Chilliwack’s St. Thomas' Anglican Church, celebrating its 150th birthday in 2023, began unofficially as St. Mark’s in the gold rush town of Port Douglas at the northern tip of Harrison Lake. Completed by Royal Engineers in 1859, a few short years later, the gold rush route was changed, and Port Douglas became a ghost town. The abandoned St. Mark’s was offered to the new community of Chilliwack, seventy miles south, provided that the building could be moved.
In a 1965 interview with longtime Chilliwack resident Nellie Patriquin, she related that members of the Haida nation of the Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii) were hired to move the disassembled church on six lashed-together canoes. Haida canoes were considered the most capable of successfully weathering the ocean voyage. The seventy-mile trip south required excellent steersmen, travelling the length of Harrison Lake, along Harrison River, down and across the Fraser, to manage a pinpoint landing at the bottom of Wellington St. in Chilliwack.
November 1873 saw the church from Port Douglas, renamed St. Thomas’ Anglican was the first building at the Five Corners in the town centre. The original St. Mark’s church was constructed of materials shipped from England. A reconstructed St. Thomas’ of local Douglas fir, red cedar, and maple in an upside down “Noah’s ark” style, was completed by December 1897, and except for the replacement of the church steeple and bell in 1964 following a 1962 fire, and the addition of a balcony in the mid-1990s, the church is unchanged from the original reconstruction. The bell damaged in the fire is today housed on the church grounds.
As the city population grew, the central lands occupied by St. Thomas became too valuable from a real estate perspective to support a noncommercial building. The land was sold at a healthy profit and once the telephone and electricity overhead cables were temporarily lowered the church was moved intact to its present location a few blocks away. The incredibly complex move took three weeks and the church, which is still very much a centre-of-town landmark, held the first service at its new site on August 8, 1909.
Looking to the future of St. Thomas and what it means to the people of the parish brings some focus to the past ten years since the 140th anniversary. So much has happened in that short space of time, with St. Thomas continuing to grow, maintaining a thriving, spirit-led focus. Many in the congregation have died in those ten years, but new parishioners have arrived to keep the church flourishing. As the current membership of the parish look forward to the next decade and beyond, they see only good things for the church and continued spiritual growth in love and the grace of God.
The church is well established as a heritage landmark beloved by the community, and moving forward after COVID the parish continues to offer a welcoming place of worship and fellowship to all members of the Chillliwack community who wish to connect with God and each other in this serene and inclusive house of worship.
A committee was formed to work together to mark and celebrate this sesquicentennial at St. Thomas. The committee filled up quickly and got to work planning ways to celebrate; historical documents to be combed through, fundraising for events, celebration dinner menu and guest list, a photo history PowerPoint, and a special Sunday liturgy with Bishop John Stephens.