The First First

A couple of posts ago, I presented an artist’s sketch by Reginald Blunden of the first permanent structure of First Baptist Church. But I didn’t say very much about that structure, how it came to be, where it was located, nor what ultimately happened to the building after the church vacated it late in 1889.

In late 1886, two lots were secured from the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) on Westminster Avenue by FBC (although it wouldn’t officially be “First Baptist Church” until after it formally organized a few weeks before the congregation began meeting in the chapel). The building, which was built in part by congregants, was a wee frame structure measuring roughly 24×35 feet. The pews were of rough wooden construction and the interior was lit by “humble oil lamps” which illuminated the place, but only just. According to FBC’s principal historians, there was no baptismal font (the first baptism of Robert Palmer in May 1887 was held in False Creek roughly where the Pacific Central Station stands today) nor was there a pulpit, per se. All told, the building is thought to have cost about $700. And – in sharp contrast with FBC’s anticipated financial situation upon completion of the current building project – the first Vancouver Baptist structure left the congregation with no debt

Pinning Down the Chapel’s Location

Vancouver’s first archivist, J. S. Matthews, reported from an interview with early Baptist, Rev. P. C. Parker, that the church was on Main “on the east side between Hastings and Dupont [now East Pender] streets. (Early Vancouver, Vol. 5, p.158). But the Chapel lots did not not face the street. They were located on the back lane behind Main.²

The map below is Sheet 13 of Goad’s Vancouver Fire Insurance Map of 1897. In the top left corner, is the block that interests us: that of the east side of Westminster (Main St.) between Hastings to the north and Dupont (later known as Princess St., and, ultimately, as East Pender) to the south. Carmichael identified the lot on which the building stood as being on “the back of [the] lot, now 432 Main St.” I’ve annotated the map with “FBC Chapel” on the rear of the lot which was 432 Main St.

Sheet 13 Goads 1897

Goad’s Fire Insurance Map, 1897. From Sheet 13. An annotation is made by the author showing the lot on which I believe FBC’s chapel was located.

Post-Chapel Applications

The church occupied the chapel from early 1887 until late 1889. Within a year after FBC vacated the chapel to take up occupancy in its new, much larger building (at the corner of Hamilton and Dunsmuir), the little one-storey structure was sold.

The buyer seems to have been the Malvina Coudron Hardware. Said Mrs. J. D. Cameron in J. S. Matthews’ Early Vancouver: “I remember the first church the Baptists had, quite well; I have attended service there; it was on [near?] the northeast corner of Dupont and Westminster Avenue. I remember them raising it; raised it high on stilts, and built a hardware store under it.” (Emphasis mine).³

Ch P95 - [Exterior of Malvina Coudron hardware (formerly First Baptist Church) on Westminister Avenue] ca1890 Harry T. Devine

Ch P95 – Exterior of Malvina Coudron hardware. The upper storey was formerly the Baptist Chapel), ca1890. Harry T. Devine photo.

The photo above shows the Malvina Coudron hardware shop around 1890, shortly after the main floor had been built in beneath the former chapel.

The photo below shows the block a few years later. Malvina Coudron is no more; it had been replaced with another hardware: Lewis & Sills. By 1910, it had become McPherson & Sons Gents furnishings. By 1919, the property had begun to embrace its place in the heart of Chinatown and 432 Main was occupied by Yick Co. Produce.

CVA 166-2 - Street Scene in Vancouver showing block of shops at 432 Westminster Avenue (Main Street) PTTimms ca 1908

CVA 166-2 – Street Scene in Vancouver showing block of shops at 432 Westminster Avenue (Main Street), ca 1908. P T Timms photo.

The east side 400 block of Main Street appears as shown below, today. “FBC Chapel” is shown on this image to illustrate where I believe the chapel was situated in 1887-89.

View from above the 400-block east side Main Street. Courtesy Google Maps

View today from above the 400-block east side Main Street. Courtesy Google Maps.

The chapel was located just behind where Propaganda Coffee is today on 209 East Pender.


Notes

¹ W. M. Carmichael, These Sixty Years: 1887 -1947. Leslie J. Cummings. Our First Century: 1887-1987.

²Cummings, 12.

³J. S. Matthews, Early Vancouver: Vol. 4, p.86.

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