A Journey in Faith - the Story of the Squamish United Church

Part 1

This history of Squamish United Church is based on a document prepared in 1988. It is dedicated to the memory of Freda (Munro) Clarke (1907-1983), who was responsible for researching and writing the largest part of the material. Because of her love of history and our congregation, we are able to pass her knowledge on to future congregations to enjoy. She is lovingly remembered.

Our past is worth knowing. It gives the present its setting, and thereby has a steadying influence. It gives a sense of proportion. What seemed a mountain, with the lapse of time, may be seen to be only a molehill. The document has a charm all its own. It warms the heart with interest and amusement. It awakens memories; many that bless, and perchance some that burn. Over its landscape there ever stands a rainbow.

Committee: Nancy Hutchinson, Fern Green, Lynette Halvorson, June Halvorson

Humble Beginnings

July of 1891.... It must have been a beautiful summer day when a Methodist Minister, the Rev. Elihu Manuel and a companion rowed from Gibson's Landing to Squamish. His journey took him along the west shore of Howe Sound, north of Anvil Island to the head of the Sound, and then up the Squamish River to near its present confluence with the Mamquam River. In the area now known as the North Yards, he and his companion visited the home of an early settler, presumably that of the Rae family, where they held what is believed to have been the first divine service in this region.

Upon his departure, the settlers were once more left to worship in their own unassisted way until 1894. On May 6th in that year, Miss Annie Edwards (later to become Mrs. Harry Judd) started the first Sunday School and Bible Class in the community's first schoolhouse, close to the duplex just north of the Wagon Wheel Trailer Court. During 1894 and 1895 a number of Methodist ministers and students periodically found their way to Squamish to assist and encourage the worshippers. Each Sunday, Miss Edwards would appoint one of the settlers to lead the service on the following Sunday. At these meetings, hymns were sung, prayers offered and a portion of the Scriptures was read and discussed. Attendance was good, ranging from twenty-five to forty. The services continued on an interdenominational basis until 1904, when a lay reader of the Anglican Church Mr. William Mashiter and his wife went to England, and the organist (Miss Judd) moved to Vancouver.

But changes were taking place. In 1907, the Howe Sound and Northern Railway decided to construct a railway from the head of Howe Sound, passing through the Cheakamus Canyon to Pemberton, with the hope of continuing onwards into the interior. However, progress was slow. In 1913, the Pacific Great Eastern took over the original company, and backed by the provincial government, continued the project. The centre of the valley had moved southward to what is now downtown Squamish. And as the population grew, Bishop Dart recommended that the Anglicans in the community appoint their own minister. The Rev. Allan Greene began to hold regular services every second week; the first communion service in the Valley was held on July 7th, 1912, with seven taking part. The Rev. Pentcroth officiated. The Rev. Greene soon recommended building a church and raising funds for this purpose. He left in the fall, and was succeeded by the Rev. Baxter, who carried the project to a successful conclusion. Thus, the Anglican Church on Sixth Street was officially opened on July 20, 1913. This left those who were not Anglicans without a church home, but not for long.

In Search of Our Own Church Home

Sunday school picnic in 1934

Sunday school picnic in 1934

With the Anglicans firmly settled into their own church building, the Presbyterian Church of Canada took the remaining Protestants of the Squamish Valley under its wing. Mr. Matheson, a Theology student from Queen's College, Kingston, Ontario, was appointed to serve Squamish, or Newport as it was then known, for the summer months. Services were held in the school building, a two room wooden framed building which had been constructed on the west side of Third Street, almost directly across the lane behind the present Christian Education Centre. In 1914, Mr. Matheson was replaced by another student from Queen's, a Mr. Corkill, who served the Squamish community until he enlisted in the First World War.

During the next few years, services were taken by Mr. Robert Young, a lay member of the Presbyterian Church, and by Mr. William Mashiter, a lay member of the Anglican Church. A number of students from Westminster Hall, the Presbyterian Theological College in Vancouver, also travelled to Squamish to hold Sunday Services. Among these travelling ministers-in-training were J.C. Goodfellow, J.L. Clerihue, D. Donaldson, A.C. Smith and H.M. Rae.

The first Sunday School in Squamish itself was started by Robert Young. He served as Superintendent, assisted by Mr. William McNeil. This Sunday School also included the Anglican children until 1927, when a second Sunday School was started in the Anglican church. When the new Mashiter School was opened, the Presbyterians continued to hold services in the unused school building until 1919, when Dr. N.J. Paul returned from overseas and purchased the structure for his home. During the next two years, services moved to the Rex Theatre, now the Howe Sound Business Centre.

The search for a permanent church home was begun by the ladies of the Presbyterian Church. On August 12, 1913, they had founded the Ladies Aid. Approximately thirty ladies were charter members, including Miss Jean Matheson (later Mrs. Jimmy Neil), Mrs. H.A. Munro, Mrs. H. McNeill, Mrs. M. Bazley, Mrs. Minnie Armstrong, Mrs. Charles Lamport and Mrs. Frank Scott. The first president was Mrs. Hume, with Miss Matheson as Treasurer and Mrs. Ludke as Secretary. These ladies were responsible for renovations to the old school building, and also purchased the first Communion Service. In addition, they found money to pay the students who came from Vancouver to hold Sunday services. In 1916, they decided to start a Building Fund, and a year later gave $60.00 to the Board of Managers for the purchase of a lot just north of the present Christian Education Centre.

Due to the demands of numerous war aid activities, the Ladies Aid recessed for the next two years. However, they were reorganized in 1919, under the presidency of Mrs. Art Young. One year later, with Mrs. Jessie Bazley as president, they asked Mr. Frank Scott to prepare plans for a church building. By 1921, Mr. Scott had built the main portion of the present Annex on a lot to the north of the present Christian Education Centre. The vestibule and rear of the building were added much later. The ladies contributed an initial $300.00 to the Building Fund, and later provided another $125.00 to reduce the debt. In addition, they contributed furnishings and other improvements. At last the Squamish Presbyterian Church had a home of its own!

1925 and Church Union

The congregation of the Squamish Presbyterian Church realized that a Union of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational Churches in Canada was fast becoming a possibility, after more than thirty years of discussions. On June 10th, 1925 a majority of the three churches united to form the United Church of Canada, and on August 23rd, 1927 the Squamish Presbyterian Church decided to become the Squamish United Church.

As yet, there was no resident minister; theological students still served the congregation, and a minister from Lillooet came to Squamish occasionally to hold a Sunday Service. Finally, in May of 1929, the Rev. Evan Baker was posted to Squamish, serving our church for one year. He was succeeded by the Rev. J.G. Gibson who, with his wife, ministered to the Squamish United Church from 1930 to 1942, broken only by a nine month period holiday in Europe in 1933. Rev. Gibson's long ministry gave the congregation a much needed feeling of solidarity and permanence.

Building the Manse

With a resident minister and his family firmly settled in Squamish, permanent living quarters were needed within easy reach of the church. In 1930, the Ladies Aid under the presidency of Mrs. D.D. Morrison bravely undertook the task of providing a manse; Mrs. Morrison retained that post until 1939, when the mortgage on the manse was finally burned.

On the 8th of November 1930 the P.G.E. railway offered to sell Lot 19, on the south eastern corner of Victoria St. and Fifth Avenue to the Squamish United Church for the princely sum of $25, the deed to be presented as soon as the manse was built and occupied. At approximately the same time, the Lillooet Board of Church Managers donated $200 towards the project. The ladies lost no time in setting up a building committee (Mrs. J. Kuntze, Mrs. D. MacCollum, Mrs. D. D. Morrison, Mrs. J. A. Quick, Mrs. C. B. Ingraham and Rev. J. G. Gibson).

The location of the building posed a problem, as the adjacent house had been built very close to the lot line, with windows facing the proposed manse. This difficulty was resolved by placing the new building at an angle, with the main floor higher than that of the adjoining house. This was a decided advantage, as there never was any difficulty in finding the manse. "Turn off Cleveland to Victoria, and keep going till you come to the house that sits kitty-corner on the lot."

Built almost entirely by volunteers, under the supervision of Mr. T. K. Smith, the material for the foundation was on site early in January, and more lumber and other materials arrived in the spring. Work continued steadily, and the manse was ready for occupancy in the spring of 1932. Although the ladies had pushed the project and raised money by every means possible, tribute must also be paid to the men who worked so hard to make their dream come true - Don MacCollum, Tom Smith, Robert Kirk, Bob Ross, Rev. J. G. Gibson, Lew Brooks, R. E. McNamee, C. B. Ingraham and many others. Although the manse was ready for occupancy by the Rev. and Mrs. Gibson and their son, the upper floor was not completed until many years. Finishing touches to the main floor, exterior, and even furniture were still needed, and a debt had to be paid.

The ladies worked for seven more years before the manse was truly owned by the Squamish United Church. Raffles, teas, bazaars, luncheons, turkey dinners, bulb sales, garden parties, plays, travelling baskets, catering to dances, and bean suppers were just a few of the ways the money was raised. A willingness to carry out many ingenious methods of raising money achieved the desired result. The manse was finally paid for!

The Junior Aid

Although members of the Ladies Aid were wholly committed to construction of a manse, the formation of a Junior Ladies Aid in January of 1931 proved of invaluable assistance. By taking over much of the care of the church, the Junior Aid made it possible for the senior ladies to devote all of their time and energies to the manse.

During the years 1931 to 1939, when the Junior Aid disbanded, its members raised the necessary funds to shingle the church roof, add a vestibule, steeple, and new steps, provide a janitorial service and maintain a supply of wood. Other smaller items included the purchase of a new stove, window panes, repairs to the chimney and church steps, occasional payment of light bills and donations to Allocation and M & M Funds. The paint for the exterior of the manse was also provided by these young ladies, who raised the money by projects similar to those undertaken by the senior ladies.

Among familiar names in the Book of Minutes are Marion Eadie, Rose Watson, Mary Stathers, the five Lasser sisters, Mary and Violet Sobotka, Mary Munro, Iris Ingraham and Esther Lamport.

Plans for Extension 1939 - 1955

Wedding party leaving church in 1947

A wedding party leaving Squamish United Church (now the Christian Education Centre) in 1947. The building at this time was in its original location, to the north of its present site.

During the early forties, the Second World War occupied the thoughts and efforts of most members of the Squamish congregation. The Rev. J. G. Gibson retired in 1942. He was succeeded by two retired ministers, the Rev. George Walker in 1943-44, and the Rev. W. B. McIntosh in 1944-46.

At a Congregational meeting held in February 1945, it was agreed that the original little church had become much too small, especially in view of the large size of the Sunday School. It was proposed that an extension be built across the rear of the church, to provide added space. A Building Committee was appointed, but at the Annual Congregational meeting in January 1946 it was recommended that no action be taken, because of continuing wartime restrictions. The issue was raised again three years later, during the pastorate of Rev. Charles Addyman. A Building and Collecting Committee was appointed, and through a canvass of church members and adherents, a total of $1,000 was promised towards an addition that would cost approximately $10,000. The Committee contacted Dr. Bunt of the Home Mission Board for financial assistance, and an offer of $1,500 was extended. This left $7,500 to be raised. In the meantime, the congregation raised money to buy two lots on the north eastern corner of Victoria St. and Fourth Avenue, as the first step in relocating the church and adding an extension across the rear.

The Rev. John Hewitt became minister in 1950, and he soon realized that the existing building was totally inadequate for Christian Education in Squamish. The time was now ripe for action, and it was decided to move the church to one of the recently purchased lots. Before acting on this plan, the Official Board met with the Superintendent of Home Missions, Dr. Bunt and the Chairman of the Properties Committee of the Vancouver Presbytery, Mr. R. E. Clugston. The moving of the church was approved, along with plans for its renovation and the construction of the extension; the cost of $9,000 was to be shared equally between the Home Mission Board and the local congregation. In February of 1951, Chris Nygard moved the church to its new location, and in April, Mr. Bill Smith began construction of a hall, eighteen by twenty-four feet. In addition to the hall, the new portion of the building included a small kitchen and washrooms.

Sketch of church and hall after removal to new site

A sketch of the expanded church and hall after its removal to the new site, drawn by Maureen Brown for the Church Bulletin used at rededication of the refurbished building, now known as Trinity Hall, on May12th, 2002.

On the first Sunday in May of 1952, Dr. Bunt officially dedicated the Squamish United Church, and set the new hall apart for Christian Education work. The Rev. Hewitt remained in Squamish to see growth of the Sunday School, and the beginning of C.G.I.T. and Explorer groups. On his retirement in 1955, he was succeeded by the Rev. A.O. McNeil. His arrival marked a new era in the life of the Squamish United Church. For the first time in the Church's history, the congregation assumed full responsibility for the minister's salary.

Squamish Expands

The 1950's saw Squamish change from a sleepy village at the head of Howe Sound to a rapidly expanding business and industrial community. With the completion of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway into North Vancouver in 1956, and the official opening of the connecting highway to Horseshoe Bay in August 1958, Squamish residents were only one hour away from the metropolitan area of Vancouver. What a refreshing change from the lengthy and tiresome boat trips of the past!

Pouring concerete for foundation

Pouring concrete for foundation, with Martin Halvorson in the foreground

Dedication of the new building

Dedication of the new building, led by Rev. N. Penrose

In the summer of 1958, the Rev. Norman Penrose and his young family came to Squamish. The minister and his congregation soon realised that a burgeoning population required larger church quarters. Sunday School attendance had increased to the point where additional accommodation had to be rented, and a new building was an urgent necessity. Thus, in February, 1962 the congregation appointed a building committee (William Boscariol, chair, Mrs. Eileen Walton (Kyle), Mrs. Freda Munro (Clarke), Jack Nelson and Norman Halvorson), and an architect (Mr. Frank Whitely) prepared a comprehensive plan for the future development of Squamish United Church.

Two additional lots, the third and fourth from the corner of Victoria St. and 4th Avenue, had been purchased and these were selected as the site for a new Christian Education Centre. A well organized campaign for funds yielded sufficient pledges and donations to warrant construction of the new building. Tenders were called. Outside bids were exorbitantly high, but Martin Halvorson's bid of $38,000 was gratefully accepted. Arrangements were made for loans from the bank and from the Board of Home Missions. The latter gave an outright grant of $5,000, and another $1,000 was donated by the MacMillan Foundation.

Construction began in March of 1963, and on September 8th of the same year the new building was officially opened, a tribute to the faith of Rev. Norman Penrose, Martin Halvorson and the congregation.