Lunch with Mary Ann Cotter

In January a group of representatives of local organizations gathered at the Highway 12 Caffe to have lunch with Mary Ann Cotter and her cousin Janice Doggett.  Mary Ann is the daughter of Broadwater County native Tom Cotter. The Cotter family had a farm in the Canton, Mt. area before it was flooded during the creation of Canyon Ferry Lake. 

Tom Cotter grew up in the Canton area and attended school in Townsend. After granduation, Tom spent time in the Merchant Marines before obtaining a degree from the University of Montana. Tom went on to go to work for Merrill Lynch as a financial planner eventually moving to Palo Alto, Ca.  Tom did very well in the financial world and created the Cotter Foundation which has given generously to organizations in Broadwater County.  In 2014 Tom gifted $11 million dollars to the University of Montana - the largest single gift ever given to the University. The University of Montana Foundation awarded Tom the "Order of the Grizzly" - the highest distinction the Foundation has.

Since Tom's death in 2014 Mary Ann Cotter has continued to run the Foundation and has continued to give grants to local Broadwater organizations: scholarships for graduating high school seniors, Broadwater County Library, Broadwater County Museum, Broadwater County Community Foundation, Rotary and, of course, Canton Church Restoration, Inc.

During the lunch the representatives of the various organizations talked with Mary Ann about all they had achieved with the grant monies awarded by the Cotter Foundation.  Mary Ann seemed to enjoy learning about the community and the many uses of the grant money.

In addition to the representatives from the local organizations Mary Ann was able to visit with local family friends of the Cotter Family - Eileen Perry and Sharley Regan.

Mary Ann hopes to have a return visit to the area this summer or early Fall.  


Welcome to the Historic Canton Church

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.