Thursday September 16, 2010

Community Life

Sanctuary Through The Ages

Church has the hearts of many embedded within it's walls  

Craig Hill/Voice


t's modest looking exterior belies the grandeur hidden inside and once there, you realize that it's far from just an ordinary building. The little old church on the corner of Gore and First Ave. wasn't always in the spot where it now sits. It was actually where the Clock Tower is now at Five Corners.

On Saturday, St. Thomas Anglican Church celebrated it's 137th Anniversary with Pioneer Fall Fair Saturday. The Voice had the opportunity to tour the centenarian church along with Mayor Sharon Gaetz and others.

The tour was led by Jim Stevenson who says he was married in the church 50-years ago who talked about the history of the church and how it came to be in Chilliwack.

Prior to landing at Five Corners the building was located at Port Douglas on Harrison Lake and when the Sappers built the Cariboo Wagon Road, the populace began using that as the main route instead of the steamers on the lake, eventually turning the Port into a ghost town.

A decision was made to salvage the building and bring it to Chilliwack where pieces of it were brought in on six Indian canoes that were lashed together.

In 1897, a new church was constructed at its present location and much of the furnishings were moved into the new building including an actual panel from the original building. Since that time small alterations have been made to the interior with the addition of choir pews, balcony and the front doors in 1995.

From the immense ceilings to the hand carved dogwood altar.

Amazingly, everything in the church had a life of it's own. Every piece of furniture had a special purpose and a name right down to the lamp hangers on the posts.

"In 1952, the church had a steeple top fire and the bell cracked from the heat," explained Stevenson adding that "the present bell was made in England."

Stevenson said the holy water used for baptizing goes directly into the ground and not into the sewer system.

Framed lists of names of Chilliwack people who passed away in service to their country make it a wall of memories in the knave section of the church.

The children's altar was made in 1941 by Walter Middleton. It's no longer used but has earned a spot in the church. Stevenson said Middleton was his woodwork teacher in school.

"A year after I graduated, he was cutting on a power saw and a piece of wood jumped up and hit him in the face and blinded him, so fortunately he had his sight for this.

The tour brought back some memories Mayor Gaetz who performed a winter wedding once in the church.

"This is one of my favourite parts of the church, I love this," said Mayor Sharon Gaetz while pointing to the small rectory door on the south side which is well over a hundred years old.

"It just felt magical walking through the door and coming in here from the snow," said Gaetz.

At the heart of the church is a beautiful handmade altar adorned with carved dogwood flowers that was donated by Fred Jubb who used to have a meat market in town on Wellington Ave.

The church has a memorial garden which accepts ashes but not urns so as not to have to be designated as a cemetery.

"If you want to be buried in there, the ashes are taken out of the urn and put in the ground," said Stevenson. "Part of the problem is the minute you put an urn in the ground, it becomes a cemetery and this way it's not."

Just as the St. Thomas Anglican Church is a part Chilliwack, so too are the people who came before us a part of the church and those who work to preserve this precious and timeless building.

See the photo gallery below.


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