By Quentin Goodbody
Many local citizens are sad to note the demolition on September 9, 2019, of the St John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Ladysmith.
The church building started its life about 1892 in Wellington where it was constructed as a schoolhouse associated with the Church of St Matthew the Apostle. When the Wellington coal mines finally closed in 1900, the town rapidly lost its population. Along with numerous other buildings, the schoolhouse was removed from Wellington to Oyster Harbor — soon to be the Town of Ladysmith — to serve the growing population there working the Extension mines. It was re-erected in 1901 on the corner of Buller Street and Third Avenue. The site was one of four properties donated, along with a ton of coal per month each, by James Dunsmuir to the Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Catholic congregations. The sites were chosen by drawing straws from a hat.
In 1902, the schoolhouse was enlarged and dedicated as a Church School House to serve as a Sunday school, Parish Hall and a place of worship until such time as a church would be built. In 1904, Mr. H. Marshall donated a new bell, and in 1908, the building was given the name St John’s.
In 1910, a decision, prompted by scarcity of funds, was made not to build a new church, but to modify the Church School House for this purpose instead. The building was given a more traditional church design by adding a vestry and organ loft and completing the chancel and octagonal sanctuary. At the same time, the belfry was improved, electric lighting was installed, new Gothic windows were installed, and the exterior painted.
The only time the Church was closed in its history was in 1918. Due to the risks associated with the Spanish Influenza epidemic, the service of Thanksgiving for the November 1918 First World War Armistice was not held until January 1919, when the danger was considered to have dissipated.
1944 saw the dedication of the Church to St John the Evangelist, though it had been known as St John’s since 1908. A concrete retaining wall was set along Third Avenue in 1946, the year in which a two-manual pedal-operated organ was installed in memory of the local men who had served and died in the Second World War. In 1947, the Church was re-roofed with duroid shingles. (These were eventually replaced in 1992 with cedar shakes; the cost of the new roof was helped by a grant from the Anglican Foundation and the recognition of the Church as a Heritage Building by the Town Council.)
1954 saw the ceremony of breaking the ground for the adjacent Church Hall. This was completed in 1955.
In 1994, it was discovered that the Church had never been consecrated. Accordingly, at a wonderful service held May 8, 1994 (the closest Sunday to May 6, which is now the alternate patronal festival of St John), Rt. Reverend Barry Jenks, the Bishop of British Columbia, consecrated the building.
In 1996, the brick chimney from the furnaces was demolished in a windstorm, which also damaged some of the flashing on the spire. The cost of repair was covered by insurance.
In 1998–1999, significant repairs were undertaken to replace structural timbers affected by dry rot. A number of relatively minor renovations were subsequently undertaken.
May 6 and 7, 2001, were momentous days for the Church, being the centenary of the year in which the Anglican parish was inaugurated in Ladysmith. On Saturday, May 6, the Church, beautifully decorated with a profusion of flowers, was open to anyone who wished to be guided around the many interesting artifacts that evoked memories of former residents. The ceremony was conducted by the Primate of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Michael Peers, who had been a theological student here during summer months.
By 2006, there was a large youth group and Sunday school, so further space was needed and made by creating a meeting room and an office. These were dedicated by Bishop James Cowan on August 24, 2006. However, only ten years later the congregation had shrunk, and the parish was no longer considered viable. So following a service, held on June 30, 2016, Bishop Logan McMenamie deconsecrated the building. Some of the remaining congregation now attend St. Philip’s in Cedar or St. Michael’s in Chemainus.
In 2017, the land and buildings were sold to the Ladysmith Resource Centre Association, with money donated by Pat Edge in her will. The site is planned for redevelopment as affordable housing.
Although listed on the Ladysmith Community Heritage Register, the poor condition of the building precluded its retention. Courtesy of the Crucils and their company FMI, on August 27, 2019, the bell — model number 24, manufactured by the American Bell Foundry, Northville, Michigan — was safely removed from the belfry, as was the cross that had stood at the tip of the belfry spire since 1910. Both artifacts, along with some others from inside the Church that had not been retained by the Diocese, have been catalogued by the Ladysmith Museum and are in safekeeping pending a decision on their future use.
At the time of its demolition, on September 9, 2019, St John’s was the only church in Ladysmith still standing on its original site and it was one of the oldest churches on the Island. So passes a piece of Ladysmith history. May its part in our heritage be remembered.
Acknowledgement to the late Kit Willmot from whose “History of Saint John the Evangelist Anglican Church at Ladysmith 1901—2001” much of the historical facts for this article were gleaned.
End of an era
By Marina Sacht
For three members of St. John’s Parish, it was an especially sad event. Jan Bradshaw, and Peter and Jean Fowler recalled many happy occasions during their time with the parish.
“My kids were Confirmed there, I was a member of the choir.
It was a very active place, says Jane recalling hosting international visitors, centennial celebrations, Medieval dinners, co-sponsoring Syrian refugee families, plant sales, and community dinners that are now held at the Masonic Lodge.
“The church itself is not a building, it’s the people”, says Peter who had been part of the building committee and had tried to address some of the structural issues with the church.
“It was one of the oldest buildings in Ladysmith and has come all the way from Extension. It had a lot of history to it, says Jane. “If we’re going to just knock down buildings because they need work…Every building constantly needs a new roof, guttering or something. I wish I had shouted louder.”