St. Paul’s at the Watershed ~ before and after 1984
In 1984, the Reverend Harold McSherry retired as the eleventh Rector of St. Paul’s and his departure marked a clear watershed in the history of the parish. For seventy-nine years, the parish had prospered in its location on the corner of Pendrell Street and Jervis Street. The handsome church building had been maintained in good condition and its debt paid off. A church hall that had been built alongside it in 1929 was extended in 1950. These premises became the centre of community activity in the West End, with well-attended services led by a large choir in the church and thriving groups like scouts and guides in the church hall. But now, the West End was changing around the church even though the parish remained the same.
In the 1950s, the old family houses of the West End began to be pulled down to make room for apartment buildings. The make-up of the population altered with the changes in accommodation and the population density increased to become one of the highest in Canada. Old-style families were replaced by single-parent families who were joined by previously unknown (or, at least, unrecognized) residents like homosexuals and unmarried couples living together. For most of these persons, St. Paul’s was perceived as irrelevant, if not invisible, and to some, passively or actively hostile.
Fortunately, the situation did not go unacknowledged. As part of the process of seeking a new rector, the parish was required in 1984 to produce a parish profile. The unknown author (or authors) of this profile document frankly admitted the lack of appeal that St. Paul’s had for the people living around it and the inevitable decline that could lead from that.
“If the present trend continues,” the author wrote “St. Paul’s will be a reasonably well endowed museum within a decade or less. It will have a minute congregation within large and impressive buildings. Only radical change is going to reverse the decline.” This presented a dilemma, because to change existing forms risked alienating members of the congregation who would cease to attend. But, the author warned, “If the parish appears to turn an unfeeling face to the population of the West End, it will not survive.”
Nevertheless, the author concluded with optimism. “If its Rector is able to become acquainted with and be received sympathetically by the many community groups in the area, those people may begin to attend… Although St. Paul’s is going through a perilous phase, it has many resources, particularly in its physical facilities and even in its location in the midst of a heavy population… [Five] years from now, St. Paul’s Parish has a good chance to be an interesting and vital part of one of the most interesting urban areas in Canada.”
In the event, the optimism was justified. The Reverend David Crawley became Rector in 1985 and remained for five years until he was elected Bishop of Kootenay. His place was taken by the Reverend Neil Gray who had already served in the parish for two years as assistant priest. When he resigned in 2003, his place was taken by the Reverend Michael Batten as priest-in-charge pending the arrival of the Reverend Markus Dünzkofer in 2004 as the fourteenth rector. Under the leadership of these successive priests, St. Paul’s has met the challenge. As a re-invigorated parish, it has been able to serve its new community as the original parish once served its old community.
The quotations cited in this article are taken from a document entitled “Profile, St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Vancouver, British Columbia, prepared by the Canonical Committee, October, 1984.”
In 1896, the Reverend Harold Underhill became the fourth rector and during his incumbency the parishioners decided to move the church to a location closer to the centre of the growing residential population in the West End. The building, which, photographs show, had been built with a small spire, had by now acquired a more substantial square tower. In 1898 it was placed on skids and winched up Davie Street, then only a clearing in the bush. The building was placed on Jervis Street at the corner of Pendrell Street. The new location was presumably more convenient but the 250 square-metre church was too small for the expanding membership. The adjacent lot lying east of the church, on Pendrell Street, was purchased and the old church was moved again, to the southern half of the double lot, leaving the northern half clear for the new church. To build a new, permanent church, St Paul’s Church Building Company Ltd was founded with a capital of $50,000. The architect William Archer proposed either a frame-and-stone building seating 420 worshippers at a price of $8,000 or a stone building seating some 550 worshippers at a price of $18,000. The former proposal was adopted. The architect’s plan included a tower with a tall spire at the north-west corner, but lack of funds prevented its construction. The new church was built in classic Gothic style with pointed-arch windows and doors and a well-proportioned interior.
In 1905, the cornerstone of the existing church was laid by the Bishop of New Westminster of that time, and the church was finished ready for use that same year. Now, fourteen years into its independent life, the parish was fully ready to play its role in the life of the West End. For a few years, the new and old churches stood alongside each other, with the old church used as a church hall (also called the parish hall). Nothing of it is known to remain except five windows taken from the old church and installed in the new church: the Bagnall Window in the west wall, the Red-cross Window in the south lobby, the Victoria Window in the south sacristy (the Queen Victoria Room), the Henry III glass in the south transept, and the Crucifix glass in the north sacristy.
Canon Underhill resigned the incumbency in 1908, and his was followed by the relatively brief incumbencies of the Reverend Abram de Pencier (1908-1910) and the Reverend Frederick Chadwick (1910-1913). Then came the thirty-year incumbency of the seventh rector, Canon Harold King (1914-1944). In 1976 the City of Vancouver designated the church a heritage building.
~Leslie Buck and Gail Evans