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.”

Leslie Buck
July 2009

The Founding of the Parish of St. Paul’s in the West End

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When the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in Vancouver, the railway workers moved from their old centre at Yale on the Fraser River to a new district that they called Yaletown. Their new homes fell within the boundaries of the Parish of St. James and it was the Reverend Henry Fiennes-Clinton, Rector of St. James, who addressed their spiritual needs. The first Anglican service in what was to become the present-day Parish of St. Paul’s was held in 1889 in a mission room located on Seymour Street. Meanwhile, two lots were purchased from the Canadian Pacific Railway on Hornby Street where the Marriott Hotel now stands. A church was built and the first Eucharist in the parish was celebrated there on March 24, 1889. In 1890, the Reverend Ernest Flewelling took the place of Father Clinton as priest-in-charge, and then became rector when, in 1891, the Parish of St. Paul’s was formally separated from the mother Parish of St. James. His incumbency was succeeded by the short-lived terms of the Reverend Thomas Outerbridge (1894-1895) and the Reverend Henry Bowers (1895-1896). The parish included the downtown peninsula south of Nelson Street, and Fairview on the south side of False Creek. This proved unsatisfactory to parishioners living in Fairview and in 1898, they separated to form the Parish of Holy Trinity, which meant that the church was no longer at the geographical centre of the parish. At the same time, the West End was being developed as a residential district, while Yaletown was given over principally to industry.

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 where most of them lived. The building, which, photographs show, had been built with a small spire, had by now acquired a more substantial 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. So in 1903, the building was moved again, this time to the adjoining lot on Jervis Street, leaving the original lot for a new building. (It was also re-aligned through 90 degrees.) 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 style of the resulting church is classic Gothic with many beautiful stained glass windows, dark wood beams, and wainscoting. Archer’s plan included a tower with a tall spire at the north-west corner, but lack of funds prevented its construction. Building commenced in 1904.

In 1905, the cornerstone of the existing church was laid by the Bishop of New Westminster at 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. The new and old churches stood alongside each other. The old church was used as a church hall. Nothing of it now remains except the Bagnall Window, which was taken from the old church and set in the west wall of the new church. In 1976, the City of Vancouver designated the new church a heritage building. As such, it cannot be torn down and the integrity of its design cannot be altered. Canon Underhill resigned the incumbency in 1908, and his term 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).

~ Leslie Buck
July 2009