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Looking Back: Fort St. John Presbyterian Church's "Kirk Hall" celebrates 50th anniversary

In the past I have written about different facilities that were used by the pioneers of the Peace for gatherings, schools, halls, etc. There were dances, meetings, picnics and such. One gathering spot was the church of the district.

In the past I have written about different facilities that were used by the pioneers of the Peace for gatherings, schools, halls, etc. There were dances, meetings, picnics and such. One gathering spot was the church of the district. These were many and varied. When Karen Goodings approached me with the following history on the Presbyterian Church I got to thinking about "The Place." The Presbyterian Church is located across from the Alaska Highway News office. The building the church is in today was not always the church . In the 60's the old church was still being used and the present church was actually the old hall. Someone had the idea to turn the hall into a teenage drop-in centre on Friday and Saturday nights and have dances. It needed a name and someone came up with the name "The Place" in keeping with the sixties I guess. The drop-in centre lasted about two years as the person running it was transferred, I believe, and it went into the annals of history. The old church was moved to Aennofield and the hall was converted to the new Fort St. John Presbyterian Church.

The Presbyterian presence in the B.C. Peace Country began in 1919 when Alwin Holland landed on the banks of the Peace at the Old Fort, climbed the steep 1,000 foot hill behind the trading post to take up land on the plateau above. He was a teacher, surveyor and a staunch Presbyterian. Upon discovering no Kirk (Scottish name for church) he at once began holding "Sunday Church Meetings" in his home. The Presbyterian Church had come to stay in the North Peace.

Stories spread of a young student minister, Ian Mackinnon, who in 1922 came from the East to the Peace to work under Rev. J.P. Henderson of Pouce Coupe. Ian bunked in with Mr. Holland and was soon riding horseback, holding Sunday School and church services. The history talks about how vicious the mosquitoes were and how thankful Ian was to have fly dope. He wrote the names of all the families living along the Peace between Fort St. John and Hudson's Hope. There were 200 people including children.

Then early in 1932 Rev. Burch came to Fort St. John. He talked about holding Church Services in the local hall, a log building heated by a big iron stove. He recalled that there was a man from the East (community of Sunrise) who played the guitar. On one occasion Rev. Burch walked with the Anglican rector to Hudson's Hope, rafting down the Peace and bravely swimming the Peace River

In June of 1935, Robert Ogilvie, Chairman of the Board, donated an acre of land for church purposes. In the Spring of 1937 an agreement to build a church was signed by D.P. McKay, E.F. Cuthill and Alwin Holland on behalf of the Church and Mr. H. Downey, builder/contractor. On July 18, 1937 the Church building was dedicated, a beautiful little church, built on Gothic lines - a prayer answered - a dream come true.

During the war years there were no ministers that came this way so the church was closed. The Ladies Aid remained active with most of their efforts going into comforts for overseas.

In 1945 the church re-opened when Rev. John Carson and wife Lillian arrived. Pews were built by Peter Cox and his wife Myrtle made a scarf and pulpit cloth. The building was wired and a stove donated by Mr. Ed Cuthill. The floor was oil stained and varnished and the Ladies Aid purchased a pump organ, a communion set and church record books were also purchased.

The landscaping of the church grounds was undertaken by Pete Jarvis who worked the grounds and planted potatoes as well as contracting to build a fence around the garden plot. The women hoed and cared for the plants and harvested the crop which must have been a good one, they realized $25.00 for their efforts. The next year the grounds were seeded to lawn.

John and Lillian Carson were both musical and the Junior and Senior Choir and Rhythm Band flourished. Olive Lutz assisted Lillian in training the Rhythm Band. Music became a major part of the worship of the Church. The Senior Choir and Rhythm Band took top honours at the North Peace Music Festival.

In July 1949 Rev. George Dobie and his wife Helen came to the Fort St. John charge and while he was here the work on the Alaska Highway was turned over to the Canadians. Two deaconesses, with a van provided by the Women's Missionary Society traveled the long, dusty road each summer, holding Vacation Bible Schools and Church Services.

In 1954, Rev. Stan Self and his wife Christine came to fill the vacancy. He was also a self made plumber and carpenter. Actively involved in assisting Rev. Self to add on the 24 foot extension to the Church were Harry Allan, Carl Lutz, Roger Ventress, and Newton Thompson. Rev. Self was also active in the volunteer fire department, minor hockey and basketball.

1955 was a year of growth. Rev. Self baptized 25 infants and the Sunday School had 100 children in attendance. Stan and Christine Self stayed with the Presbyterian Church until the spring of 1956.

Bill and Lois Duffy had been appointed by the Mission Board to serve in Fort St. John. It was decided that there was a need for a hall to compliment the Church. The new building committee consisted of George Raaschou, Doug Matheson, Marguerite Davies, Harvey Freeman and Ken Hunter. Before long the Duffy's moved to Ottawa leaving the congregation without a minister once again, but the building of Kirk Hall went ahead.

In June of 1958, Mr. Alwin Holland turned the sod for the Church Hall and in early fall, Miss Iris Ford arrived to occupy the pulpit and is remembered for her work with the young people. Rev. Walter Donovan took over from Iris and is remembered for his ability to dry dishes while singing Irish songs.

June 1959 saw Rev. Murray Garvin arrive and in September of that year marry Mary MacNicol, deaconess and nurse. On April 3rd, 1960 Mr. Alwin Holland cut the ribbon to open the new Church Hall. In June it was dedicated by the Peace River Presbytery and named the "Kirk Hall".

In 1963 came the death of the beloved Elder, Alwin Holland and the Church is very thankful that the School District recognized him by naming an elementary school after him prior to his passing.

In 1970 a great adventure took place as Rev. Janssen, who arrived with his wife Marilyn and family in 1969, traveled with his crew of seven youth 182 miles down the Peace River aboard the "Peace Ark" to the town of Peace River, Alberta. The journey is still fresh in the minds of those that were lucky enough to take part in it.

The Fort St. John Presbyterian Church will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Kirk Hall on June 26 and 27. Join them for coffee and dessert at 7 p.m. on June 26, and/or for Church service at 10 a.m. on June 27. This will be followed by a traditional type church picnic with games for the kids.

Contact Karen Goodings at 250-785-5507 for more information and confirmation of your attendance.