Bruce Hodding/Special to the Gazette
At the far end of Hatley Memorial Gardens, between the Colwood Pioneer Cemetery and Emery Family Hall, stands St. John the Baptist Heritage Church.
John the Baptist was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness; prepare the way of the Lord,” a fitting name for a Church nestled in one of the last remnants of Colwood wilderness on Glencairn Lane. St. John’s Church is surrounded by towering Douglas fir giants and in the spring, the churchyard is carpeted with snowdrops, camas blossoms and other local wildflowers.
The church was built through concerted efforts of Laura Dunsmuir and the Colwood Women’s Institute, which is still a going concern. Laura, the wife of James Dunsmuir, former premier and lieutenant governor of British Columbia, lived at the recently completed Hatley Castle. She and Edith Peatt and other members of the Institute held garden parties at the castle to help raise funds for the new church. Local resident Arthur Peatt donated the land, and Mrs. Dunsmuir donated the cast brass bell.
St. John’s is an excellent example of Carpenter gothic architecture, reminiscent of many Anglican churches of the era throughout North America, Australia and New Zealand. The style was a re-imagining of medieval or gothic stone architecture in wood, often featuring a steeply pitched gabled roof, a belfry and lancet windows. For the construction of St. John’s, wood was milled from trees fallen along Glencairn Lane.
Inside, the church has a vaulted, raftered ceiling and original tongue and groove vertical cedar siding, all without a knot.
In the church graveyard, the names of prominent early Vancouver Island families can be found on the tombstones, such as Emma Ogden and Floyd Dennis Pearse. There is also the grave of William Parnell Despard Pemberton, the younger son of Joseph Despard Pemberton, former surveyor-general of Vancouver Island.
The church opened in 1913 and was consecrated in 1915. It had served the local community for years when, in 1978, St. John’s amalgamated with St. Matthew’s (Langford) and the joint congregation became too large for the small church. In 1986, Rev. Joe Titus led the congregation down Glencairn Lane to their new church, Church of the Advent. In 1996, St. John’s was acquired by the City of Colwood, who with many local volunteers and donations from various individuals have done a wonderful restoration job, even adding a wheelchair ramp.
A few weeks ago this ramp came in to important use when a woman showed up with her elderly mother, who was confined to a wheelchair and was said to only have a week to live. She was out for the day and wanted to visit their old church.
We invited them in and up the ramp they strolled. Inside, the elderly woman came alive, pointing out the pew where they used to sit and commenting on how her boys used to act like monkeys. Just a week later she died and her daughter said she never stopped talking about her visit to their old church.
St. John’s is still in use today as a church. Every Sunday at 10 a.m., Westshore Community Church (westshorechurch.ca) holds their service, then at 2 p.m., Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church (holytrinity-rec.ca) hosts its own service. This Sunday (Dec. 18) Holy Trinity will celebrate a Carol Service at 2 p.m. and on Christmas Day, the two congregations will hold a joint Christmas service starting at 11 a.m. Everyone is welcome to attend.
Bruce Hodding is a Vancouver Island writer who attends Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church.