The illustrious history of the St. Thomas Anglican Church dovetails with the history of Chilliwack itself.
St. Thomas is celebrating 140 years in Chilliwack with a series of special anniversary events that kicked off on Sept. 8.
“One of the purposes is to remind Chilliwack of its own history,” said Rev. John Sovereign about the 140th anniversary celebrations. “I’d also like the parish to appreciate what they’ve got, which is a very rich heritage.”
The original church building, not the one that now sits at Gore and First, was floated down Harrison Lake on canoes before being rebuilt in downtown Chilliwack.
It was actually the first structure on what would eventually be known as Five Corners.
“Chilliwack grew up around the church and played a significant role in the community,” he said.
The anniversary events kicked off last Saturday with a live band, a barbecue, church tours and old-fashioned games.
The next event is on September 29, with Vivian Seegers of Vancouver, an Anglican minister with First Nations roots will be talking about her work on the streets of Vancouver’s downtown eastside.
The 140th Anniversary celebrations continue in October with a historical Church of England service and luncheon complete with period costumes set for October 27.
“Guests are invited to dress in period garb as well,” the reverend said.
The service will contain a fair bit of singing in an older style of English during the historical church service.
A banquet at the church hall is slated for November 16 and will be open to the entire community.
Also in the works is a commemorative book that will highlight the storied history of St. Thomas parish over the past 140 years, in conjunction with the Chilliwack Museum and Archives.
December festivities will include a Dec. 5 concert by singer-songwriter Steve Bell and a special Christmas Eve Service as the 140th anniversary of St. Thomas Anglican Church comes to an end.
Here’s some of the key history of St. Thomas, gathered by resident Laura Reid.
To serve new residents of the Township of Chilliwack, an unused church, St. Marks, built in 1862, was floated through the waterways on six canoes from Port Douglas on Harrison Lake to Chilliwack, to be reconstructed on an acre of woodland, donated by Isaac Kipp, where Five Corners is today.
The church was renamed St. Thomas and consecrated on November 6, 1873 by the first Anglican bishop of B.C., George Hills. Prominent Chilliwack pioneers instrumental in the establishment of St. Thomas Anglican Church included Isaac Kipp (1839-1921), Horatio Webb (1852-1936), Jonathan Reece (1831-1904) and John McCutcheon (1842-1926).
To put the year 1873 in context, keep in mind B.C. was only a couple of years old, and the RCMP had just been formed, and the Township of Chilliwack was just established.
This small church served the community of Chilliwack until a larger one was built in 1897 on the same site at Five Corners in what would become Chilliwack’s downtown. Designed in the Carpenter Gothic style which was typical of English parishes, St. Thomas was built by hand with local lumber donated by church parishioners. The historic building was built with red cedar, douglas fir and maple.
With the growth of Chilliwack concentrated around Chilliwack Landing and Wellington Avenue, the land St. Thomas occupied at Five Corners was needed for future development. The church building was lifted onto rollers in 1919, and with the assistance of the Royal Engineers, St. Thomas was transported to its current spot, where Gore and First Avenues meet.
St. Thomas Parish continues to serve the community with monthly soup kitchens, seniors’ luncheons, a commitment of volunteers for the annual Salvation Army Christmas Kettle drive. Sunday worship services, weddings and funerals have been continuously held at St. Thomas for the past 140 years and remain vital functions of the parish.