I started asking questions of old timers, but there are not so many of those left. It is a very interesting study and only someone like Nellie McClung could do it justice.
I started with Mrs. Fynn — Olive — who said that she and Jack were married at her father’s home (the Alex Cameron farm) in 1922 by the Rev. J.P. Henderson, a Presbyterian minister, and went to live at Pouce Coupe. Mrs. Linklater remembers her first church service being in the old town in late 1929. It was conducted in Fred Hall’s house by a Miss McDonald, a Presbyterian deaconess from Grande Prairie. Then I went to the old cemetery, where I found the earliest stone still standing to be that of Olive Fynn’s father, Floyd Strong in 1928.
Next I went to Wesley Harper, who told me of Norman Johnston and wrote to him for me. Mr. Johnston, though in his eighties, wrote a most interesting letter. In 1913 he homesteaded the quarter adjoining town, of which the old cemetery is the north west corner. He wrote that the Rev. Thompson, a Presbyterian minister, held services in his home in 1914. He must have just travelled through the district.
Mr. Johnston left to join the army, and did not return to Dawson Creek until the fall of 1919. On his return, he started Sunday Schools in the log school at old Dawson, South Dawson, Central, and perhaps other places. Mr. Smilie, a Methodist minister of Rock Creek, (Rolla to us) came to him about 1920, and asked if he could hold church services after Sunday School. There were about 25 who attended.
Mr. Johnston spelled Doe Creek as ‘Dough Creek’ and I felt that there was a story involved. Mrs. Mae (Miller) Lewis tells me that when they were conducting the survey north to the Peace River they had a camp on the creek. The cook had a bad batch of bread and threw it, in disgust, into the creek. The creek was low and it remained there all summer, so that creek was really Dough Creek, and not Doe Creek or Doe River as we know it.
Regarding the old cemetery, Mr. Johnston told me that the United Farmers came to him in 1922, and asked for a plot of land for a cemetery. It had to be registered in the name of a church, so it was registered to the Presbyterian Church. He dug the first two graves. The first was an Indian boy whom he visited in the Pouce Coupe Red Cross Hospital and whom he brought to Christ. Perhaps this was our first convert. The second grave was that of Mrs. Blackstock, mother of Jim and Robert A. Blackstock, and Mr. Johnston pays great tribute to her memory. These two graves were the first two plots in the northwest corner of the cemetery.
Mr. Johnston also tells of attending the first public meeting which was held in 1913 on the Howard Atkinson place on Saskatoon Creek, east of the Rolla road. Many things were discussed — among other things, a church. One man got up and said, “Churches were what he came here to get away from”. Mr. Lee Miller of Rolla soon put him right. Mr. Johnston left in 1924 and later became a Missionary to Bolivia.
In the meantime Rev. J.P. Henderson, an ordained Presbyterian Minister, came in 1919. He took up a homestead in South Dawson. Someone should write a book about him. As they say, “He was quite a guy”. He travelled on foot or horseback and visited settlers in their homes. One story told of him coming up to a homesteader’s house. The wife was outside washing on a scrub board, the baby was squalling and it was getting near noon. The hay makers would soon be in for dinner, and a real dinner they expected. After introducing himself, he picked up the baby, made him comfortable, then set in to finish the washing, while the woman cooked the dinner. This story was told to me by the squalling baby, who heard his mother tell it often.
When the old church was moved Walter Wright, who has a nose for history, climbed into the attic and found Rev. Henderson’s diaries… they are “somewhere” in the new church but I have not yet been able to find them. He married, had a large family and retired from the ministry to teach the South Dawson School and work his homestead, in order to support his family. The church must have been rather poor pay, as teachers about that time were receiving $90.00 to $100.00 per month. Before retiring in 1925, he led his congregation into “Church Union”. He left here in 1935 and went back into the ministry. Rev. Ross said in his memoirs that he was a great help and inspiration in his work when he started here. He was the first of our saddlebag ministers.
After the Rev. Henderson’s retirement in 1925, the field was served by the Rev. J.K. Rolston for 1-1/2 years. After that time he left to do Missionary work in China.
Then came J.L. Thompson, student minister, who served for one summer and returned for the following year after his ordination. Daughters of Lee Miller, and Mrs. Jack Paul, then a nurse at the Pouce Coupe hospital, faintly remember him. He made the Fred Chase homestead his headquarters and travelled by foot and horseback, south and west of Dawson Creek. While here he met and married Miss Evelyn Beck, from near Pouce Coupe.
He was followed by a series of summer supplies, serving Pouce Coupe and surroundings including Dawson Creek, I believe, as their names do not appear on the old Rolla register. They were Mr. Curry, Mr. Dawes and Mr. M.C. Anderson. Rev. C.E. Rogers of Rolla then took the services for the winter of 1930 and the Rolla register shows that members of this church were Mr. & Mrs. I. Groh, Mr. & Mrs. Wadsworth and Rev. & Mrs. J.P. Henderson. Rev. Ernie Rands came to Pouce Coupe and took over the work, and was the minister when the new church was started in the “New Town”.
When the Northern Alberta Railroad reached Dawson Creek from Hythe in January 1931, the townsite had already been laid out and many of the stores and homes were moved over. Rev. Rogers and Mr. Irwin Groh had the foresight to choose three lots for a United Church site, at the corner of 4th (now 104th) Avenue and 11th Street. While in the “old town” services were held in the old log school and in the new town, in the Dance Hall, a building where “Bill’s News” now stands. Sunday School was started by Mr. Irwin Groh, the first druggist, and his wife, Edythe, in their home. Their first pupils were Alice, Bertha and Charlotte Hauger; Jim, Jack and Donna Linklater; Denise Hall and Bob and Dorothy Harper.
One cold night in March 1931, the hall was cold and the congregation, consisting of Mr. & Mrs. Groh, Mr. & Mrs. George Hicks, Mrs. Packwood and her daughter, Jessie, now Mrs. Fred Newby, Ted Nythus, and Carl Barker, retired to Groh’s home at their invitation. After the service the question came up of “when are we going to build a church”? They wanted a Christian way of life for the people of the new village. They decided to call a meeting and find out how to go about building a new church. We have always been affiliated with Alberta Conference as they opened up this field when we were still Federally governed as the Peace River Block and we feel loyal to them.
Rev. Rands and Rev. Rogers applied through Presbytery and received a grant of $500.00 and a loan of $500.00 with interest. The first Board of Managers included Mr. Thomas Thompson, Mr. Thomas Henderson, Mr. E.N. Breault, and Mr. I. Groh. Mr. Kennedy was the architect and Mr. Thomas Henderson building supervisor. The estimates for the cost were $1500.00. When the work was completed, they found that the cost was $5.00 off the estimate! How we wish that we could estimate that closely now! This was during the depression and pay for the contractor was 50 cents per hour and carpenters 25 cents an hour.
After the superstructure was erected, a ceremony was held to lay the corner stone on July 31, 1931. Names appearing as Building Committee on the document placed therein were Mr. E.N. Breault – Chairman, Mr. I. Groh – Secretary, Mr. John Niven – Treasurer, Mr. Thomas Henderson – member, Mr. Thomas – member. Rev. Simmons of Sexsmith – Chairman of Grande Prairie Presbytery, Dr. Wilson was the Superintendent of Missions, and Mrs. I. Groh signed for the W.A. Unfortunately the name of the Convenor of Home Missions Committee is faded out, but the names of Rev. Ernest Rands, student missionary in charge and James P. Henderson, who actually laid the Corner Stone, are still clear. The other names were gleaned from Mr. Groh’s historical notes and the typing on the document, which did not fade. The Church was dedicated in September 1931.
Rev. Rands, who was our minister when the corner stone was laid in the old church, told this story at a Retirement Dinner held for him in his North Vancouver church. It has just appeared in the August ‘73 Observer:
They were at East Pine and heard of a baby needing to be christened. The family came across the Murray River in the old “Basket Ferry”. It started to rain as the people gathered. Taking the baby in his arms, he realized that he had not prepared water for the baptism so he just opened the baby’s hood, and let nature do the baptism.
By this time Rev. Russell Ross had arrived from the East to take charge of Pouce Coupe and Dawson Creek. I am very grateful to him for keeping a diary and being so generous with his help. From him I find that the first baby christened in the new church was Gloria Emily Breault, daughter of Edward N. Breault and Amelia Torio. The first wedding to take place in the church was that of Francis Edward Lehman to Viola Stuart Scott. Rev. Ross had a room in the Dew Drop Inn (now the Alaska Cafe) in Dawson Creek, and the Hart Hotel in Pouce Coupe. When he married Miss Jean Teeple of Vancouver, a teacher at the Hays school, the Pouce Coupe charge converted his temporary abode in a garage into a Manse. Dawson Creek also moved the first Manse beside the church but the Grohs occupied that. This he allowed partly from the goodness of his heart, as houses were scarce, and partly because it was impossible in winter to come from a long ride to a cold Manse.
As an example of what those early ministers did, he tells me in his letter that he conducted a service in Pouce at eleven a.m. in the summer. By Model T Ford he could take four services — one Sunday it would be Pouce Coupe, North Swan Lake, and Dawson Creek. The alternate Sunday it would be Pouce Coupe, East Pouce, and Dawson Creek.
In winter Mr. Groh would shovel the snow, light the fire early in the day and if you were late for the 7:30 service he would start it. In the winter he would have to cut out Swan Lake and South Dawson as he had to travel by horse. Once a month he made a round trip, having services at Devereaux on Monday, at Campbell Smith’s homestead on Tuesday, in Willow Valley on Wednesday and in Sunrise Valley on Thursday. Friday he would ride back to Pouce Coupe or Dawson to prepare for Sunday. He also held occasional services at Tupper and twice a year in the Henshaw country.
There was a gentleman’s agreement between the churches of North and South Peace. South Peace United would stay south of the river except for Montney, which had a thriving charge. Fort St. John Presbyterian would confine its activities to the north of the river. This agreement held until the 1950’s.
Mr. Ross started Scouts and Cubs at Pouce Coupe, Hays, South Dawson and Dawson Creek. He stabled his faithful horse in either Fred Hall’s barn or the White Elephant Livery Barn. Board meetings were usually held around Breault’s stove in his Insurance Office.
The first choir according to Jessie Packwood (Newby) consisted of Mrs. George Hicks, Mr. Groh, Ted Nights and herself. The first organist was Mrs. Harold, followed Mrs. Sherwood.
In 1937 the Rev. John Gardiner was appointed to the fields of Dawson Creek and Rolla which were joined for the first time. It was well that he was, like the other young ministers, strong and vigorous as he too covered his fields by horse, bicycle and “shank’s mare” according to the weather.
He had two manses but no cook. This he soon rectified by marrying Miss Nancy Law, school health nurse, for Dawson Creek and area. “Jack” received a lot of ribbing about being in the “hands of the law”. He was young, earnest and lived up to his beliefs, and as he once said, “If the shoe fits, wear it”. We really got to know and like these young bachelor ministers as the congregation was small and they were always glad of a home cooked meal and so were often in our homes.
Rev. Wesley Hutton and his wife Margaret came to us from Ontario in 1940 — on loan to us for three years. He was a retiring, studious young man and preached a well thought out sermon. His wife and his ideal helpmate were out-going and hospitable.
They were with us for the first year of the building of the Alaska Highway and during the explosion of February 13th, 1943. Those were busy years for us all. We stood in line at the bank, the post office, the stores and the restaurants. The merchants’ hair grew long because they hadn’t time to stand in line, to get it cut. There were ration cards and shortages of many kinds and mud and dust everywhere. Mr. Ed Breault was killed in the explosion while helping with the fire fighting.
In June 1943, Edna Jacques- – the Canadian poetess — decided to pay us a visit to give readings of her poems for the church. She informed Kayo Aspol, chairman of the Board, to this effect but without giving him an address in route. She arrived two days earlier than she had planned and got in touch with Mr. Aspol. One of the W.A. members whose husband was away could put her up, as there wasn’t a vacant room or bed in town. Mrs. Aspol was away, so Mrs. Hutton rose to the occasion and gave her dinner while the W.A. member hurriedly finished remaking her bedroom curtains which had been damaged during the explosion. The W.A. took turns feeding her during her 5-day visit.
On May 9th 1943, Rolla and Dawson Creek voted to become self-supporting. Also that year Mr. Tommy Thompson and Mr. Irwin Groh were appointed as the first Elders of the church. The Huttons’ son “Billy” was our first Manse baby. By this time the Huttons’ three years were up and Mr. & Mrs. Arthur Hamilton and baby followed them. At that time– 1943 — the more or less permanent population numbered 3000, but there were easily that many more American Army and civilian construction personnel in camps almost completely surrounding the village. You could hardly push your way down the board sidewalks and you didn’t dare step off for the amount of [mud ?] in the street.
The Hamiltons were young and enthusiastic and reorganized the Young Peoples groups. The Boy Scouts were reorganized with the help of Rev. Gordon Smith, the Anglican minister, and Leo Zamburek — the first lay Scout Master. I think it was Leo who first taught the youngsters to ski on Hauger’s hill. The Hamiltons kept open house for many lonely young people adrift in a small village with few amusements. It must have been a busy life for Mrs. Hamilton with her small baby.
During this period, the Rev. Don Amos, known as the “Parka Padre” up and down the highway, where he served the camps by jeep, was sent in by the Mission Board. He too made his headquarters at the manse, often sleeping in his sleeping bag on the floor. Incidentally Rev. Amos made a sentimental journey back with his wife in 1966. Those who remember him may be interested to know that his son won the Ontario Rhodes Scholarship for 1967.
In 1944 the church and especially the Sunday School were bulging at the seams. A building committee to decide what was to be done, consisting of Fred Hall, Don Waugh, Wes Harper and Harry Morrow was set up. A committee to gather finances, consisting of Glen Braden, Kayo Aspol, Ed Hamilton and George M. Bissett was also named. It was finally decided to extend the church to the north to add a chancel and south to close in the front steps to make a cloakroom and minister’s study. This was paid for from general funds and not from funds amassed by the Building Committee which were kept in a Victory Bond. These additions were dedicated on June 18th, 1944, with the Rev. Charles Kitney of Montney as guest speaker.
Lake Saskatoon had always been the summer camping ground for the whole Presbytery for church activities, especially the C.G.I.T. However, it was getting, as we would say today, polluted. It was thought wise, as Moberly Lake was opening up, to secure a future campsite there for the United Churches in the Peace River Block. It is District Lot #1485, SS, consisting of 31 acres — a crown grant for use of Rolla, Pouce and Dawson with the taxes being paid by First United and the title being held for safe keeping in the City Vault.
The Annual Meeting, January of 1945, was held for the first time as a combined dinner and annual meeting, hosted by Mr. & Mrs. Shaver in their dining room in the Dawson Hotel. The buying of the property at Moberly was ratified. Since to secure the title the land must be paid for surveyed and placed in the name of a Trustee, Mr. W.O. Harper was appointed to this position.
In September of 1945, an American army prefab building was obtained and placed along the land at the rear of the church. The money from the Victory Bond was used to finance and furnish this and the extra plumbing was placed in the manse. No one looking at that homely old building could possibly realize the delight of the Sunday School and the W.A. No more Sunday School classes back to back, no more kitchen stoves moved to halls to cook dinners. A completely equipped kitchen!
According to Mr. Groh’s minutes of July 1st, 1946, the first session was formed then. It consisted of Mr. Irwin Groh and Mr. Thomas Thompson for life. The other elders were Mr. Fred Hall, Mr. George Rand, Mr. Bert Moffatt, Mr. Roger Forsythe, and Mr. Glen Braden. In February of 1946, Harry Morrow resigned as Secretary Treasurer due to pressure of business. He had been our capable Secretary for twelve years. Mr. Frank Mitton was appointed to take his place.
We seem to follow the old Methodist style of changing ministers every three years. Mr. Hamilton resigned and at a meeting of all three charges he was pressed to remain.
All of our young ministers after going through the “School of Hard Knocks” in Dawson Creek went on to be called to fill large city churches, which they did capably. Rev. Ross received his doctorate while filling the pulpit of Vancouver’s First United, a busy church with a Social Welfare Centre.
In 1946 it was decided that since we were now self-supporting, we would exercise our prerogative of calling an experienced minister. We rather overdid it as the Rev. Thomas Bell was nearly at the age of retirement. He was a little old for this young and vigorous community of three charges. However, much was accomplished during his term. Two hundred were in the Sunday School; fourteen members were in the choir — wearing choir gowns for the first time. After much discussion it was decided to name our church “First United”. Rolla United with Pouce Coupe were given their own minister in August 1947, and two services were conducted in First United. Fifty girls and four leaders made up the C.G.I.T. The Junior Circle, under the Presidency of Mrs. Bill Schilds, was formed so that young mothers and working women might attend at night. Nov. 2, 1947 was the date of the first Visitation Dinner Meeting and with Gordon Sutherland as Chairman. Fifteen teams of Canvassers set out to visit their lists of United Church homes and report back in the evening to the church.
Thanks was extended to Miss Moore, first owner of the CJDC Radio Station, for free use of her station for the broadcasting of sermons, over the air, turn about with other churches.
Mr. Groh retired on March 10, 1948 with Mr. Bert Moffatt elected to fill his place. It was with the Session that Mr. Bell really clashed over not following the Manual. Ill health finally caused his retirement on December 15th, 1948. Mrs. Bell was our first Minister’s wife to be President of the W.A., and a very capable worker throughout her stay with us.
Mr. Percy Halstead, a retired widowed minister was found to fill in until a new minister was found to fill the vacancy, the following June 1949. Mr. Halstead won his way into our hearts and homes and brought a Christian calm to our troubled waters.
After much consideration and many letters, the Rev. Sinclair Reikie was chosen and came to us in August 1949 along with his wife Audrey, her mother, Mrs. Hodgens, and their two small daughters, Margaret and Lynne. Both Mr. & Mrs. Reikie were real workers and organizers.
Again more space was needed for the Sunday School so another prefab building was obtained and joined to the rear of the hall. The Ministerial Association took the first church census, and we did our part.
An A.O.T.S. — a man’s group — was planned in 1949 with Ross Braden as first Chairman. The first Junior Choir was formed in September 1948 with Mrs. H. Plain as leader and Mrs. Glen Braden as pianist. They formed the choir for the morning service.
During 1949, sympathy was extended to Mrs. Groh at the passing of her husband. Later a small brass cross was obtained for the Communion Table in his memory. The 1950 W.A. report given by Mrs. Shortt and Mrs. G. Wilson showed the highest amount raised to date, $1848. Since Mrs. Jack Fynn was the first president, for 9 years commencing in 1931, they have been active all through the years and that year, as a sample, included the first mention of the World Day of Prayer at a joint rally with the W.M.S. commemorating the 25th Anniversary of Church Union. The Visiting Committee had made some 305 calls at the hospital and many private homes. Contributions were made to the Manitoba Relief Fund, the local Memorial arena, the Indian School at Morley, Battle Creek Hospital, and local Emergency Aid to Fire Victims, Overseas Relief and the Red Cross, as well as improving the Manse.
The Junior Circle had raised $439.93. They had used this money to provide Mission Band material, vacation school, furnishing for the hall annex, supplies for the Sunday School and helped with the Radio Fund.
After Miss Moore sold CJDC to W.B. Michaud, First United broadcast morning service twice a month and the Mission Board contributed $600.00 per year, for the “Sunday School of the Air” to provide service for outlying districts. Some listeners sent in small contributions, but most of the cost was borne by First United. This carried on for many years.
The services to the outlying districts had been dropped when it was impossible to place ministers in Rolla, Pouce Coupe and Dawson Creek. Roads had been improved and most people had cars and came to the larger centres for their groceries and mail so many small stores closed and schools were consolidated. We had long since dropped the name of Peace River Block, and were now actually Central B.C., however we sometimes feel that as far as southern B.C. thinks, British Columbia stops at Prince George. The Radio Account that year showed $197 beside the $600 from the Mission Board. The allocation for the Missionary and Maintenance fund was $800.
Mr. & Mrs. James Paul were the first members of the congregation to reach their 60th Anniversary. Mr. & Mrs. Jack Paul and family were all present. The United Church took part in the celebrations and an enjoyable afternoon was spent on April 1st, 1951 in the old Legion Hall on 105th avenue and 10th Street.
The Peace River district has always taken a keen interest in Naramata, since its founder Dr. Robert McLaren was a former Pouce Coupe minister. Special admiration was felt for him, for though he was lame it did not prevent him from living a more active life than most young people. He opened the Naramata training school in 1947 on the lake near Penticton and held religious courses for young people. In summer rough cabins were built to accommodate whole families for holiday courses.
On October 22nd, 1951 the Rev. Russell and Mrs. Ross were invited back to conduct our 20th anniversary services and banquet. We enjoyed the visits from the Rosses, then stationed at Calgary. Several of Mrs. Ross’s former friends took her to some of her former haunts, chauffeured by Mrs. Jack Fynn. In Fort St. John she was introduced to “Ma Murray” of the Alaska News. Mrs. Murray was in her usual fine fettle and she enjoyed her visit. That spring we had our first visit from a Moderator in the person of Rt. Rev. C.M. Nicholson.
Mrs. Gladys Schilds and Mrs. Jennie Wilson, mother of Gordon Wilson and Mrs. Eva Patrick were the first women members of Session. Mrs. Schilds feels that her keenest interest was in the Sunday school. Mrs. Wilson was an ardent missionary worker, sewed and led the missionary programs for the W.A. for many years. The W.A. set aside $100 for a new building fund. Mrs. J.B. McFarland remarked in her droll way, “Well, it will buy a few nails”. The first nursery was inaugurated by the Junior Circle.
On April 3rd, 1952, natural gas was finally installed in the church, manse and hall. What a relief that was — no more frozen plumbing; no more barrels of water delivered in winter; no more trying to heat the church on Sunday mornings to bearable temperature. The Minister could use his study, winter and summer. It was almost more important than when we got running water in the hall.
An effort was made to contact new comers to the city through the Post Office, and notices were put up in the hotels.
The 21st Annual Banquet and Service was most successful when it was held on Oct. 25th, 1952 with Dr. H.E.D. Asford of Edmonton as guest speaker. Mrs. J. Fynn, first president of the W.A. and Mr. Thomas Thompson, one of the first Elders, cut the huge birthday cake.
In 1953 the W.A. was all for a new church, as the altered church and halls were now not large enough, especially to accommodate the Sunday School. They now had $450.00 in the building fund. The Board was also contemplating the building of a new church. A committee was formed with Mr. Reikie as chairman. At first it was planned to move the present building to Grandview, to be later used as a Sunday School for that district, and to build on the old site. The plans they wished to use however could not be accommodated on that site. First, the money had to be raised. It was moved by Gordon Wilson and seconded by Douglas Reynar that the “Wells” Foundation be engaged. Mr. Fairclaugh of this organization came up and gave us an outline of what they would do for us.
Alice Hauger was elected secretary to the building fund. They were a brave group, as the Stewards had only $774 in their general funds and $1000 in Canada Savings Bonds. The W.A. had $600 and the Junior Circle promised to help. Their aim was for $75, 000. The committee consisted of W.O. Harper, Chairman; Gordon Kittson, canvass chairman; Glen Braden, initial gifts chairman; C.F. Mitton, secretary treasurer; Roger Forsythe, team chairman; and Gordon Wilson, special gifts chairman. We were asked to give until it hurt, and to lose at least one night’s sleep over making a decision. Mah Show put on a huge banquet in the Dawson Elementary school. Twenty women were asked to invite 20 guests and play hostess with them, at the Loyalty Dinner.
Mr. W.O. Harper presided and Mrs. Lundeen was Hostess Convenor. I would love to give the agenda, as laid down by the “Wells” Foundation, as it both amuses and rather horrifies me. At 6:30 the Rev. Reikie had 2 minutes for grace, dinner was allowed 48 minutes. Did you ever see dishes for 400 people cleared away in 10 minutes, while the diners stretched? Attendance cards were signed and Hostesses thanked in 10 minutes. Mrs. Marion was given 10 minutes to give the church history. Each of the five men on the canvass committee were given 5 minutes to present their cases — that was hardly time to clear their throats! Mrs. Lundeen, who must have worn roller skates, was given 5 minutes to distribute canvass booklets. They did allow Roald Dahlen 10 minutes to read a poem. Mr. Reikie was then allowed 25 minutes for pledge prayer and closing remarks. Hymn and benediction followed and we were out at 9:25.
Mr. Tommy Thompson, who passed away later that year, turned the sod on a blustering afternoon in March, on the site that had once been the James Paul home at the corner of 104th Avenue and 13th street. Mr. Farstad was the architect and Dyke Construction, contractors. The beams each weighed 1350 pounds and it took six men to raise them by block and tackle. Mr. Moffatt, Clerk of Session, and Rev. Reikie got on the cables for the last pull, with Mrs. Reikie looking on. Walter Wright was on hand with his camera.
The two story building is 45′ x 60′ with two kindergarten rooms and kitchenette, parlor, study, office, washrooms, and entrance on the first floor. The upstairs contains an auditorium with kitchen and Sunday School Library. Dedication ceremonies of the Christian Education unit of the First United Church took place on Nov. 6, 1955 when special services were held with Rev. J.C. Gardiner of Wesley United Church, Edmonton, performing the dedication and speaking at both morning and evening services. He chose as his text, “A Church big enough for Christ” and for his evening service, “What a Christian Is”. Following the evening service, a reception was held which gave us the opportunity of visiting with the Rev. and Mrs. Gardiner.
In the meantime, Rev. Reikie had received a call to a new, large church in Calgary, and he and his family left in June. He had been with us for the six busiest years of our church life, and perhaps his own. Mr. and Mrs. Reikie had every detail of the church life at his fingertips. The sanctuary was well planned and he left us with a good setup for the continuances of our church work. He was a good man both in the pulpit and as an organizer.
Rev. Frank Chubb, our new minister and his wife, Shirley, arrived in the summer of 1956. He literally filled the pulpit, as he was a tall, broad young man. After having Mr. Reikie planning everything for us, Mr. Chubb’s ways were quite a shock to us. He was there to guide and lead the congregation and it was up to us to do what needed to be done. Mrs. Chubb had her hands full with her small and vigorous children, but helped in the various women’s groups.
For the dedication of the Sanctuary and the 25th Anniversary Services on Friday, November 30th, 1956, the Rev. Reikie was invited back to preside. Mrs. Groh came from Vancouver to cut the ribbon. Rev. Reid Vipond, President of the Alberta Conference, made the dedication declaration after Mr. R.H. Moffatt, Clerk of Session, had received the keys from the architect, Carl Farstad, and handed them to him. Alsop and Fortin were the contractors.
The Carillons rang out for the first time, and the beautiful new organ pealed forth. Many fine gifts, both large and small, have been presented to the church according to the giver’s means. I cannot record them all. The very first, however, was a picture of Christ praying, given to the old church in the early thirties by Mr. and Mrs. Glen Braden in memory of their parents. It hung in the chancel of the old church and then in the auditorium of the new one. One pew I will mention, and that was given by his many friends in memory of our first caretaker, Mr. William Day. Traditionally, caretakers and women’s groups are always at loggerheads, but we have been very fortunate with ours.
The town was growing and with it the congregation. About 30 families were transferred in by Mobile and Imperial Oil Companies around 1956 – 1957. Many of these were United Church members. They were young, well-educated, willing to work and were a great acquisition to our church.
On April 7th, 1957, twenty-nine people were received into the church by confession of faith and 33 by transfer. I think that it is the most we have ever received at one time. One Sunday, in Rev. Chubb’s time, I think there were 18 children christened at the one ceremony. About this time one of the Royal princes was christened and the Bishop performing the ceremony, exclaimed over baptizing three babies at one time.
A Study Group was formed by the young married women, which ran successfully until two years ago. Besides studying the bible, they did such helpful things as driving children to kindergarten at the native Friendship Centre, and taking turns on the visiting committees.
At this time a young teacher, Lorne Davidson, was very helpful to Mr. Chubb. Besides being on the Session, he took services to Pouce Coupe and Rolla and arranged services at Fort St. John and Montney. He and another young chap, Murray McCausland, had at that time, thoughts of entering the Ministry. The Session advised the Stewards to pay the fee $30.00 a month for six months at Naramata, for any young man planning to enter the Ministry.
Many people since the Grohs’ time have been involved in the Sunday School. Mrs. Scott Kennedy was one of the earlier ones, as was Miss Gladys Harker, now Mrs. Bill Schilds. Later Mrs. Bert Moffatt as a teacher and Mrs. Robert Blackstock as supervisor of the Jr. Division, have given many years to this important work. When the Sunday School became overcrowded at First United in the late 50’s, Mrs. Marjory Marion opened a Sunday School of 95 children in the Parkhill School. With Mr. Mel Benson’s help, two services a month were inaugurated at Rolla by Mr. Chubb. This was to fill in, until the student supply came in the spring.
Timber from the Moberly Lake camp was sold to Fort St. John Lumber Company for $1500.00. This was placed in a Trust account to develop the campsite when a road is built south of the lake and the site becomes accessible.
Since the minute book for 1954 to 1961 cannot be found, I have had to use the well kept Session and Trustees books, pamphlets, and peoples’ memories for most of Mr. Chubb’s stay with us. After 1957 the annual report pamphlets have been a great help.
However, the Manse like “Topsy” in uncle Tom’s Cabin must have “just growed”. The Session suggests a letter, thanking Henry McQueen for the sale of his old home, directly south of the church “at such a reasonable figure” and also to Mr. W. Harper for his help. In the 1957 Trustees report, they reported the building being erected by Norcroft Builders. As a foot note they report a loan of $37,000.00 from the Bank of Commerce and from Roger Forsythe for $20,000.00 at a much reduced interest.
The Session in 1959, paid tribute to our caretaker, Mr. Day, and our secretary, Mrs. Best, for their services which they say “make First United a nice place to visit any day of the week”. That year the Foster Parents Plan was inaugurated by the Woman’s Federation and still continues. The cost has only risen from $15.00 to $18.00 a month.
Mr. Bert Moffatt retired in 1960 as Clerk of Session, after having served for 12 years. Shortly after his appointment in 1948, when strangers began to arrive in numbers, he had been appointed Official Greeter. On his retirement he was made an Honorary Member of the Session. Mr. Archie Rogers was elected to take his place.
In 1960 Miss Theo Weigerink, a graduate of Naramata, was hired as Christian Education director, to assist Mr. Chubb. Mrs. Mary Hyndman had been a volunteer helper prior to this. Former minister, Rev. Wesley Hutton and his wife were invited back as summer supply. Those of us who remembered them welcomed them back. Dr. Helen Huston, a daughter of a former Wembley minister, paid us a visit that summer. She was now a Medical Missionary.
Two sessions of Sunday school and church at 9:30 and 11 o’clock in the morning relieved the pressure on Church and Sunday school. Sunday school reached an all time high of 350 pupils on one Sunday. Over 500 were on the registry. Children’s groups at that time and for many years included Baby Band, four divisions of Sunday School, Teen Church, Junior boys and girls choir, C.G.I.T., Mission Band, Scouts, Cubs and Hi-C Group.
Mr. Walter Wright of the Board of Trustees was entrusted with the job of obtaining the new pews for the church. “They must not be of a wood that slivers”, decided the ladies of the congregation. After looking at pews in many churches, Mr. Wright recommended Larch pews in a light finish. These were eventually obtained at a cost of $4,000.00 unfinished. Many of these were given as Memorials at $145 each and a number by the Woman’s Federation. Small plaques mark these.
When we had a new church, Educational Unit and Manse, one would think that our troubles would be over. However, leaks appeared in the roof, water entered the basement, and paving 104th avenue in front of the church cost us $1697. Money, of course, was scarce as usual and the church was in debt. A budget of $38,481 was prepared for 1963 and we were $7000 in the hole.
Ours is a beautiful church and many people like to be married there, although not belonging to our congregation. This takes a great deal of the Minister’s time. Couples receive counsel and advice preceding their wedding. It also makes extra work for the janitor. The Board of Stewards advised that a proposal be submitted to the Official Board that there be a charge made for all weddings, funerals, and baptisms, or that they not be performed unless on persons involved as members of the First United.
In view of our large deficit it was decided to dispense with the services of a paid Christian Education Director. Mrs. Theo Vandergeest, then director, resigned on November 30, 1962. Mr. Frank Chubb reported that Parkhill United Church was now a congregation, the church finished and dedicated on Sept. 29th, 1963. Presbytery had approved a grant of $5000. Mrs. Alice (Hauger) Carlson had provided the lots on the east side of Grandview. The cost of the church with basement would be around $40,000. Since most of the new Parkhill congregation had already contributed to our building fund, it was agreed that we give Parkhill $20,000 over a period of four years. It was hoped that people would consider this an M&M [?] endeavor and some of them would channel their contributions to general funds.
Mr. W.O. Harper resigned at the Annual Meeting after having served on the Board for 19 years.
In January 1962, in accordance with the new curriculum, the Woman’s Association and Woman’s Missionary Society became the United Church Women. The city was supposed to be divided into groups according to location. However, our groups followed our old sewing circles. The old W.A. became the Alpha group. The Evening Circle kept their group as did the Busy Bees, the central Sunrise and Fynn’s Corner -an interdenominational group –all met once a month. Every two months there was a general meeting. Mrs. Doris Murray was the first general president.
In December 1962, Mrs. Jennie Wilson and Elva Rice, mother of Mrs Bert Moffatt were made life members of the U.C.W. and received pins one evening in church. Later Mrs. Olive Fynn, first president, and Mrs. Ernie Lane on her departure for Kelowna were also honored in this way. The new Curriculum brought changes to the Sunday School, with its membership of 114. The average attendance was 350 at the 9:30 and the 11:00 services.
Mr. Chubb received a call to West Minister Church, Edmonton, and we were sorry to lose them after seven years. A farewell party and gift sped them on their way. His last official act was to lay the corner stone of the new church.
According to Walter Wright’s notes, the documents recovered when the old church was moved in 1961 were placed there-in after being photocopied by Mr. Wright. Along with these were placed a brochure on financing the new church, a copy of the dedication service of the Sanctuary and the copper coins bearing the following dates:
1925 – Church union with the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches.
1931 – The year the old church was built.
1954 – Dedication of the Christian Education portion of the church by Rev. Gardener.
1956 – Dedication of the Sanctuary and 25th Anniversary by Rev. Reikie.
1963 – Placing of these documents in a copper container, in the corner stone.
About the time the new church was built, the western countries were very much afraid of an atomic bomb attack from Russia. The early warning systems were set up with the “Mid Canada” station in Dawson Creek. People across B.C. were building air raid shelters and stocking them with food. People felt that the only way to fight Communism was with Christianity. Those who had never been to church before came to church and really worked. Now the cold war was cooling off and with it the church attendance.
Rev. and Mrs. Lloyd Agnew came with their family from Saskatoon in 1963. His was the difficult task of introducing the new curriculum. The W.A. had been reorganized as the U.C.W., and the Sunday School had made some progress in conforming to the new rules. All groups had studied the new manual.
Mr. Agnew was a conscientious Christian Minister and really believed that one parent in a baptism and one member of a bridal party should be a church member. This had always been in the manual, and had been passed by the Board, for financial reasons but most people approved the churches blessing on a wedding and remembered Christ’s saying, “suffer little children to come unto me”. Mr. Agnew felt that people were taking very serious vows, which they did not understand, and no intention of keeping. He proceeded to put the rules into effect and the move was not popular.
In 1964, as usual, the canvass did not come up to expectations and cuts in the budget were made. Audio Visual Aid was stressed and Mrs. Ronaghan, first director, started a library. The minister’s son, Bob, was leading a lively and interested Hi-C group with Mr. and Mrs. Ken Smith as advisors.
Glover Lawrence, who had been secretary of the Church Board for ten years, since Mr. Mitton’s retirement, resigned because of ill health. When the Church Board was divided into Trustees and Stewards he spent the last few years as first Secretary of the Official Board. He received a Certificate of Service for his work.
After 33 years as leaders in almost all of the departments of the church, Mr. and Mrs. Glen Braden were retiring to Calgary. They presented the church with two pieces of rental property and were suitably thanked by Trustee Walter Wright for this and their many years of service. Mr. Braden spoke briefly of his coming to the Peace River Block as a boy and Mrs. Braden as a bride to Rolla, at a reception given in their home.
Miss Mina Pool of Beaverlodge and Grande Prairie was President of the UCW Presbyterial. She later went into the United Church Ministry from this Presbytery. Robert Moffatt was brought up in the United Church. He became a minister in the Salvation Army. We always welcome him back from his various mission fields.
The lost book must have recorded that the Yukon had been added to Peace River Presbytery, making it the largest Presbytery in at least Canada reaching south and east as far as High Prairie. Mrs. Russ Haddow attended Presbytery when it met for the first time in Whitehorse.
Rev. Agnew resigned in 1965 to accept a charge at Cabri, Saskatchewan, to be near their parents, who were ill. His letter of resignation was accepted with regret.
Mr. Robert Eskdale of Hythe was chosen and he, Mrs. Eskdale and daughter, Christine, arrived that summer. Mrs. Eskdale proved a great acquisition to the U.C.W. and their daughter made many friends among the young people.
Money was as usual was a problem. The Student Minister Fund, not having been drawn on, was closed that year. In future according to the new rules, all moneys were to be turned in to the Board of Stewards, and all bills paid by them. This included the U.C.W. and Sunday School. The Missionary Society was given time, in Toronto, to fulfill its obligations. They raised their money before they spent it. The budget was kept to $31,500. The Manse was painted by volunteer labour.
Rev. Eskdale found that we, instead of Toronto, had been paying for the Radio Program “Tell Us A Story” and $714 was recovered for us. As usual we were plagued with the leaky roof of the church and the leaky basement of the Manse.
The cold war had long since cooled and with that the people had began to drop away from the church. Mr. Eskdale kept the church expenses at a minimum, but he was a preacher of the old school and could not hold the attention of the congregation. He resigned in June of 1967. With Rev. Jordan of Parkhill taking funerals and weddings for a time, the services were carried on by several laymen until Rev. S.J. Wylie came to us in November 1967. He met us at the door with “The top o’ the “Marnin” to you”. By the second Sunday we remembered the answer to that, “And the rest of the day to you”.
Rev. Wylie said on his first Sunday that his sermons would be brief. During his four years with us, he never read a word from the pulpit. Even the Bible readings were given from memory, or the story was told in his own words. He told us that his sermons would not be long — no more than fifteen minutes. He said “If you can’t strike oil in 15 minutes, quit boring”. He told many amusing stories, many of them about Ireland, but they always had a point, that drove in the meaning of his text. He said of this situation in Ireland, “All those good Irishmen killing each other, for the love of God.” No on slept in church!
The first Sunday was an awful shock to us. Someone had forgotten to put the numbers on the hymn board. After the former minister’s repetitious habit, giving the number of the hymn three times, we were aghast when Mr. Wylie announced the number and the organist began to play. There we were, like the character in J.M. Barrie’s book, “The Little Minister”, who hunted desperately for Ezra, which had “fair looped out of the book”. We smartened up after that!
Before the arrival of Mr. Wylie – or S.J. as he was commonly called – in order to balance the books, the legacy left us by Mr. Jack Ho Lem’s will of some $4200 was turned over to the general fund after a sum had been spent on a memorial. The rental property, given to us by Mr. & Mrs. Glen Braden was sold for $10,000. The canvass proved fairly successful. It was felt that with a dwindling congregation and overhead rising, the people left would have to raise their contributions.
One morning, in the wee small hours, the Notre Dame Church was badly damaged by fire. Mr. Wylie was out of bed and on hand to offer the use of First United Church to them until the Catholic Church could be repaired. He announced this to us, on the following Sunday. He said, “I thought he’d better call the chairman of the Board of Stewards after the deed was done.” Happily they backed him up. That was the busiest summer First United ever had. The Catholic Church held four services to our one. The flower committee had always been careful to put Shamrocks in the church near the 17th of March Sunday, and orange lilies were always in bloom for the July 12th week. One of the flower committee members met Mr. Wylie, while carrying over the lilies and said, “What will the Catholics think of these?” He said, “Father Turgeon is French, he’ll never know the difference.”
On his first Sunday, Mr. Wylie informed us that as a bachelor, he was a poor cook and hoped to “put his feet under every dining table in the congregation”. The ladies took the hint and our names went down in his little black book. When he was leaving he told us that he had “put his feet” under 350 tables in Dawson Creek. By coming to dinner, he met every member of the family and got to know us all. He always left promptly at 7:30 “to write letters” he said.
When Notre Dame was restored, they presented us with a cheque for $1000. Of this we returned $500.00, to help with their new church.
S.J. mostly did his visiting on foot, “for his health’s sake” he said. He asked that the “Hunter memorials” be used to buy a portable Communion set. With this he visited the shut-ins and administered the Lord’s Supper to them.
The Board of Stewards reported a successful year in 1968 with all debt retired.
We were sorry to lose many of our friends and supporters when the Imperial Oil offices were moved to Edmonton in 1969. Instead of us giving them a gift at the farewell supper held in their honor, a cheque was given us to purchase two chairs for the chancel. We needed no gift to remember them. Mr. Miller and Mr. Wylie worked as a team and assisted each other on many occasions. Mr. Miller also helped with our Sunday school.
For the first time since 1955 we were free of debt, though we had sacrificed our legacies to do this. I’m afraid we rather rested on our oars and took a breather when everything was going so well, though not even Mr. Wylie — the silver tongued “orator of Calgary” could fill the church.
In 1969 some action was taken to help the Sunday school. It was felt that the cost of $1.50 for a book for each pupil, as laid down in the new curriculum, had prevented some families from attending Sunday school. It was decided that the books would hereafter be loaned and payment demanded only when books were not returned. The problem of books was quite a poser. The books cost $800.00 to the church in the beginning. With the rapid turnover in population, many people would forget to return them on leaving town. However, the Sunday school is really the most important part of the church and must be supported. Plywood dividers of a very substantial but portable nature were also made to divide the auditorium into classrooms.
It was decided that a charge of $50.00 be made for all weddings, but that members and regular adherents have that sum credited to their yearly pledge.
Rev. Wylie had a birthday coming up and it was decided to have a party and present him with a portable typewriter with his name and date on the case. It was also decided that the Minister, Secretary and Sexton (as he was now called) would have their salaries raised 5% as of January 1st, 1970.
On April 1st, the Board of Stewards put on a pancake supper as a sort of church members get acquainted event. The charge was $1.00 per family. That was a pleasant occasion at least for the ladies, and the total loss was only $7.50.
Mr. Wylie was now 74 years young and felt that he could no longer handle so large a charge. We were sorry to see him go. A farewell potluck supper was arranged. All the space in the auditorium was set with tables, and some had to eat standing up. His friends from other congregations in the city were invited, and Sister Lavigne, Matron of St. Joseph’s Hospital was also present. Mr. Wylie managed to keep the tone of the affair in light vein by presenting a carnation, especially tinted green as a boutonniere for him, to Sister Lavigne.
Mr. Wylie left behind many friends when he returned to his “second” home, Calgary, and his beloved Rocky Mountains. I’m sure when we sing “unto the hills around will I lift up by longing eyes” many of us will think of him. The Irish blessing he often repeated, we shall remember –
Services commenced at 10:30 to let people get away earlier in our short summer months or to enjoy a chat after the service over coffee. Coffee klatches and Bible Study Groups were inaugurated. Mr. Park suggested an overall President be elected with chairman, as usual, of each group. Christian education and group life would have priority.
No “every person” canvass was held that fall. Mr. Park said in report of March 1972 that little help was being given by the congregation in leadership for youth groups, no one for “Hi-C” and assistance was needed in C.G.I.T.
Mr. Park tried his utmost, the faithful members of the Board did everything except to make a personal canvass, and that had not been successful in the past. There just weren’t enough interested people who would help physically or financially to keep such a large building, with such a large overhead, operating without running into debt. People were not even “dropping their children off” for Sunday school. Expenses had gone up terrifically and giving had gone down.
The August Observer has an article which informs us, that we are not alone in this trend away from the church. “Membership”, it says “rose every year from 1925 to 1965 and since then has steadily declined”. “The chief cause” it says “is failure to recruit the children, baptized in those years, into membership in our church.”
Somehow our programs of evangelism and Christian Nurture have lost or at least failed to win 50,000 young people in Canada. What can we do about it?
It is a long time since Mr. Groh shoveled the snow, lit the fire and started the service for a “saddle bag” minister. Parkhill was doing well with the assistance of the Mission Board grant each year. However, the Mission Board felt that they had contributed for a suitable period and must withdraw the grant as of June 1973. On being approached they decided to carry on till June 1974, then rescinded that decision, but were persuaded to continue to December 1973, to give us time to work out a union.
In the meantime we were advised that when two churches united, it was better for both ministers to resign and for a new one to come in. Miraculously the Board found a young man, Dr. Brian Brown, with seven years experience who was willing to accept the challenge. We hope that with him, the church, for which the pioneers worked so hard, and prayerfully to achieve, will be able to carry on.
I have gone carefully over the available Session reports from 1946 to 1973 and have found that 195 persons have joined the church by Profession of Faith. From Mr. Ross’s notes I find 17 and Mr. Gardiner’s 3, but I know for a fact that there were many more than this between 1940 and 1946 but can find no record of them in all my reading. Mr. Norman (Sunday School) Jonson ended his letter by saying, “only when God calls us all home will we know all the answers.
In writing this story I have tried to get a true picture of the church of early years. The sources from which I have drawn I have acknowledged as they story progressed. Mr. Wesley Harper and Mr. Walter Wright have corrected and added to it. I could not give credit to all the fine people who have worked to build and continue First Church so I have tried to mention the “Firsts” and those whose work has been of long duration from the Stewards’ point of view. Since two of the Stewards books are missing I am sure there are some gaps.
Any opinions I have expressed have been my own. As always I am grateful to Mrs. Best, our “First” and only Church Secretary for her co-operation.
Jean Lawrence (Mrs Glover)