The Iron Church Story
Issue Date: 13/6/2001
An extract from "The Iron Church" (1860-1985), by Stuart Underhill.
A history of St John's Church, Victoria, B.C.
The extract begins at the move from the old "iron church" to the new
one, built on Quadra St. FAP Chadwick became rector shortly after the
One week later, on December 22, 1912, the first services were
held there. It was nearly Christmas, a time for rejoicing, and the
ladies had outdone themselves with their decorations. The sadness of
departure was forgotten in the excitement of the new surroundings.
For several weeks Sunday School classes continued in the hall on
Herald Street but at last the basement in the new church was
considered ready for the children.
Meanwhile a new problem arose: what to do with the Iron Church?
Some people though the synod should take it over and preserve it as
the first church consecrated in the province. The suggestion was
declined. A proposal to present it to the parish of St. Mark's also
Mr. Jenns had the last word: "Leave the old landmark to the
contractors to dispose of as they deem best." In 1913 the old church
was pulled down at a cost of $220. The organ that had been used
latterly went to St. Paul's, Esquimalt, where it still does service.
The way was now clear for the Hudson's Bay Company to begin
construction of its new store. A start was made but eight years
were to elapse before its doors were opened to customers.
The bubble of British Columbia's prosperity was about to burst.
Overseas investors began pulling out of the province. Astute local
entrepreneurs liquidated their holdings while property values were
high. Land prices began to sag, then crashed, wiping out the
investments of thousands of speculators. In 1914 came the final
catastrophe - the Great War.
Before that happened Mr. Ard resigned as assistant priest of St.
John's. Was he upset because he was not chosen to succeed Mr. Jenns,
whose replacement was imminent? We do not know. The honour went to
the Rev. Frederick Austen Pakenham Chadwick, a more experienced
churchman with an impressive record of parish-building. Ard returned
Mr. Jenns spoke of him affectionately. Bishop Roper told the
synod: "It is a happy experience when, after 10 years of work
together, an aged rector can say of his younger assistant: "He has
been like a son to me."
The Chadwicks were a handsome couple with family connections
that passed muster with the sternest social critic. He was born in
Guelph, Ontario, which made him, when the time came, the first
Canadian rector of St. John's. His line reached back into English
She had been Creina Russell Henderson of Windsor, Ontario,
her father a civil engineer who later became vice-president of the
Canada Salt Company. They met when Chadwick was rector of All
Saints', Windsor. He had been wed once before and brought two sons of
that match to their marriage, which took place a year before they
came to St. John's. A boy and a girl were added to the family.
Their positive virtues were soon tested in Victoria. When
Chadwick gave up St. Paul's, Vancouver, it was understood that after
a trial period he would take over from Mr. Jenns. The transition was
slow. The old gentleman showed no sign of giving up the rectory which
meant the Chadwicks had to manage in rented premises. During their
first year in Victoria they moved four times.
Nor did Jenns absent himself from the church. He spent much time
there, shuffling along the aisles in his bedroom slippers, pausing
now and then in reverie. He still loved to preach although his voice
was almost inaudible.
"He wanted to die in the church. That's why he kept on
preaching," Mrs. Chadwick said many years later.
Patience won the day. In December, 1914, Jenns formally retired
and Mr. Chadwick was appointed rector. The following month, January
22, 1915, Jenns died. Rose and his other children were at his
After a proper interval the Chadwicks moved into the rectory. It
was an attractive house with its large, panelled downstairs rooms,
its glassed-in bookcases, its six rooms upstairs. The single
bathroom was a drawback for a family with four children, especially
when visiting clergymen came to stay. Necessity taught everyone the
way to the church washrooms.
Mr. Chadwick flung himself into his work enthusiastically. He
had strong ideas of how a church should be run. He left his mark on
every parish he had from Port Arthur, Dunnville and Windsor in
Ontario to St. Paul's in Vancouver. In each one he left behind
improvements, be it an extension to the church, a new organ, a new
rectory or parish hall.
He was shocked by Mr. Jenns' indifference to missions and
quickly acted to rectify it. He often told his congregation:
"Christ's command is 'Ye shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem (our
own parish) and in all Judea (our diocese) and unto the uttermost
parts of the earth (our foreign missions)."
An auxiliary for missions was set up, its fund-raising efforts
including fairs and teas in the gardens of parishioners or in the
church grounds. He was an energetic gardener and improved the
surroundings of the church by putting in a lawn and a rockery.
Jenns in his later years had been unable to do much parish
visiting, though Mr. Ard tried to make up for that. There was a
revolution when Chadwick took over. Nearly every weekday he could be
seen somewhere in the parish, spinning along on his bicycle rain or
shine. He averaged some 600 home calls a year. He was also in great
demand at funerals, there being three funeral parlours close by St.
John's. He was asked to officiate at so many - over 60 a year - that
it interfered with his holidays.
Chadwick had been educated at Trinity College in Toronto, the
training-ground of so many outstanding clerics. He was active in
athletics there - captain of the rugby, cricket and baseball teams -
and president of the debating society.
Surprisingly he did not win high marks from his congregation as
a speaker. His preaching voice was not compelling. "It was scratchy,"
said one parishioner. "My brother used to say it was like a
gramophone that needed the needle changed."
It grew weaker as he was increasingly affected by diabetes which
plagued him for much of his ministry. He read most of his sermons. He
favoured a low church form of service so was spared from trying to
sing any of the liturgy. He was intensely devout, marking Good Friday
with a three-hour service.
He showed a calm courage in difficult situations whether it was
helping to fight a house fire or standing up in public to speak
his mind. He was active in Rotary and at one supper meeting blanched
to hear a member tell an off-colour story.
Chadwick was on his feet in a flash. Such conduct was
indefensible and must never be repeated at a Rotary meeting, he
declared. The Rotarians applauded him.
"Well done," said his neighbour when he sat down. "That was a
brave thing to do."
"My knees were shaking," Chadwick confessed.
The church groups knew him well, for he was always turning up at
their meetings and stirring them to new endeavours. He was not noted
for his sense of humour but his friendly smile won people to his
side. He liked young people and encouraged them to participate in
every aspect of church life.
How bitter to him were those 1914-18 war years which saw so many
of them leave Victoria, never to return. Two hundred and eighty men
and women from St. John's served overseas. Twenty-five lost their
Sixty-five years later Mrs. Chadwick shuddered when she thought
of it. "Those dreadful casualty lists," she said.
It was a time to test men's faith. Thoughtful churchmen wrestled
with the conflict between sturdy patriotism and their Christian
Bishop Augustine Scriven, who succeeded Bishop Roper in 1915,
summed up their dilemma at the 16th diocesan synod in February, 1916.
He spoke of the war in these terms:
"Of the ultimate result we are in no doubt, for it cannot be
that the cause for which our Empire and her allies are fighting shall
fail. We stand for Truth and Righteousness and Liberty; for the
sacredness of treaties; for the defence of weaker nations; against
the spirit of militarism; against the doctrine that right is might;
against the overweening ambition of a nation which seeks to impose by
force its tyranny upon others.
"It is not then in the courage of our soldiers, though that has
been proved a thousand times to be worthy of the best traditions of
our race; nor in the strength of our navy, though we believe that
navy to be, as it has ever been, invincible; it is not in the arm of
the flesh that we trust but in the justice of our cause and in the
defence of the Almighty.
"It is with the sincerest conviction that we are fighting on the
side of righteousness that we boldly claim the help of God against
our enemies and say: 'The Lord of Hosts is with us: the God of Jacob
is our refuge.'"
The bishop agreed that there were those on the other side who
would be praying for the same things. God would be the judge.
Whatever He decided, the nations should emerge strengthened morally
"Meanwhile it is our duty to pray for victory, to work for it
and fight for it, because we believe the things for which we are
fighting are the things that God would have prevail upon the earth.
God is the arbiter of battles .
"Good shall assuredly come out of evil and both we and they
against whom we are now fighting shall share alike in the blessings
which will eventually accrue. Only, let us prepare our hearts to
learn and profit by the lessons of war.
"God is calling us to a purer, an honester and a higher national
life which - since the nation is composed of individuals - means that
God is calling us all - men, women and children - to greater purity
and honesty and to higher ideals of life."
Bishop Scriven did not live to see his pious hopes for the post-war
world put to the test. He died soon after his address to the synod,
to be succeeded by Bishop Charles de Veber Schofield. The new rector
of St. John's, incidentally, was immediately active in the affairs of
the synod, sitting on several of its committees.
Scriven's patriotic fervour found ready listeners within and
outside the churches of his diocese. Sometimes they reacted in a way
he had not intended. Antagonism toward the enemy easily became hatred
of all things German. Otherwise gentle people turned into zealots.
There were violent incidents in which property was damaged and men
and women with German connections were harassed. A forgiving heart
won no merit marks where the Hun was concerned.
St. John's struggled through the war years despite a depleted
congregation. Practically all the male members of the choir enlisted.
Those who remained felt it was their sacred mission to preserve and
enhance the church for those who would one day come back from the
wars. When they sang of "soldiers of the Cross" they thought of
allied troops fighting for them in the dreadful conditions of the
Sometimes the meagre attendance was augmented by church parades.
There were overflow congregations when local regiments or their
reinforcements came to St. John's on the eve of their departure from
Victoria. When the khaki-clad figures marched away the church seemed
emptier than ever.
"A large number of our church members have enlisted in the
service of their king and country," the wardens reported in 1916.
"This makes it all the more incumbent upon those of us, who through
various causes are unable to go, to maintain to the very utmost of
our ability the services of our beloved church."
Church committee meetings ended with the singing of God Save the
King. The little jokes that once enlivened the sessions
with laughter were seldom heard. Apart from the war news there was
constant anxiety over church finances. The Sunday School property on
Herald Street had been mortgaged to help with building expenses and
it was difficult to meet the interest payments. Eight thousand
dollars was still owed on the organ. Taxes were overdue and it took a
superhuman effort on the part of the Ladies Guild to raise $550 to
No one complained - least of all Mr. Chadwick, already locked in
his personal battle against diabetes. The rule of the day was to
carry on, like good soldiers. In these and subsequent years he had
stalwart support from laymen of the parish. It was not unusual for
son to follow father on the church committee.
The relief brought by Armistice Day on November 11, 1918, was
tempered by sorrow for those who would not return. They were
remembered by a reredos installed behind the altar below the tall
east windows which portrayed major events in the life of Jesus.
Returned soldiers carried out the work on the reredos in the Red
Cross workshop on Johnson Street. Gracefully arched panels of oak
took shape under their hands. It was unveiled and dedicated on April
18, 1920, at a morning service attended by Lieutenant-Governor E.G.
Prior, Premier John Oliver and other dignitaries. The Rt. Rev. A. U.
de Pencier, known as "the soldier bishop of the Canadian church,"
preached the sermon. He spoke again at evensong and at a special
afternoon service for soldiers.
The congregation loosened its purse strings generously for the
memorial. The giving did not stop there. The war had frustrated Mr.
Chadwick's talents as a builder and fund-raiser. Now he could give
them free rein.
His first ambition was to clear the church of debt and this he
promptly set about. By now he was well acquainted with his flock.
Substantial gifts were needed and he went to those who could make
them. He was a persuasive talker, at ease in the presence of moneyed
people. D. R. Ker (commemorated in the south side windows portraying
the apostles Peter, James and John, called by St. Paul "pillars of
the church") is one of those mentioned as instrumental in the
liquidation of the Herald Street mortgage.
In 1920, Chadwick was able to announce that the church was free
of debt except for money still owed on the organ. That too was
cleared away in 1923. In June, 1924, St. John's was consecrated at
morning service by Bishop Schofield. In the evening a special
"service of praise" was held. For a long time thereafter similar
evening services were held from time to time in remembrance of the
There were other grave financial problems that were not solved
so readily. The Rectory Trust Fund, set aside in 1912 with high hopes
that it would ensure forever the rector's stipend, was not living up
to expectations. It had been invested mostly in mortgages which at
the time seemed "safe as houses." Interest rates fell and during the
war some mortgagers defaulted on their payments. The church committee
pledged $50 a month out of church funds to bridge the gap between
trust fund revenue and the rector's salary.
These difficulties did not deflect Chadwick from a pet project.
He wanted to build a parish hall. It would provide better facilities
for the Sunday School and the church's numerous social groups. The
1924 annual general meeting heard reports from the Ladies Guild, the
Boys Corinthian Club, the Anglican Young People's Association, the
Men's Society, the Women's Auxiliary, the St. John's Athletic
Association, the bowling club and the Girls Beacon Club.
Television was unknown. Radio was a noise on the distant
horizon. Religious observances aside, St. John's was a place where
many people went during the week for fun and companionship.
It took time to get the ball rolling. People grumbled about
demands on their purses, especially now that the cathedral was
soliciting funds for a new building. Chadwick pressed on. In 1929
additional land was bought on the east of the church property.
Maj. Spurgin, designer of Oak Bay High School, was invited to draw up
plans for a parish hall.
He envisaged an auditorium with a gallery that would seat 500
and would be equipped with folding partitions to create separate
classrooms, a luxury the Sunday School never enjoyed. Manipulation of
the partitions would also make possible a Guild room, a kitchen, a
stage with dressing-rooms, a young people's classroom, a chapel, a
gymnasium and a men's club room.
Alas for Mr. Chadwick's hopes. They shrivelled before the chill
economic winds which now began to circle the globe. He was lucky,
perhaps, that before the year was out the church committee decided to
install a new oil-burning furnace in the rectory, which everyone
agreed was disagreeably draughty.
The parish hall project was shelved with $1,683 left in the
fund. Just as the Great War checked Mr. Chadwick's expansionary
dreams, so did the Great Depression. It brought a new kind of
casualty: the unemployed who were
not hailed as heroes but as rather frightening spectres of a
crumbling social fabric. Their tragedy touched churches throughout
Canada. Conscience demanded that the unfortunates be helped. Falling
revenues dictated that such help would be minuscule. The seeds of
church involvement in social and economic problems were sown in those
years known as the Dirty Thirties.
The story was the same across the country. Church attendance fell
off because people were too poor to put anything on the plate; too
poor, some of them, to dress in what they considered a respectable
manner. These were years when children were kept home from school
because they lacked shoes.
Churches could not meet their apportionments. Mr. Chadwick noted
a marked decline in the number of weddings. Every day desperate men
came knocking at the rector's door in search of alms. Some were
suspected of spending money on drink so all were given food tickets
redeemable at the local soup kitchen. Morning often disclosed ragged
figures huddled in the church garden where they had crept for
St. John's counted every penny twice. Emergency expenditures
were especially painful, as in 1932 when the copper sheeting fell off
the steeple during a storm and had to be replaced. Economies were
sought everywhere. The wages of the organist and janitor were
reduced. Mr. Chadwick volunteered to surrender $10 of the $50 the
church provided each month to make up his salary.
If the chronicle of St. John's at this point seems joyless, it
was not. Hard times bring people together. There were many examples
of unselfish sharing, many laughs over the stage props and costumes
improvised out of unlikely materials for amateur theatricals. Church
groups still had their annual picnics. The Anglican Young People's
Association had its dances, its hikes, its Pancake breakfasts.
There was excitement too. One Sunday while Mr. Chadwick was
reading the lesson there was a commotion at the back of the church. A
naked male figure (he had disrobed in the vestibule built at the
Quadra Street entrance to reduce draughts) came streaking down the
aisle, shouting "Christ is risen!"
Mr. Chadwick went on reading as if nothing unusual were
happening. Two sidesmen darted into the vestry and reappeared with
white choir robes which they wrapped around the distraught intruder
before bundling him out of the church.
Mrs. Chadwick never forgot the pleasant contacts she had with
parishioners especially when they invited her into their sum-
mer gardens. She loved flowers and openly begged them for church
decorations. Sometimes the response took her aback. On one occasion
she admired her host's flowering cherry and asked for a few branches
for the next Sunday's decorations.
He stared at her horrified. "Madam," he said, "I would rather
cut off one of my arms than cut a branch off that tree."
Sometimes it was Mrs. Chadwick's turn to surprise the
parishioners. She tried to persuade one gentleman to join the choir,
in which his wife already sang. No, he said, he had served on
committees and in other capacities for 16 years and so had done his
Bit for the church.
Mrs. Chadwick retorted: "Sixteen years, yes, a long time. I
wonder how long eternity is going to last."
She had been trained as a Sunday School teacher and social
worker before she married Chadwick and threw herself enthusiastically
into all church activities. Now the care of her ailing husband
absorbed her increasingly and limited her participation.
She had always been fascinated by medicine - had, in fact,
wanted to be a doctor - so she did not flinch from the snacks,
medications and injections which he required. She fought like a
tigress to obtain insulin for her husband after reading in a popular
magazine of its discovery. She pursued every treatment that might
ease his condition.
Chadwick was a good patient. "He was easy-going and didn't let
it worry him," Mrs. Chadwick recalled when I interviewed her. At 94
her laugh was as bubbly as a girl's. "He did what I told him."
As his illness grew worse there was a drift away from St.
John's. The cathedral offered a counter-attraction in Dean Cecil
Quainton, a powerful preacher. Those who worked most closely with Mr.
Chadwick refused to hold him responsible for the decline. Stanley
Hawkins, a cheerful power-house who kept many of St. John's
activities alive through those difficult days, blamed it on the
Chadwick's friends fretted over his condition and tried to make
life easier for him. Within the limited means available there were
efforts to provide him with an assistant. None was successful. One
called for St. John's to make a contribution to the stipend of the
rector of St. Saviour's in Victoria West, who would also act as
Chadwick's assistant. The arrangement did not last long. It would
have been worse without the Rev. Montague Bruce who for years helped
out at services, refusing any remuneration.
By 1936, Canon Chadwick as he now was had to recognize the
limitations imposed by his ill health. He told the church committee
that if only a curate could be found he would forgo $400 a year from
his own salary. By year's end the Rev. G. R. B. Bolster had joined
St. John's as an assistant.
The previous year - 1935 - saw St. John's celebrate its 75th
anniversary. There was no sign of weakness in the messages that Canon
Chadwick delivered in a special leaflet prepared for the occasion.
His devotion to his church and to the mission field shone through
He dissected St. John's fixed commitments to the diocese which
included a synod assessment of $135 a year, a sum of $720 a year to
the Diocesan Mission Fund and $200 to the Missionary Society of the
Canadian Church (MSCC).
The Diocesan Mission Fund, he explained, was to help outlying
parishes on Vancouver Island where populations were too sparse to
yield the incumbents' stipends of $1,200 a year.
The MSCC had a wider task. It maintained mission work among the
Indians and Eskimos, and helped struggling missions on the prairies,
Oriental missions in British Columbia, missions to the Jews in large
cities of the East, and the Columbia Coast and other missions in B.C.
In the foreign field the MSCC was fully responsible for the
diocese of mid-Japan which had a bishop and staff of 26 workers, plus
18 Japanese clergy and five celebrants. In China it supported the
entire work of the diocese of Honan where the British had recently
withdrawn, leaving nine Chinese clergy "holding the fort."
In India the Canadian church supported 16 missionary workers in
the diocese of Kangra. It had representatives in Palestine, Chile and
"When we consider that the whole Canadian church contributes
annually the splendid sum of $350,000 for all this work, surely we
will cheerfully assume our small share of $200 and consider it the
irreducible minimum," he said.
Another section of the leaflet dealt with "duplex" envelopes
which had been introduced some years before but were slow in catching
on. The envelopes were divided into two sections, one for the parish,
the other for missions, "reminding us of our duty to support the
church at home and abroad." They were supposed to land on the
collection plate each Sunday.
"The two parts also remind us of the TWO SERVICES (at least)
each Sunday," he said. "Give the one half at the morning service, the
other at evening service."
He stressed the need for regular giving.
"The burden of the support of the church rests upon a few
devoted attendants, which burden often becomes too heavy for those
few to bear, and the work suffers.
"Usually those who attend but occasionally give but
occasionally. It is a sad fact that but a few realize the
responsibility for giving as the Lord has prospered them. The
Scriptures teach that systematic and proportionate giving is the only
He found space to revert to his old love: the need for a parish
hall. The fund now stood at $3,400. It took a little while to blow
the spark into flames but by early 1939 the people of St. John's once
more seemed ready to support the project.
There were signs that Canada was emerging from the worst of the
Depression. Few associated the improvement with preparations for an
approaching world war. "Peace in our time" statements calmed anxiety
about the situation in Europe; Japan's aggression in China was a
distant altercation between yellow men.
Once more the parish hall appeared on the agenda of church
committee meetings. Estimates were obtained. They ranged from $5,650
to $10,000. Would the project finally get off the ground? The answer
was No. By June the slide toward war was unmistakable. Once more the
parish hall was set aside until times were more "propitious."
Mr. Chadwick's days of activity were nearing an end. He knew it,
his wife knew it, the congregation knew it. He was subject
increasingly to diabetic comas. The main obstacle to an early
departure was his pension but at last that too was cleared.
In January, 1940, Canon Chadwick announced he was leaving St.
John's, the church he had served so bravely for 26 years. He died in
1952, aged 79.
Selection of a successor provoked some friction between the
church committee and the Rt. Rev Harold Sexton who had succeeded
Charles Schofield as bishop of British Columbia. Strong-willed,
outspoken, the Australian-born bishop liked to get his own way.
He had his own ideas about who should be the next rector. His
candidate preached at St. John's without stirring up much enthusiasm.
The church committee was homing in on its own candidate. Once they
found him they pressed stubbornly for his appointment.
By this time radio had invaded nearly every home in North
America as a source of entertainment and information. Religious
programs were popular. In southern British Columbia there was a wide
audience for a Sunday evening broadcast from a Vancouver station.
Called At Eventide it followed a simple pattern: some sacred music, a
few prayers, a few words of comfort and exhortation from an
The program had its listeners in Victoria. More were added when
the vacancy loomed at St. John's. It was easy to discover the
identity of the speaker. He was invited to preach at St. John's.
He was an instant success.
The church committee passed a resolution asking for his
appointment and sent their representatives to present it in person to
Bishop Sexton. The bishop was not pleased by this turn of events and
hemmed and hawed. The representatives stood firm. They would not
leave the bishop's office until he telephoned the invitation to
Sexton yielded reluctantly. "But mind, you'll have to pay for
the 'phone call," he growled as he reached for the instrument.
That was how the Rev. George Biddle was asked to become rector
of St. John's, a post he occupied for the next 25 years.
28 April 2000. Original copy
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