“You have a very nice, bright little church here — even if it is out in the stumps,” declared Rev. Merton Smith as he preached the afternoon sermon of the Park Drive Methodist Church on Sunday 26th June, 1904. (1)
The brand new Park Drive branch of the Princess Street Methodist Church had been erected “on the fringe of the City’s populated district” standing “almost alone in the midst of what remains of a one-time huge forest. Burned and charred stumps, an undergrowth of green shoots, and a rough newly-opened road” surrounded the building. Though there were very few houses within shouting distance of the new church, there “poured forth a goodly number of persons who filled the new building to overflowing both at the morning and afternoon services.”
The idea for a new church had arisen the previous fall. At a meeting of the Quarterly Official Board of the Princess Street Methodist Church in November of 1903, it was noted that “the far east [of Vancouver] is so rapidly building up that it will ere long boast a not inconsiderable population.” They were already overcrowded at Princess Street, and had moved their Sunday school into rented space at the old Episcopal church building on Campbell Avenue. However, the Board members decided the rent money would be put to better use paying for another church that would be their own property, and realtor J.B. Mathers was contacted to assist them in this endeavour. (2)
Mathers secured for them two lots on the northeast corner of Park Drive and Barnard Street. After some delay while the property owners were contacted in England, the lots were purchased for $350 which was advanced by eight church members. Robert Clarke, secretary of the Princess Street church, then wrote to the Vancouver Board of Works (BOW) requesting that Park Drive be opened from Venables Street north to Powell. The BOW wouldn’t go that far, but agreed to open the street from Venables to Barnard. Later, the BOW also approved the laying of a sidewalk from Venables to the new church. (3)
On 14th April 1904, the Church was issued a building permit. They had secured a contract with builder A.E. Carter who agreed to construct the building for $1,000. A few weeks later, two dozen members of the Princess Street congregation “took a holiday” and cleared the lots. (4)
By June, the building was ready, with workers busy until nine o’clock the night before the dedication completing the final touches. Even after that late hour, Trustees William Raine and J.W. Burns had worked to clean up and decorate the interior with “a mass of flowers gathered by the children of east end families.” (5)
The 11:00am dedication service was supervised by Rev. J.F. Betts, chairman of the Vancouver Methodist district. He arrived ten minutes late, “mopping his brow” with heavy perspiration, having walked through the hot morning all the way from Greer’s Beach in Kitsilano where he and his family were currently camping. Notwithstanding his exertions, Betts was “in one of his happiest sermon moods” and the service, enliven by the Princess Street choir, was “thoroughly enjoyed” by the congregation of about 175 people. A similar number came for the afternoon service given by Rev. Smith.
At the services on that day, the church managed to raise $227.45 which was paid to the builder’s account. Church officials stated their hope that “in five years they will have paid every cent of debt on the new building.” We can only assume that Carter the builder was an amiable chap.
The pastor of the new church, Rev. R. Newton Powell, was a 36-year old Englishman. He had spent seven years on church work in the West Indies where he married. In 1897 they moved to British Columbia on account of Mrs. Powell’s health, and he had served at various locations in the interior before coming to Princess Street. He is described as “a thoughtful, forceful, and flowery preacher with a thoroughly evangelical ring about him.”(6)
Rev. Powell was eventually replaced by Mr. Van Dyke, “a returned missionary from Japan on furlough”, who supervised the church for about a year. He then gave way to Rev. J.J. Nixon. In 1908, the Park Street Church became independent of Princess Street, and the Rev. R.S. Stillman was installed as pastor, supervising Sunday School attendances of up to 200. It was already clear that a larger building was urgently required and three lots were purchased on Venables Street at the corner of Victoria Drive, where a $5,000 church was dedicated in March 1909, and the Park Drive Church was abandoned. (7)
Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate any photographs of the Park Drive Church. I assume the original building was rapidly dismantled as it does not appear on the 1912 Goad’s map. The lots have been empty since then, and were partly subsumed beneath the Commercial Drive Diversion that was built in 1931. The remainder now forms part of the parking lot on the west side of the Drive between Venables and Adanac.
(1) Commercial Drive prior to 1911 was called Park Drive. Descriptions of the dedicatory ceremony are from Vancouver World 1904 June 27, p.3, and the Western Methodist Recorder 1904 July. The author thanks Blair Galston, United Church Conference Archivist for this latter reference.
(2) Vancouver World 1903 November 20, p.6; 1904 June 27, p.3
(3) The intersection is currently known as Commercial Drive and Adanac Street. The lots were DL 183 Block 9D, Lot 1-2. “$350”: Vancouver World 1904 June 27, p.3. Board of Works: Minutes 3 Mar, and 2 June 1904, CVA, MCR-36 Roll 2; Vancouver World, 4 Mar 1904, p.5, June 3, p.5; News-Advertizer, 4 Mar 1904, p.4, 11 Mar p.5
(4) “holiday”: Vancouver World 1904 June 27, p.3
(5) Other Trustees included Victor Odlum, J. Horner, Alderman Angus MacDonald, and Robert G. Clarke.
(6) Vancouver World 1904, June 27, p.3
(7) Vancouver World 1909 Mar 6, p.13. The “new” church is now the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.