99.

[3] Harold Kalman, A Concise History of Canadian Architecture, (Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 574.

[4] Radoslav Zuk, “Precious Blood Roman Catholic Church,” The Canadian Encyclopedia,  https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/precious-blood-roman-catholic-church accessed December 6, 2020.

[5] René R. Gadacz, “Tipi,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/tipi accessed December 6, 2020.

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