For three weeks in May 1923, Rev. Charles S. Price (1887-1947) held daily (and often twice daily) evangelistic meetings and faith healing services in Vancouver. Price had been in Victoria for several days in April 1923 before coming to Vancouver. According to one source, one-sixth of Victoria’s population went to hear Price speak at Willows Arena at Oak Bay. Price held meetings in Victoria’s Chinatown, too, and many Chinese-Canadians went forward at his altar calls.
In Vancouver, the Price meetings were held at the Denman Arena, which could seat up to 10,000. Frank Patrick, owner of the Arena had this to say about the Price crowd: “[T]he evangelistic party addressed over a quarter of a million people in the space of three weeks. On more than one occasion, I could feel the very building tremble with the singing of the multitude who were unable to wait for the opening hymn.”
Ministers of Vancouver were more divided than had been the ministers in Victoria on the work of Charles Price and his claim to anoint people with miraculous physical healing. A number of Chinese pastors from Victoria came to Vancouver to lend moral support to Price in light of the less-than-overwhelming support of the Vancouver ministerial.
Price Before B.C.
Charles Sydney Price was born in 1887 in England*. Following completion of high school, he served in the British Navy for a couple of years and attended Wesley College and ultimately Oxford where he studied law. (Note: There is no evidence that the “Dr.” which he regularly used with his name was academically earned. Either it came from him being awarded an honorary doctorate, or it was tacked onto Price’s name by him as a way to seem more learned than in fact he was). In 1906, Price left England for Canada. He sought work with law firms in Quebec and Winnipeg, but to no avail. In 1907, he left Canada for Spokane. Shortly after arriving there, he came upon an evangelistic service at the Free Methodist “Life Line Mission”. He was converted there and took up a career in the Methodist church ministry.
Price drifted into the Christian ‘liberal’ movement known as modernism. “He quickly began to reason away his previous salvation experience, and his minstry from that point would be marked by the absence of altar calls and salvations for several years” (Enloe, 7). He pastored a number of Methodist churches in Washington and later was pastor of even more liberal Congregational churches in Alaska and California.
In 1921, he was pastoring First Congregational Church in Lodi, CA. He was told of revival meetings that would be happening at San Jose, led by Aimee Semple McPherson, which would include “divine healing”. He was determined to attend the meetings with the intention of debunking them from his pulpit. Instead of collecting evidence to condemn the McPherson meetings, however, Price was ‘converted’ to the ‘full Gospel’ of pentecostalism, with its attendant features of anointing with oil, faith healing, and speaking in tongues.
In 1922, Price accepted an invitation from McPherson to travel with her evangelistic troupe. In autumn of that year, representatives of some Ashland, OR churches invited “Sister Aimee” to lead revival meetings there. McPherson couldn’t go, but recommended that Price go in her place.
Price drew huge crowds in Oregon to hear him preach and to participate in his healing services. Price’s Oregon campaign led to Victoria and the Victoria campaign led to the 1923 Vancouver meetings (and to later sequel campaigns in both B.C. cities the next year).
Bill Carmichael’s ‘Search for Truth’
I recalled seeing a file in the Archives of First Baptist Church, Vancouver, labelled “Dr. Charles Price Evangelistic Campaigns”. Upon looking inside the file, I saw what appeared to be a couple of typewritten, contemporary accounts, of the experiences of people who had attended the Price meetings. Upon closer examination, however, it became clear that the two documents were written by the same person about a year apart; one of the accounts was written within days of the 1923 Price meetings; the second was written after the 1924 meetings. The author, it turned out, was William M. Carmichael (1880-1947), a member of First Baptist Church.**
Carmichael had heard from FBC’s outgoing pastor, Rev. Gabriel Maguire, of Price’s meetings in Victoria and of the “wonderful cure, ascribed to the prayer of faith, anointing and laying on of hands.”
My experience of this reverend gentleman [Maguire] did not warrant me taking his statements at par value; his eggs, as the Scotch say, “had aye twa yokes” or, in other words, he had so developed the gift? of exaggeration that I never really knew, until I had tested his statements afterwards, where fact left off and fiction began.
Thus it was with a very critical but open mind that I first went to the meetings.
Carmichael attended the first meeting on Sunday night (May 6th) and went again on Monday. Carmichael returned on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. He described the message given on each evening as being “plain gospel”, but by the Friday meeting he added that “the address that evening was another plain talk but somehow it thrilled me. Quite unconsciously, I was clapping my hands and shouting ‘Hear! Hear’ [and] others were shouting ‘Amen!’ ‘Hallelujah!’ and ‘Praise the Lord!’
By the Tuesday of the third week of meetings, Carmichael was planning to go forward for healing. He had been hard of hearing in his left ear from an early age.
He received his anointing on Thursday night – the Victoria Day holiday***. He described his experience thus:
[Price] gave me a quiet look of discernment, then he raised his hand and anointed my forehead – that was all that I was aware of. A power came over me and I fell backwards. I felt someone catching me as I fell, I felt someone place something under my head…. As I lay on the floor I was perfectly conscious of the sounds. I was in a blissful state of rest or lassitude and through my mind surged these words, “Thank you Jesus, thank you.” This over and over again….. About a quarter of an hour passed when I opened my eyes and looking up saw Dr [George] Telford [former FBC moderator] standing guard over me.
Carmichael seemed to have had genuine restoration of hearing to his left ear.
When I went to the arena [on…] Friday, the second-last day of the campaign…I went to the furthest back and the highest seat in the whole building to test out my hearing; to my joy I heard Dr. Price in every word.
He summed up his 1923 experience of Price and his campaign as follows:
There were Christians who would have given Dr Price the highest honour the Church could give; there were other Christians who consigned him to the lowest pit of hell where, they said, he belonged….Yet to all, friend or foe, Dr. Price…even in the hottest bombard of venom and criticism, like the Saviour, answered not a word. When he spoke of those who opposed him, it was in the most loving way. “If” as he told us, “you do not see the light as I see it, I have no condemnation for you. All I want you to do is follow the light you have.”
William Carmichael’s very positive reaction to the 1923 campaign was followed by more muted enthusiasm afterwards. He remained convinced that the Price campaign had been a spiritual “uplift” to the church (and not least for his own First Baptist congregation). But he wasn’t sure what to do with his personal ‘healing’ experience. For, although he experienced improvement to his hearing immediately after his anointing by Price, one month later, the deafness had returned.
Carmichael spoke with others of his acquaintance who had received anointing and healing at Price’s meetings. Two of these folks had had similar experiences to his of relapse of ailment (either within a month or within a space of 2-3 months).
I’ll allow Carmichael to relate the response to his inquiry of the third person of his acquaintance, who was more embittered than the others:
[N]ext I met a Mrs. R. “Excuse me, Mrs. R.”, I said, “but you were anointed at the Arena and fell under the power. Did you receive healing?”
She turned on me with a glare of anger, “No,” she fairly hissed. “I believe it was nothing more than that I was hypnotized by the wicked eyes of that she-devil, Miss Carvell.” (Miss Carvell was Dr Price’s singer and assistant.).
And before I could say another word, she shot out the door.
Carmichael went to the second Price campaign meetings in 1924, searching for answers to his questions about his lack of enduring healing. At the end of it, he could only conclude:
Of Dr. Price’s gospel preaching there is no doubt of his sincerity and earnestness as far as I can see; as for his tenets on healing, while I could not say with certainty he is right, on the other hand I could not with positiveness say he was wrong.
*Background on Price comes mostly from “Dr Charles S. Price: His Life, Ministry and Influence”. By Tim Enloe. AG Heritage. 2008.
**He was the author of FBC’s first authorized history, in celebration of the church’s Diamond Jubliee: These Sixty Years 1887-1947. Carmichael was the father of Mrs. Edna-May Slade, currently the oldest member of FBC.
***Victoria Day in these years, must not have been designated as falling on the 4th Monday of May, but rather as being on May 23rd – whatever day of the week that should happen to be.