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A Brief History of the Anglican Church at Peace River 

 

The roots of the Anglican Church in Peace River date back to the late 1870’s. Prior to this time the nearest Anglican presence in the region was at Dunvegan Mission located on the Peace River just south of present day Fairview. In 1879 the Rev. Alfred Garrioch sent his brother George, a farmer, to set up the Smoky River Mission four miles from Peace River Crossing, hoping to supply the Dunvegan Mission. He was making progress, but resigned in 1881, and the project was abandoned.


In 1884 the Rev. John Gough Brick decided to move the Dunvegan Mission to either Old Wives Lake, (near present day Berwyn) or at the old Smoky River Mission. A building was erected at Old Wives Lake that year, and the next year constructed a small log house on the Peace , which would become the Shaftsbury Mission. Brick moved to Shaftsbury in 1886, and moved a cartload of all the moveable items from Dunvegan. "The development of the Shaftsbury Mission was possibly the slowest on record in the Diocese, and, for once, lack of funds was not entirely to blame. In a little over ten years, four different missionary workers strove to arrive at the desired state where Christian teaching would take preference over manual labor, and each of the four failed. " (1)
The Rev. Brick spent most of his time "in agriculture ", and in 1893 the small mission building was still being used as a house, a church, and a school.


In 1905 Robert Holmes arrived at Christ Church (Shaftsbury Mission) and was made a Deacon in 1906, and expanded his field of work to include Peace River Crossing. By 1.909 the telegraph had reached the Crossing, and a ferry was in service. The area was growing! Synod set aside the basic sum of $250.00, in the name of each new mission church which really only built a shell.
It would seem that the aforementioned financial restriction did not apply to the building of the log church of St. James, Peace River Crossing, because the church is later referred to as being, &on a more expensive model than an other in contemplation. The decision to Y construct a larger building was probably influenced by the size of the S.P.G. grant and the generous giving of the W.A. in Toronto, but the sudden increase in population both at the Crossing and in the district west of it after 1910, must certainly have been a consideration. Originally, Peace River Crossing like Griffin Creek, Bluesky, and Waterhole was an outpost of the Shaftsbury Mission, under the care of the Rev. Robert Holmes.

 

Beginning in 1906, Holmes made regular visits to the. latter three points in the summer months, holding services in farm homes; while at the Crossing he had a small, but enthusiastic year round congregation who gathered in the Hudson's Bay Company's house for services every Sunday. It was here, in the comfort of H.A.George's dining room, that plans were made in 1909 to erect a proper place of worship. According to Mr., George, construction was commenced in that year on the property close to the old cemetery site, on the river bench directly above the present location of Bishop's Lodge. Only the walls were in place when Bishop Holmes decided that the location was not a practical one, and suggested that the church be built on land deeded to the Diocese by Pat Wesley in March, 19 10. The move was carried out, and the builders continued their work on the church at its new site, on the five acre plot close to where the Cathedral now stands. Early in March, Archdeacon Robins reported to the S.P.G. that the pine log building, when completed, would have a nave 24 x 30 (with chancel extra) capable of accommodating 130 people. The expected cost, including the installation of the furnace, would be $1,000,00. The lumber, from Fort Vermilion, was to be paid for by local collections. Sergeant Anderson (later Inspector) of the N.W.M.P did much of the finishing work.


After Bishop Holmes dedicated it on June 7, 1911, Archdeacon Robins described it as "a church of substantial structure, likely to prove of permanent benefit to the neighborhood of Peace River Crossing, it stands on a prominent position immediately on the East bank of the Peace River, it will be impossible for any traveler to pass through the place without seeing it. We hope that it will serve the purpose not only of public worship but that it will be also a silent and powerful witness to every person passing by." (1)


In 1916 Bishop Robins spoke with pride of a recent trip "so improved are many of the roads that a few days before, I traveled by motor car from Peace River Crossing to Lake Saskatoon in 24 hours or slightly less ". In 1914 at the request of the congregation, the Rev. Robert Holmes was moved to the Crossing where he became the first resident missionary of St. James Church, and the first to occupy the newly built mission house. When he was again transferred in 1915, the mission house beside the Heart River became "Bishop's House ", and a new rectory was built in 1916.
In moving the Diocesan See from Athabasca Landing in January, 1916, Bishop Robins was influenced by the same factor that had caused homes, shops and churches to change their locations. - the railroad.
Peace River Crossing was now linked to almost every part of the country. From this point, not only could the Bishop keep in touch with Provincial and General Synod meetings, he could also visit, with relative ease, the majority of missions in the Diocese, including those in the south eastern section, like Lac La Biche and Boyle that were being opened up about this time.

 
In 1930 the Rev. W.E. Harrison arrived, and became the first Honorary Canon in the Diocese and in July, 1933, the first editor of the Peace Messenger.


In August 1932, the Province of Rupert land’s endowment funds, managed by a Winnipeg firm, had vanished. Everyone in the Province took voluntary cuts in stipend, and embarked on a fund raising drive. This was in the midst of the depression, wheat was 22 cents a bushel but by 1936 they had raised 3/4 of a million dollars!


In 1935 S.J. Attenborough, a London Attorney, announced that the "Anonymous Donor " would build a new church and a hall in Peace River. Inspector Anderson of the R.C.M.P turned the first sod in June 1936. The church was consecrated as a Pro Cathedral on the 14 October of the same year. Malvern House was built in 1940, followed by Synod Hall in 1947. St. James had become self supporting in 1941, under the Rev. F. Smith. The Rev. Roland Hill arrived in 1947, and moved into the new rectory in February 1948.


On the 29th of April 1949, St. James was declared the Cathedral of the Diocese; and on May 1st the Rev. Canon Roland Hill was appointed the first Dean of Athabasca, and the Rector of the Cathedral.
The Athabasca Hall was the largest facility in town, and was open for the use of all. The booking of the Hall fell on the shoulders of a very active A.Y.P.A., and later was passed on to ChiRho.
But the town kept growing and the bookings increased to the point that it became a full-time job; which culminated in the management of the Hall being turned over to the Peace River Recreation Board in 1972, on a 20 year lease basis. The agreement gave the town an excellent community centre, while still allowing the Parish the full use of the Hall. After his arrival in 1979, the Very Reverend Fabian Hugh (our first Dean Emeritus) conceived the idea of selling the Hall to the town, and with the proceeds built a new church hall connected to the Cathedral. His idea bore fruit, and on the 20th of October, 1985, the newly added two story hall was dedicated by Bishop Gary Woolsey.