Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea
On June 1, 2013 we held a “Downton Abbey” style tea in honour of upcoming celebration of the 100 year anniversary of the completion of the the Saint Stephen the Martyr Church on its present site. The tea was held in full regalia of the time.
History of the Saint Stephen the Martyr Church
In the years around the turn of the century the residents of Burquitlam (covering Burnaby and Coquitlam) frequently walked along the North Road to attend church at St. Mary’s Sapperton, or even the Cathedral at New Westminster. The more fortunate ones would ride in a buggy or democrat.
For some years the people in this community felt the need for a church and set about the task of establishing one. It was not easy for those people to pay taxes, develop farms and buy the necessities of life. To find sufficient funds to built a church as well was difficult – but these were hardy folks and thrifty. They had the will and were determined to find a way.
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church on Cameron Street, near the junction with North Road, has been in existence on its present site since 1913. It was built on land a donated by a farmer, Mr. Alexander Easson Evans, and lovingly erected where the monstrous stumps of recently cut Old Growth Forest still held sway. St. Stephen came into being to serve the needs of the residents of Burquitlam and grew out of the strong desire and commitment of the people who first began worshiping in the old Wiltshire family farm-house, St. Phillans in 1910 with the Rev. F. V. Venables officiating. This house later called “Seven Gables” is still visible at the top of Sullivan Street near North Road. (The house and surrounding land were owned by Mr. Alexander Easson Evans and rented to Mr. Ernest Miles Wiltshire).
As the parish grew it felt the necessity to move to “Little Red Schoolhouse”, Blue Mountain School, which at that time sat on the opposite (of Sullivan) side of North Road. The school was used as a place of worship from 1911 until St. Stephen’s was completed in 1913 on the land deeded in 1904 to the Diocese for this purpose. The dedication service was officiated by Bishop de Pencier on September 28th, 1913.
The provision of deeding the land to the Diocese of New Westminster was that a portion of the land be set aside for a burial group for Mr. Evans, his wife Ethel, and their two children. When the land was deeded, Mr. Evans also set up a trust fund of $200.00 to pay for the perpetual care of the grave plot.
The building was erected by Messrs. Shaw, Philps, & Baker. The main body of the Church was 54 feet 6 inches long, and 24 feet wide, with an entrance hall at the west end of the south wall and at the other end, on the south side, a Vestry, measuring 6 x 9 feet. The floor was edge-grain fir, and the walls were of upright cedar boards, to a height of 4 feet 6 inches, with plaster above to the rafters.
The Church contained 17 pews, facing east, each 8 feet long, and capable of seating 5 adults comfortably. The total seating capacity was 85 persons. The first riser leading to the Chancel contained the organ and 5 choir pews, with seating capacity of 20 persons. The second riser was at the Communion Rail. The Altar was at the east end of the Church and the Pulpit at the left hand of the congregation.
The bell was rung for the first time at 8:00 am on September 4, 1914, and electric lights used first at the 7:00 am service on September 27, 1914. In 1931, using volunteer labour, the main body of a Parish Hall was built. A stage and kitchen followed three or four years later. In 1936 a coal and wood furnace was installed under the Church to take the place of the upstairs heater.
In 1952 the parish acquired, and moved to the west end of the church, a rectory in preparation for the full-time rector who was to serve St. Stephen’s community. This ended a 40-year relationship as a sister parish of St. Mary’s Sapperton. This rectory was in use until 1960 when a new rectory was purchased on Appian Way. That was sold in 1984.
The Church served the community well for many years, but by 1958 was obviously too small to accommodate the parishioners. In that year the Church was enlarged by 26 feet 6 inches, making it 81 feet in length, the width remaining the same. The Pulpit and Sanctuary were moved to the opposite end of the Church, and the entrance provided at the east end to lessen the number of steps required. Blacktop was laid in front of the Church. The total cost of reconstruction and extension of the Church was about $33,000.00.
The Sunday School grew from a start of 8 children (1913) to a total of several hundred at the end of June 1963. Changes in residential zoning may have contributed to the continuing decline in Sunday School attendance from 118 (1972) to 25 in 1987. This necessitated the institution of a family Eucharist at 9:00 am to take the place of Sunday School.
There had been a significant change in the neighbourhood of St. Stephen’s and this has brought with it a change in the parish focus. There are fewer children today, and the parish has reached out to the community supporting activities such as the Food Bank (since 1983); regular Pancake Breakfasts; a Thrift Shop; use of the basement by the Breakaway Drug Abuse Society; Burnaby Health’s once a month Well Baby Clinic; Weight Watchers (weekly), etc..
For some years the Parish Hall had been showing signs of needing much renovation, and in 1981 a Building Fund was set up with the intention of raising funds over five years to build a new Hall. The Thrift Shop profit was to be partly used in this cause, and concerts, bazaars and other events were planned to raise funds.
On April 1st, 1982, the Parish Hall was torched by an arsonist. It had to be demolished and rebuilt. The Building Permit to rebuild the Hall was obtained in February 1983, and we anxiously watched the preparations before the new Hall could rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Times were difficult for the Parish Council, with Father David McKenzie and the Building Committee having to fight for a fair insurance settlement. The parish also resisted a strong push by developers to sell the Church and property, vowing to keep the “Church on the Hill” as a haven of peace and sanctity amongst the tall commercial buildings.
Eventually the Parish was able to claim the insurance settlement and borrow enough from the Diocese (along with the money held in trust for a new Rectory) to build a larger, more useful Hall and to incorporate a Memorial Garden around the grave site, with plaques to remind us of the departed loved ones whose ashes are there.
The Fellowship Room was planned as a comfortable meeting room, with a fireplace under a beautiful stained glass window that had come from St. Mark’s Church in Preston, Lancashire, England when it was demolished. The Fellowship Room can also be used for overflow of the congregation when necessary. The cost of rebuilding and refurnishing the Hall amounted to nearly $400,000.00
Archbishop Douglas Hambidge dedicated the new Hall to the Glory of God in September, 1984.
The history of St. Stephen’s is in large measure the story of its people. Our fundamental beliefs have changed very little. Our lifestyles have changed considerably, but the human mind, soul and body and most of all the Spirit, are the same composite of our being.
Many years before St. Stephen’s was built in 1913, the pioneers in our area overcame many obstacles and hardships, meeting in homes or the schoolhouse to worship God and mingle in Christian fellowship. Theirs is a hard act to follow by those of us who have grown soft and pampered by the many luxuries we now enjoy in our modern-day existence. We all need to do our part in helping to truly celebrate our Church’s anniversary and further St. Stephen’s in the world God created for us.
“Come as living stones, and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple, where you will serve as holy priests to offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 2:5