In 1954, Earle Smith arrived in Whitehorse. He came with the RCAF and was stationed here for a number of years. He left the territory in 1961.
Smith was on shift work at the RCAF station and had time off with nothing to do. “Somehow I got volunteered to do carpentry work and painting at Maryhouse to help fill my spare time,” Smith recalls.
The building needed lots of carpentry work on the interior. “I got to know the three Maryhouse workers very well through that time. Mamie Legris and I have been friends now for 56 years this coming May.”
Kate O’Donnell, a director at Maryhouse since 1999, shared wonderful pictures and knowledge of the building’s history. O’Donnell believes the building was moved to the present site in about 1954.
It had been an army barracks during the war. A small house was also attached to the north side at this time. The two buildings join at the present door on 6th Avenue.
The southern portion of the existing building houses the living room and chapel, a kitchen and eating area. Bedrooms are in the northern portion of the present building.
From the outside, one would not realize there are two buildings as the siding encompasses the complete building.
Maryhouse belongs to the Madonna House Apostolate. Madonna House founder Catherine Doherty was born in Russia. In 1917 she was forced to flee Russia.
She moved to Montréal where she worked with other Russian immigrants. She then worked with the United States Chautauqua Circuit providing cultural events for rural areas with no access to classical shows, music and speakers.
The work wasn’t enough for Doherty. Her first marriage was falling apart and the work was difficult with long hours.
She yearned for something more.
She was called by God to “arise and give all you possess”.
Soon, she was organizing Friendship Houses across North America.
During the Great Depression, the Friendship Houses provided soup kitchens for the unemployed. Doherty worked in Harlem for 10 years. She met and married Eddy Doherty during this time and, together, they continued interracial justice work.
In 1947, the Dohertys moved to Combermere, Ontario and began Madonna Apostolate. A few dozen people became a following.
News of Madonna Apostolate spread quickly. Bishop Jean-Louis Coudert, OMI in Whitehorse heard of the movement. He invited Doherty here for a visit. She returned to Combermere to organize a trio of workers for Whitehorse.
In June of 1954, three workers – Mamie Legris, Louis Stoeckle and Kathleen O’Herin — drove up the Alaska Highway to begin a life with Maryhouse.
Soon after arriving, the trio organized the building of shelters for men and women coming into Whitehorse. The women’s shelter was primarily used for women awaiting the birth of children.
In 1997, the shelters closed. By this time there was government support for social programs.
Today, Maryhouse supports the Whitehorse Food Bank and provides sandwiches “as required”. The building is used by AA groups in Whitehorse for weekly meetings.
Maryhouse practises a “poustinic” or prayer life. The building is available for people who need a place to practise their prayer life as well.
Smith’s friend, Mamie Legris, now in her 90s, lives in Combermere, Ontario.
Smith, fondly remembering his time in Whitehorse, lives in Grande Prairie, Alberta.