The Unsung Legacy of Eliza Chalk (1862-1915)

 The following article was written for the 125th anniversary of First Baptist Church in 2012. It was one in a series called “Who Was Who in the Pew”. It is reproduced below with a couple of minor edits, but is substantially identical to the original.

Eliza Chalk’s brief moment of fame at First Baptist Church came on September 4, 1917. Nearly two years after her death.

A single paragraph in the minutes of the Board of Deacons meeting on that date reads: Mr. Morgan mention (sic) that the taxes on the lot left the church by Miss Chalk would have to be paid otherwise it would be sold at the tax sale. It was thought best to let it go as it was not worth what was against it.

This minute, which takes about one-quarter of a minute to read, piqued my curiosity about Miss Chalk and her gift to First Baptist. A gift which, apparently, the church did not accept.

Eliza Chalk was born in England on March 13, 1862. She was raised by her father (a widower) in the town of Taunton with her sister and two brothers. She emigrated to Canada in 1906.

The 1911 census records show her as a lodger at that time with Owen and Mary Fuller and their family at 2395 West 6th Avenue. The Fullers and Miss Chalk identified themselves as Baptists. I suspect she was a live-in maid for the Fullers, who had four youngsters at the time.  The Fullers were members at First, and it is possible that they were Eliza’s initial connection to the church.

1907 Str P124 - Main Street September 1907 South of Ferris Road [49th Avenue]

CVA Str P124 – Man posing on Main Street South of Ferris Road (49th Avenue). Just a few blocks away from where Miss Chalk bought her home 11 years later. 1907.

That Miss Chalk became a property owner is remarkable. Her lot was located in the community of South Vancouver at 6438 Ontario Street. This is just north of 49th Avenue – near the geographic centre of the City of Vancouver, today (scarcely a block from Langara College) – but in 1915, it would not have been an exaggeration to refer to this area as “the sticks”. When she bought the property, it could not have been worth much. But given Eliza’s probable monthly wage of roughly $30/month, she must truly have been a first-class scrimper and saver to have made any real estate down-payment.*

Eliza suffered from a condition known as “cardiac dropsy”, what is known today as “cardiac endema”, and it seems she ultimately died from this condition at the relatively young age of 53 – just 2.5 months after buying her lot.

Eliza’s name does not appear in the membership rolls of First Baptist. Indeed, aside from the paragraph in the minute book of the Board of Deacons, I couldn’t find any reference to her in any of the church’s official documents. It seems safe to conclude that she was an “adherent” at FBC. We did not use that term in Eliza’s time, however. When referring to someone who was not a member, we’d often use the term “stranger”.

Thankfully, Eliza did not consider the congregation at First Baptist Church to be strangers. She apparently considered us “family”.

*Star Rosenthal. “Union Maids: Organized Women Workers in Vancouver, 1900-1915. BC Studies. No. 41 (Spring 1979), 53.

Other Sources: Ancestry (Library Edition); BC Vital Statistics: Death Records (microfiche); and the dedicated staff of reference librarians at Vancouver Public Library ( especially the Special Collections staff at Central Branch).

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