Whether you come to experience the peace of the view and the quiet of the church or if you come to listen to the lively music or historical performances, the Canton Church is open every other Friday beginning in June until the end of August every summer.
The church that began as a community center has returned to its roots as the church restoration board presents an array of exciting performances throughout the summer. The church also hosts family reunions, meetings and paint outs by the Helena Art Center. Artists may want to use the church as a pleine aire location for landscape painting. Just below the church is a large park area with water and electricity available. The park is available for use by reservation (Canton Church Usage Information).
For those who wish to tour the church, the board members host tours beginning at 3:00 until 6:00 every other Friday. Signs by Highway 284 indicate when the church is open.
Settlements like the small village of Canton sprang up in the 1860s to serve ranchers and farmers in the Missouri River Valley. By 1872, Canton boasted a mercantile, post office, saloon and dance hall, a doctor, and a hotel. Scattered settlers came together to construct this simple, eloquent Colonial style church in 1875-76. Paid for with community donations and built by ninety volunteer lay laborers, the church was dedicated on October 22, 1876. It is the state’s oldest standing Roman Catholic church not built by a religious order. The style, rarely found in Montana, reflects the roots of many local settlers who hailed from Canton, New York, and elsewhere back east. Arched windows with decorative moldings and a fan light over the original four-panel entry doors (now enclosed in the vestibule) are elements of this style. The Northern Pacific bypassed Canton in favor of Townsend in the 1880s, but the addition of the steeple and vestibule in 1902 document continued growth of the congregation. After World War II, federal officials planned to upgrade Canyon Ferry Dam and raise the reservoir. In its path lay 4,000 farm acres and the village of Canton. In 1952, St. Joseph’s was moved two and a half miles to this location before water swallowed the land. The church, now near St. Joseph’s Cemetery where many of its founding members rest, became a focal point for the displaced community. The Canton Church Project, organized in 1996 with the help of the Catholic Diocese of Helena, today maintains the church. Members include descendants of the pioneer congregation.
Watch "Bittersweet" - a video commerating the loss of the town of Canton feautering the recollections of the family members who lost their farms, homes and family history to the flooding of the Missouri River Vallery.