Aimee Semple McPherson in Vancouver

1930 CVA 99-2396 - Arrival at Great Northern Railway depot of Aimee Semple MacPherson on visit to Foursquare Gospel Tabernacle stuart thomson photo-2

CVA 99-2396: “Arrival at Great Northern Railway Depot of Aimee Semple MacPherson (sic) on visit to Foursquare Gospel Tabernacle”. 1930. Stuart Thomson photo. (Note: This image is a crop. For complete image, see City of Vancouver Archives link).

The image above shows Aimee Semple McPherson with a welcoming crowd shortly after arriving in 1930 at Vancouver’s Great Northern Railway Depot (demolished in 1965, the GNR Depot was just north of the CN Rail Depot which still stands and today serves as the long-distance bus and VIA Rail depot). ASM was born near Ingersoll, ON and ultimately became a pentecostal minister/evangelist and the founder of Angelus Temple in Glendale, California (a suburb of Los Angeles). In the image, ASM is holding the bouquet. Minnie Kennedy, ASM’s mother and a key co-worker with ASM at Angelus Temple, appears to be just to the left of ASM. This must be one of the last public appearances which Mrs. Kennedy would make with ASM; Mrs. Kennedy would break with ASM and leave Angelus Temple within the next few months (Sutton, 162-64). Standing to the right and a little behind ASM is the woman who founded the Vancouver Foursquare church, Anna D. Britton. Britton was a graduate of L.I.F.E. Bible College in Los Angeles, a school founded by ASM for the training of Foursquare pastors; the school’s dean was Frank C. Thompson, editor of the Thompson Chain Reference Bible (Elliot, 124). Britton moved to Vancouver in 1927 where she established a small group of people that ultimately grew into a local congregation, Kingsway Foursquare Church (located, then, on the 400 block of Kingsway near East 13th Avenue). Britton also established L.I.F.E. College  of Canada in 1928; it merged in 1997 with Pacific Bible College to form Pacific Life Bible College in Surrey.

CVA 99-4079 - Four Square Gospel [Lighthouse] Band1931 Stuart Thomson photo

CVA 99-4079 – Four Square Gospel [Lighthouse] Band 1931 Stuart Thomson photo. (This seems to have been a Vancouver image taken, possibly, in the Four Square Church structure at the time. Notice the very ASM-like white uniforms worn by the young women in the image).

Matthew Avery Sutton, in an excellent recent biography of ASM, says this of her impact on American culture in the 1920s and ’30s and even to the present day:

Dazzling religious theatrics and a penchant for publicity made McPherson one of the most famous American personalities of the interwar years. The first religious celebrity of the mass media era, she mastered print, radio, and film for use in her evangelical mission. Her integration of the latest media tools with a conservative creed established precedents for the twentieth century’s most popular ministers, from Billy Graham to Oral Roberts to Pat Robertson. Possibly more significant, she brought conservative Protestantism back from the margins to the mainstream of American culture, by arguing that Christians had an obligation to fight for the issues they believed in and boldly proclaiming that patriotism and faith were inseparable. . . . Finally, with her extraordinary religious fervour and theatricality, McPherson helped shape one of the twentieth century’s most explosive religious movements – evangelicalism. And she did it, of all places, from just outside Hollywood. (Sutton, 4)

CVA 99-4299 - Commencement Forerunner Class L.I.F.E. Feb. 1933 - Four Square Tabernacle - Vancouver, B.C. 1933 Stuart Thomson photo

CVA 99-4299 – Commencement of “Overcomer” (not “Forerunner”) Class L.I.F.E. Feb. 1933 – Four Square Tabernacle – Vancouver, B.C. 1933 Stuart Thomson photo.

ASM was a complex character and had more than a few personal contradictions. She seemed publicly to affirm all people, regardless of race or class; but, on more than one occasion, members of the Ku Klux Klan appeared at her Angelus Temple services in full hooded uniform to support her (Sutton, 32-35). She emphasized “bride of Christ” imagery in a number of ways (not least by adopting an all-white uniform), but she was also able to appeal, especially in the later years of her ministry, to women who had a modern, non-traditional outlook: the flappers (Sutton, 125). She was the founder of a church with a very conservative theology, but she was married three times and divorced twice.

The website of the Canadian Foursquare Church suggests that the denomination wants to retain the historic link to Aimee Semple McPherson.  However, their story of ASM is, to put it politely, abridged.

Angelus Temple, L.A., California. Postcard in author's collection. Note:

Angelus Temple, L.A., California. Postcard in author’s collection. Note: “Vaughn” dates this card to ca1938. Western Publishing and Novelty Co. BA-H284.

David Raymond Elliot. Studies of Eight Canadian Fundamentalists. Doctoral Dissertation, UBC. 1989.

Matthew Avery Sutton. AImee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007.

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One Response to Aimee Semple McPherson in Vancouver

  1. Donald M. Lewis says:

    It would be interesting to know if there are photos from Aimee Semple McPherson’s evangelistic crusade in Vancouver which I believe happened about 1919. I recall many years ago interviewing a woman who recalled ASM preaching at a large arena located near Stanley Park about where the Bayshore Hotel is now located. She said that “Sister Aimee” took Vancouver by storm — streetcars were loaded with people singing hymns learned at her crusade and she made a huge stir at the time. So her later visit in 1930 was to reap the benefits of her work in Vancouver about a decade before.

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