Happy Birthday, Christ Church Cathedral!
And it’s yet another birthday post, this time for Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral. The congregation worshipped together for the first time 125 years ago today at 720 Granville (which, funnily enough, is now the site of a Starbucks) and was made the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of New Westminster of the Anglican Church of Canada in 1929.
Although Christ Church is not the oldest congregation in Vancouver, it does worship in Vancouver’s oldest church building. That would be the stone building standing at the corner of Burrard and West Georgia. It was constructed on land bought from the Canadian Pacific Railway, but for several years the congregation didn’t get much beyond finishing the basement, which was nicknamed the Root House. When the CPR objected to what they called an eyesore, the current building was built in the Gothic Revival architectural style. The exterior is sandstone, its ceiling is cedar, and the beams and floor are made from old growth Douglas fir. The building was dedicated in February 1895.
Christ Church is located right in the centre of Vancouver’s downtown district. In the 1970s, the congregation voted to tear down the existing building and replace it with an Arthur Erickson–designed high-rise tower, but public opposition was so strong that in 1976 the cathedral was declared a heritage building. The building has been renovated six times; its most recent renovation was completed in 2004 with the installation of a new Kenneth Jones organ. The congregation had plans to build a bell tower, but before it had the chance to do so, the city passed a by-law restricting church bells. Christ Church is the only church in downtown Vancouver without a steeple.
A special treat this Christmas season is the almost life-sized nativity figures on display in the west alcove of the church; these are on loan from the Hudson’s Bay and are the same nativity figures that used to be displayed in the store’s windows at Christmas time. They were carved in Italy in the 1950s and belonged to Woodward’s before they were passed on to The Bay. Christ Church Cathedral asked to borrow them this Christmas season as the congregation begins a year-long celebration of its 125th anniversary.
I’ve been to the cathedral for many a worship service ― these photos were taken last night after the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols ― as well as several concerts and author readings for which the cathedral is a popular venue. After arriving very early many years ago to get a good seat to hear Timothy Findley read from his newest novel (and, as it turned out, only months before his death), I eavesdropped while a woman seated behind me explained to her companion that Christ Church was known as the church of lawyers because the funerals for the city’s most powerful lawyers are typically held there. It was one of the more bizarre bits of trivia I have ever heard about the cathedral.
But then, I like to think that there are 125 years’ worth of weird and wonderful stories to be told about Christ Church Cathedral. If only its walls could talk.