Chapter 4 -- "A Cathedral in the heart of the city" 1919-1932


The search for a new rector took nine months. When a suitable  candidate was finally found in April, 1919, the church committee  cautiously voted to take out an insurance policy on the new man  against sickness, accident or death for three months until he arrived.  There was no need to collect: the Rev. William Woodham Craig arrived  in good health in June. Once again Christ Church had the right man at  the right time.

A graduate of McGill University, Craig had spent most of his  career in Montreal. Unlike two of his three predecessors -- and his  three immediate successors -- he did not study theology at Wycliffe  College, Toronto. Nevertheless he was a low churchman, and one who  stressed pastoral work. Losing no time, he set out to visit all the  homes in the parish. The church was growing again, and by January,  1920, Craig had still not reached everyone. "The lack of familiarity  with the City leads to sad loss of time in this work, and sometimes to  dismal failure in arriving at my objective," he apologized in the  annual rector's report. "Another peculiar feature of our life here  which is already becoming familiar to me, is the frequent changes of  residence in the congregation, and an ever changing population in the  Parish." His sermons were as elaborate as his prose. He was described  as a "fine, rather poetic speaker."

At an early meeting Craig introduced the new "Forward Movement" to  the vestry. The men of the parish were set to work to bring in more  envelope offering for both parish and missionary work. The new rector  proposed repairs to the rectory. He proposed plans for electric  lighting, new carpets, a chapel in a basement room -- and later  (unsuccessfully) a church tower. Within a year he was asking for an  assistant. In July, 1920, Cecil Swanson, a 31-year-old clergyman  working at Metchosin on Vancouver Island, applied. Swanson knew  Vancouver from a visit he had made to Cecil Owen seven years before  while passing through Vancouver in 1913 to his first posting, in Yukon  territory. The church committee decided to hire Swanson, and a  luncheon was organized to raise his $1800 a year salary.

Although the finances of the church were "men's work" during this  period, many financial initiatives came from the women. There were  three very active groups: the Daughters of the King (founded in 1898)  was a prayer group; the Woman's Auxiliary (1898) involved itself in  missionary and social service work; and the new Women's Parochial  Association, formed in October, 1919, looked after the needs of Christ  Church itself. It was the Parochial association that offered to  install electric lights in the body of the church in 1920, undertook a  major redecoration a few years later, and in 1921, while the men were  just talking about it, started to work on a campaign to reduce the  mortgage. Two years later the men finally became involved in an  elaborate "Wipe out the Debt" campaign with two teams of canvassers  (the "reds" and the "blues"). The new Mayor of Vancouver, Charles E.  Tisdall, a former warden, accepted the post of honorary chairman; the  untiring H.J. Cambie helped raise funds. The rector's warden  Frederick Beecher offered to match funds raised, dollar for dollar, up  to $10,000. Over $25,000 was raised and the $17,000 mortgage paid  off. For the first time, Christ Church was free of debt. It was a  time of "encouragement and prosperity," wrote the rector, "wonderfully  realized."

Once again the church buzzed with activity. The Boy Scouts  succeeded the Boys' Brigade. A lively group of Girl Guides was  established--so lively that the choir complained that the noise they  were making was interfering with practices. The choir performed  Gilbert and Sullivan's "Trial by Jury." A large military service  filled the church to capacity for the unveiling of a memorial tablet  to Lieutenant-Colonel William Hart-McHarg. So many others wanted to  install memorial windows and plaques that the rector proposed a plan  to keep their design uniform. The church committee turned down as  unsuitable the offer of a tablet containing the ten commandments. A  Christ Church Men's Club was formed. There were collections for  Armenian relief, and the church committee passed a resolution urging  the stamping out of the drug traffic. There was ecumenical action of  sorts: Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Anglicans met  to organize a lobby to have churches exempted from city taxes.

The Very Rev. R.J. Renison, fifth rector 
and first dean.

In March, 1926, after nearly seven years in Vancouver, Craig  accepted the post of dean of St. George's Cathedral in Kingston.  During his term, Christ Church was guided through the difficult  post-War period, paid off its debt, and recovered a position of  pre-eminence in a revitalized city. Again it took the church  committee nine months to find the next rector: the Rev. Dr. Robert  John Renison, son of a missionary to the Objibway on Lake Nipigon in  Ontario. Renison, 51, had been a missionary himself for 14 years,  served in France during the First World War, and held the rectorship  of the Church of the Ascension in Hamilton, Ontario, where he was an  avid fan of the Hamilton Tigers (predecessors to the Tiger-Cats). At  the time "the football games were the greatest joy of my life," he  would recall in his autobiography. Although the Tigers were poised to  win a series of Grey Cups (in 1928, 1929, and 1932), the native of  Tipperary, Ireland, gave up his football tickets to head west to  Vancouver at age 51.

* * *

Since becoming bishop in 1910, Adam De Pencier had wanted to  establish a cathedral in Vancouver. He had persuaded the Canadian  Pacific Railway to set aside land in their Shaughnessey Heights  development for a Vancouver cathedral, and in the early Twenties  bought land and built a See House on Nanton Avenue. However the  growth of Vancouver's downtown district had convinced him that a  cathedral should be built north of False Creek instead of south. To  create a strong cathedral parish, the bishop had considered uniting  the two "daughters" of St. James in the West End: St. Paul's and  Christ Church. However St. Paul's, practiced moderately high  churchmanship, as befitted a former parish of the bishop: even with  the Crucifixion window, Christ Church was still amongst the lowest of  the low. The bishop gave up the idea of such a union as hardly  possible.

The Most Rev. Adam de Pencier, Bishop of New Westminster and later Metropolitan of British Columbia, 1910-1940 

In January, 1929, the church committee members were startled by the  bishop's offer to make Christ Church preeminent in the diocese--to  make it his cathedral. Holy Trinity in New Westminster, cathedral  since 1892, would also keep the title--but Christ Church would be the  real centre. The news came through their rector, who at this point  had been at Christ Church less than two years. While Renison, like  his predecessors, was a low church, Wycliffe College man, a warm  relationship had sprung up between himself and the bishop. De Pencier spelled it out in the letter containing the offer to make  Christ Church the cathedral: Renison had been "one who has given me  more help and comfort than any Rector that I have had in the nineteen  years of my Episcopate."

Renison had certainly encouraged the idea of making Christ Church  the cathedral, but the idea may have come from a visitor. In his  autobiography Renison recalled that the Chaplain-General of the  British Army, the Rt. Rev. William Taylor Smith, had visited Vancouver  and preached at Christ Church. "He was struck by the site of Christ  Church and said: `A cathedral should be down town in the heart of the  city,' as Christ Church was." A bishop of New Westminster certainly  would have duly considered a British Chaplain-General's opinion. De  Pencier had served in the 62nd Overseas Battalion, Canadian  Expeditionary Forces, in France and Belgium . He had been awarded the  Order of the British Empire by King George V.

Still, if Christ Church were to become the cathedral, the bishop  insisted on some conditions. The bishop's first requirement was that  a cross be put on the altar. "We put crosses over the graves of our  men in France," the bishop wrote in the letter read out to the church  committee at their meeting of January 14, 1929. De Pencier's second  requirement was that Holy Communion be celebrated in the morning, not  in the evening, as was occasionally the practice at Christ Church.  The church committee agreed to both conditions with little difficulty.

De Pencier's third condition, however, was more difficult. The  bishop pointed out that the rubric directs the priest stand "before"  the altar instead of to the side. "This is the tradition that was  established by the first Bishop, continued by the second Bishop, and  obtains in the majority of the Churches in this Diocese, and I would  not be happy in making any Church my Cathedral where this was not the  custom." The committee balked; a sub-committee was appointed to  negotiate. Within two weeks a compromise was reached. In the formal  memorandum of agreement drawn up with the bishop, it read: "With  regard to the position of the Celebrant at Holy Communion, there shall  be no prescribed `use.'" The Vestry unanimously approved what their  church committee had negotiated.

The newly designated Cathedral stood in the middle of a rapidly  expanding city. By the end of the decade, the 15-storey Medical  Dental Building to the east of the church was built, and the iron  framework of the even larger Hotel Vancouver across Georgia Street  began to rise. The 1920s had been years of renewed growth for  Vancouver. Within the decade it became a major terminal for Canadian  grain. With annexations, population had doubled to a quarter of a  million. As soon as he had arrived in Vancouver, Renison had been  excited by the possibilities of a downtown ministry. Showing his wife  the stone building that now seated over a thousand people, Elizabeth  Renison declared: "You've got what you always wanted, a preaching  church." The rector's voice was to become well known throughout the  city, and much of the province, thanks to the still new invention of  radio.

Radio had come to Vancouver in 1920. Craig had broadcast a few  services in 1924, but he and the church committee decided to  discontinue the experiment as not worth the expense. Three years  later, while waiting for Renison to arrive, the church committee  received an offer from the Sparks Company asking they be allowed to  broadcast Christ Church's services free of charge on station CKWX.  The new rector immediately took to this new way of spreading the  gospel to a non-church audience. Renison was familiar with secular  media: for years he had written a weekly column in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Sunday evening broadcasts began. When the radio station  started asking a fee, funds were found, first from rector's warden  Beecher and later from the Farmer Estate. Broadcasting from Christ  Church Cathedral continued for more than 40 years.

Renison was an innovative rector. He expanded the church's  ministry to Vancouver's business community by instituting Lenten  noontime services. Every year five clergymen would be invited to the  Cathedral, each one for a week during Lent. Weekdays they would give  25 minute sermons over the lunch hour. The very first speaker was the  rector's brother, the Rev. William Renison of Billings, Montana.  Withing the parish, Renison proposed an Every Member Canvasses, which  was carried out successfully. The increased activities convinced the  church committee to hire a "lady clerk" at $25 per month to work  afternoons in the church office. A lengthy correspondence secured  permission from the Imperial War Graves Commission to allow a replica  in Christ Church of Westminster Abbey's memorial to a million British  dead. It was unveiled by British Columbia Lieutenant Governor R.  Raldolph Bruce on the tenth anniversary of the Armistice; 1800 copies  of the service were printed. Then he persuaded the Royal Colonial  Institute to erect a memorial to Captain James Cook. "There are  thousands of Americans who pass through Vancouver every year," he  wrote, "...and I cannot help feeling that something from the Old Land  to show the unity of the Empire would have a profound effect --  intangible though it might be -- in strengthening the bonds of  Empire." In November, 1929, a memorial to H.J. Cambie was dedicated.  The man many considered the "father of Christ Church" had died the  year before at age 91.

Occasionally, Renison outpaced his committee. In February, 1930,  he persuaded George Beggs, executor of the Farmer Estate, to offer  $10,000 towards purchase of another 37 1/2 feet of land north along  Burrard. More money would come from the Farmer Estate to build a  proper chancel. The church committee had to find the balance for the  land, $27,500. The committee dickered for five months. Finally they  had to turn down the offer of the Farmer Estate "owing to financial  conditions." Mr. Beggs bought the land anyway, but development was to  wait until the end of the decade.

Late in 1931, while on a train returning from a trip to Toronto,  Renison received a telegram asking him to stop in Winnipeg. There he  was informed the Synod of Rupert's Land had elected him Bishop of  Athabasca. His ordination as bishop was held at Christ Church  Cathedral on the Feast of Epiphany in January, 1932. It was a  splendid ceremony with eight bishops participating. At the same  service the Rev. A.H. Sovereign, former curate at Christ Church and  canon of the Cathedral, was ordained Bishop of the Yukon. 

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