I purchased this photo at The History Store a couple weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been on a quest to know which church it is/was that housed the amazing-looking pipe organ that appears in it.
What I Knew (or Thought I Knew)
The clues I had to work with were:
- The photographer was the Russell Photo Studio of New Westminster. Vincent Russell had his New Westminster studio only from 1918-21. (He later established a photo studio in Penticton in the 1930s and in the City of Vancouver in the 1940s).¹ This led me to suspect strongly that the image was made in a New Westminster church.
- The organ pipes appeared to be distinctive. In all of the images that I’ve perused of church interiors in Greater Vancouver, I never saw another set of pipes with a similar design. The closest set I saw was at St. Paul’s Anglican in Vancouver.² The design on the pipes in my image was similar to that of St. Paul’s, but definitely different.
- I was pretty sure that this sanctuary wasn’t any of Olivet Baptist’s several structural incarnations. I saw no sign of a baptismal tank behind the choir loft (where Baptist churches normally would have situated it) nor the tell-tale curtain that would typically be drawn across when the tank wasn’t in use.
I looked at every online archive of photos that I could think of and spoke with everyone whom I thought may have some knowledge of where the organ pipes were located. No dice.
Then it occurred to me to contact New Westminster historian, Jim Wolf. And Jim knew! Apparently, the church in question was formerly St. Andrew’s Presbyterian (New Westminster), and today is home to Emmanuel Pentecostal Church.
What I Now Know (or Think I Know)
Here are a few bullets about the organ and the building in which it resides:
- The building in which the organ is situated is sometimes called “New St. Andrew’s” (as opposed to “Old St. Andrew’s“, which is extant, and is now the church hall; it stands next door). The “new” structure was erected in 1888-89. Architect was George William Grant (who also designed Olivet Baptist’s first building, and that of Holy Trinity (Anglican) Cathedral, among many, many other structures in New West).
- Both structures are survivors of the Great New Westminster Fire of 1898
- Organ installed 1891. Built by Charles Sumner Warren (Toronto)
- 17 ‘stops‘ in organ
- Dominant decorative motif on pipes appears to be maple leaves³
- Organ ‘console’ (whence the instrument is played) is located behind choir loft
- According to Historic Places, this organ is “one of the largest, west of Winnipeg”; surely, also, among the oldest, as well.
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian seems to have been one of the roughly 70% of Presbyterian congregations that joined the Church Union movement. Rev. A. C. Wishart was called to St. Andrew’s in 1931 and it seems to me that he must have been the last Presbyterian pastor called to that church. Ultimately (sometime in the 1932-35 period, I’m guessing), St. Andrew’s joined Queen’s Avenue United Church and later sold the St. Andrew’s buildings.
I was told today by the Emmanuel Pentecostal congregant who kindly granted me admission to their sanctuary, that Emmanuel has been worshipping in the former Presbyterian building since the 1940s. Although the pipe organ is rarely used by the church, sadly, I must give considerable credit to the congregation (and to the City of New Westminster) for preserving both Old and New St. Andrew’s buildings.
Here are a few other images made today of the organ and the church building:
³Indeed, the design harkens (for me) to the maple leaf that was part of Lester Pearson’s preference for the Canadian flag (initially). A similar maple leaf is also part of Ontario’s provincial flag, today.