A HISTORY OF THE ANGLICAN CHURCH IN METCHOSIN
The first non-first nation people to settle in Metchosin were a Mr. and Mrs Thomas Blinkhorn and Martha Chaney, the teenaged niece of Mrs. Blinkhorn. They arrived from England in 1851. Mr. Blinkhorn had been hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company to manage their farm, known as Metchosin Section 1, later named “Bilston Farm” (It was then 380 acres in size).
The Hudson’s Bay Company’s Chaplain, The Rev. Robert Staines, was good enough to supply them with accommodation at Fort Victoria until a home was built. Later, as a frequent visitor to the farm, The Rev. Staines provided for their religious requirements.
As the community expanded, his successor, The Rev. Edward Cridge, continued the ministry, travelling by canoe paddled by local first nation members or going overland by horseback. The first wedding in Metchosin was that of Martha Chaney to a Captain Henry Ella on July 19, 1855. Apparently Governor James Douglas, owner of a hunting lodge in Metchosin, and his family were among the many who attended the ceremony.
Following Rev. Cridge’s parting of ways with the official Anglican Church, the first Bishop of British Columbia, The Right Rev. George Hills supplied clergymen to conduct services in people’s homes as the community population grew.
Thomas Blinkhorn, who had become Metchosin’s first magistrate , died in 1856, after which his family moved to Victoria. John Witty, another early pioneer, bought the farm property in May, 1867.
The following anecdote is from the book titled “Footprints, a History of the Pioneer Families of Metchosin” as told by a member of the Douglas Family.
“It seems that either in late 1870 or early 1871 John Witty and Sir James Douglas were chatting under one of theGarry Oak trees opposite what is now Metchosin Elementary School. Sir James was reported to have said to John: “Why don’t I give some property and you give some money and we’ll get a church and a school built for Metchosin?” Not knowing the amount of money that might be involved, Witty was quick to reply, “Why don’t I donate the land and you donate the money?”. The two agreed to Witty’s proposal.”
When Metchosin’s first school was completed in 1872, it was used for Anglican services on the first and third Sunday of every month.
At that time, Metchosin’s Church services became the responsibility of The Rev. Gribell, rector of St. Paul’s Naval and Garrison Church in Esquimalt. Apparently he was untiring in his determination to have a permanent place of worship materialize.
The proposed church building was designed by the first architect to practice in British Columbia, Edward Mallandaine. Bishop Hills approved the plans in May 1872. The construction contract was let for $ 1,321.00 (U.S.). The materials were brought from Victoria to Albert Head by water, The settlers had agreed to move them from there to the building sit at no charge. In addition, they agreed to supply and prepare timbers to be used as foundations.
The Foundation Stone of the Church, dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, was laid on July 24, 1873 by Mrs. Hills, in the presence of the Lord Bishop of Columbia along with many dignitaries and parishioners (image at left, photocredit: Chris Lawes). The consecration of the Church took place on October 22, 1873. Bishop Hills officiated, assisted by local clergy, an organist and choir.
The following quotation is a portion of a letter Sir James Douglas wrote to his daughter, Martha, at school in England giving an account of his visit to Metchosin for the Church consecration.
“Metchosin looked at its best, the beautiful slopes, the richly tinted foliage, the bight clear sky, the warm sunshine, the glassy smooth sea and the grand mountains in the distance, formed a combination of indescribable beauty. I felt an exhilaration of mind which led me to wander away towards the white cliffs bordering the sea from whence I contemplated its placid water with delight.”
Ironically, the first service after the consecration was John Witty’s funeral and burial in the adjoining cemetery on Sunday, October 26, 1873. He had died a few days before the consecration after an accident while shoeing a horse (at no charge) for a stranger. Though he was buried in the churchyard, the cemetery was not actually consecrated until August 29, 1876. The church bell was used for the first time that day.
The first Rector’s Warden was Thomas Gleed and the first People’s Warden was Hans Helgesen. The first Parish Council included many familiar Metchosin names.
St. Mary’s was then served for nearly 40 years by the Clergy of Christ Church Cathedral and/or Rectors of St. Paul’s, Esquimalt.
An important change came about in 1911 when Bishop Perrin appointed the Rev. H.B. Hadlow, from the diocese of Qu’Appelle, to the sole charge of the parish. Mr. Hadlow worked hard to reorganize arrangements, resulting in the formation of the dual parish of Metchosin and Sooke. The first rectory was built on a lane off Rocky Point Road near Pedder Bay. Being rather far from the church, a new rectory was built in 1920 on Happy Valley Road, not far from the Rocky Point Road intersection and served the parish till 1959.
Prior to 2005, another 13 rectors served the parish. A number of these rectors served the parish for less than 5 years but most notable among the longer serving rectors was the Rev. Canon H.M. Bolton who was the incumbent for 31 years. The Rev. Henry (Padre) Silvester served the parish from 1968 to 1985. Though only serving St. Mary’s for 3 years, the Rev. Cecil Swanson later became the Dean of Christchurch Cathedral in Vancouver. The Rev. Cyril Venables served St. Mary’s for 5 years and was Padre Silvester’s predecessor.
Buried in the cemetery are many of the pioneers of Metchosin, their spouses, their children and their grandchildren, the majority of the pioneers being farmers of one type or another. Other longtime residents who became well known for reasons other than farming alone include:
Elizabeth Fisher who was the first teacher at the one room Metchosin schoolhouse. Her family dedicated one of the Memorial Windows in St. Mary the Virgin to Elizabeth and her husband William who farmed nearby. The junior high school on the sight of the recently demolished old Belmont High School was known in its earlier days as Elizabeth Fisher school.
Lady Emily Walker, closely related many generations earlier to Jane Seymour, Henry the Eighth’s third wife. Lady Emily Walker came to East Sooke from the Seymour Estate, Ragley Hall in Warwickshire England in 1912 together with her husband the Rev. Reginald Walker, and several children. The home they built in East Sooke still stands as part of Ragley Farm. They lost one son, Francis to tuberculosis in 1913, and another son, Lionel to a fatal accident in 1917 at Camp Borden while training for the Royal Flying Corps. Another Memorial Window is dedicated to these two sons. The brass communion rail in the old church was also donated by Lady Emily in 1913.
Mary Ann Vine was the first midwife for Metchosin and Sooke and with her husband farmed the land near Pedder Bay, now known as the Glenrosa Farm. She performed many extraordinary acts as a midwife and a few notorious acts as a farmer’s wife. The steel-fenced gravesite near the church entrance is where Mary Ann Vine and her husband are buried. A creek near the Sooke Potholes is named after her.
Also in the churchyard is the grave of the eigthth Lord Rodney who is considered the first Boy Scout, being at the top of the list when Lord Baden Powell took the first group of Boy Scouts to Brownsea Island before WW1. Lord Rodney and his family lived in the Albert Head area in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The first Lord Rodney was the most distinguished admiral of the Royal Navy in the 1700’s.
The Memorial Windows just mentioned were dedicated in 1933. Other Memorial Windows were dedicated to the original Weir family, the original Witty family, the original Helgesen family and the James Dunlop Reid family, later owners of Glenrosa Farm.
The main gates to the churchyard were donated by the late Mr. Lee Llewellyn Field in memory of his family who had farmed in Metchosin for some 80 years.
In 1947, the original part of the Parish Hall was erected on the site, referred to as the Memorial Parish Room in recognition of the men and women of Metchosin district who were on active service during the two World Wars. This building was army surplus from nearby Fort Mary Hill. Significant changes and additions took place up till the early 1980’s and for many years has been the home to the Metchosin PreSchool.
The period of Padre Silvester’s incumbency lined up well with a period when in Metchosin and nearby there were a large number of young families. The church became self-supporting in 1974 and an 8 am communion service, a 9:30 am family service an 11 am morning prayer or communion were held every Sunday. The family service was very well attended and was accompanied by a large Sunday School. When the children were in the church, attendance often exceeded 100 with many of the younger children sitting on parent’s laps, even when additional chairs were placed in the aisle. The sponsoring of a total of some 13 Vietnamese boat people took place in the late 70’s early 80’s and played a significant role in the life of the church. A major addition to the Parish Hall was made in the early 80’s, but the large numbers initiated discussions about building a larger church.
Padre Silvester took well-deserved retirement in 1985 and was replaced by the Rev. Charles Alexander. The discussions on a larger church continued, the prospect of many families moving into the nearby gravel pit in the not too distant future giving additional urgency to these discussions. The cost was a major concern but when Grace Marzano, a granddaughter of John Witty, donated a large parcel of land opposite Metchosin Golf Course for a new church, the decision to build a new church was made. Ground was broken in the early spring of 1989 to commence building of the new church designed by architect Pamela Charlesworth.
A large band of volunteers including a significant number from outside St. Mary’s Church was assembled to work under Mr. Mike Armstrong as contractor and Mr. Dick Dueck as site foreman. Professionals were hired for some of the most difficult tasks but much of the work was done by the volunteers. The building was finished by September 1991 and the first service was held on September 15, 1991, the congregation, led by the Rev. Alexander walking from St. Mary the Virgin to St. Mary of the Incarnation to begin the celebration. Grace Hall, in the basement of the new building was to serve as the parish hall with the main floor serving as the place for church services until such time as a full church could be built adjoining the new building. The new building included 7 Sunday School classrooms, a craft room, a nursery and a library as well as a number of offices and a large and well-equipped kitchen. Within a few years of its opening, thanks to some generous donations, the new building was fully paid for and formally consecrated.
The old church, St. Mary the Virgin, had been designated a Metchosin historical building by the District of Metchosin and has continued to be used for a number of special services each year as well as for weddings, funerals and other special occasions. A group of volunteers undertook to maintain both the old church and cemetery and continues to do so to this day.
For the first 15 or so years after the opening of St. Mary of the Incarnation, the church thrived. A strong youth program was developed and over the years a number of youth leaders were employed to lead this very successful program. There was also a very full Sunday School program and many other activities related to building the faith. A strong music ministry involving a number of different instruments was present.
In Canada generally, there was growing concern among more conservative Christians about the direction the National Church seemed to be taking and these concerns were very much present among the majority of the Metchosin congregation. It came to a head in 2008 when by a large majority, the parishioners voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada and join the Anglican Network in Canada. Initially, services continued at the new church, but the Diocese felt it could not allow this to continue and the great majority of the congregation left to form the Open Gate church. The remnant stayed with the Anglican Church of Canada but faced the daunting task of looking after 2 churches with a relatively small number of people.
Fortunately, the Diocese gave strong support to St. Mary’s and supplied the congregation with a number of inspiring interim priests. Also a number of parishioners who had become disenchanted by the direction St. Mary’s had been taking prior to the schism returned together with a number of new parishioners who wished to offer their support. Some ten years later the pain of separation has largely passed and many friendships among parishioners who went separate ways still exist.
However, with the arrival of Pastor Aneeta Saroop in late 2017 attendance at that one service is now very much larger than at the time of the split. While many of the congregation are of retirement age, there are an increasing number of young families involved and what had been a small Sunday School class has now reached numbers to warrant splitting into one for preschoolers and one for older children. Community stewardship has increased and with the long-predicted development of homes in the gravel pit now in full swing, there is renewed hope that many of the families moving there can find a spiritual home at nearby St. Mary’s.