One of Cowichan’s oldest, most scenic and most historic landmarks ended 2013 with a public appeal for help in raising $300,000 for a vitally needed restoration project.
That St. Peter, Quamichan should require repairs and renovations should come as no surprise as it’s even older than Duncan. How many other buildings, public and private, can you think of that date back to 1865? That’s when the visiting Bishop George Hills enjoyed a lunch of venison, potatoes and tea with local settlers. “All were anxious for a church,” he wrote, “and thankful for the promise of a resident clergyman, promising to do their part towards his income…”
In the spring of 1866, many of the English settlers living in “Cowitchen Valley” (there being no Protestant church) pledged up to five pounds sterling per annum towards a minister’s salary and a church. Ninety-eight acres were purchased from William Beaumont for $800, thanks to funding advanced by the Diocese of Columbia’s wealthy English benefactor, Angela, Baroness Burdett-Coutts. Construction of a 600-square-foot log church was begun and the Rev. W.S. Reece appointed as resident minister. Its first recorded service was on
March 10, 1867, the late church historian and author David Williams noting a collection of $3.60.
(It’s worth pointing out that the diocese originally ranged from Mill Bay-Shawnigan, to the south, to Chemainus and Saltspring Island, meaning that Reece had to cover 450 square miles on horseback, on foot and by canoe!) Bishop Hills was impressed by the choice of a building site which he described as “beautiful[ly] situated on a rising ground near the parsonage”. The church was small, 20ft. by 30ft. (about the size of a double garage), designed to seat 45 and cost $275. Its raw logs were squared after they were set in place. Furnishings consisted of an altar, lectern, reading desk, open benches and a stove – but no font, and the bell was only hung in time to ring in the New Year, 1874.
The present church, described as “early English” and originally built to seat 100 parishioners, has since been enlarged and remodelled. Designed by Victoria architect E. Mallandaine and three years in the works, it replaced its humble predecessor after just nine years. After the last service was held in the old church, Aug. 29, 1875, work was begun on its demolition and the construction of its successor whose first service was held on Septuagesima Sunday, Feb. 13, 1876, with Rev. David Holmes and Bishop Hills officiating. An estimated 200 people, many of whom came from Victoria by chartered steamship ($1.50 return!) attended its June 14, 1877 consecration, followed by a picnic on the grounds.
In just 12 years parishioners were considering adding on, although it took a further four years for a committee to approve plans drawn up by parishioner John Humphreys, Jr., who also won the building tender for $570. Upon its completion the church looks much as it does now with further additions of a belfry (1906), the south porch and the vestry.
The porch, steps, landing and south door were renewed in 1921, the good ladies of the St. Peter’s Sewing Society covering contractor O.C. Brown’s bill for $277. It cost $25 to enlarge the north door to accommodate funeral biers, in 1917 (again, thanks to the sewing ladies).
The vestry became contentious when opposing budget-conscious camps argued for three years over whether to enlarge it (to allow for a pipe organ) or to shingle the exterior and panel the interior. As it happened, the vestry was enlarged (Douglas James, architect), the old siding repainted and the inside panelled, once again thanks to the ladies of what had come to be called the Sewing Guild. Unfortunately, a plaque in the vestry to honour these unnamed heroines’ many contributions to St. Peter’s apparently never “happened.” And there was no pipe organ until one was donated in memory of Carlton Stone and
Ellen Stone by their children, in 1965. (Stone’s Hillcrest Lumber Co. donated the exterior doors on the south porch and much more.) The roof was replaced in 2006 with shingles made from a thousand recycled tires, this project including new copper work on the bell tower and even repairs to the bell.
The original seven-room rectory served for 30-odd years until replaced in 1898; in turn, this rectory was later sold, along with 12 acres, and replaced by the present rectory which no longer serves as such. The much newer parish hall, which dates only to 1951, was substantially enlarged and renovated in 1992.
The latest challenge is the church’s sandstone foundation which is crumbling to the point that, in the event of a cataclysmic earthquake, the structure’s wooden frame has greater chance of surviving than the stone foundation! As the uneven floor also needs replacing, this would be a good time for both to be done as one.
To date, St. Peter’s parishioners (the children having been particularly active) have raised $175,000 towards an estimated total cost (which includes replacing the oil-guzzling furnace) of $300,000.
Why should the outside community get involved? As stated, St. Peter is one of Cowichan’s oldest and most revered institutions. Its rural setting and cemetery make it one of the most beautiful on Vancouver Island.
More importantly, as an active heritage church, St. Peter’s serves a vital role in the community at large. For 150 years it has been a living, breathing entity and has played an invaluable role in the lives of its parishioners and in the community as a whole.
As the Rev. Deborah Rivet explained to the Citizen’s Lexi Bainas in December, “Because of the historic value of this piece of property…the untouched quality, its ties to the past…it’s important to everyone. We need to stress its history…”
The projected timeline calls for a budget to be fixed by February so as to seek a construction loan from the Diocesan Council.
Actual work would begin in April, the church having to be raised by May so that new concrete foundations could be poured in June.
That, and some cosmetic touches, would allow St. Peter’s to celebrate completion for Thanksgiving.