John Alexander Dowie’s divine healing movement had a connection with Vancouver’s Baptists, briefly, in the person of Rev. George Armour Fair, the pastor of Jackson Avenue Baptist Church (aka “Zion Baptist”) in 1898.
George Fair was born in March, 1866 in Woodslee, Ontario to Thomas and Elizabeth Fair, who were farmers and Baptists. George seems to have left the farm by ca1890 and never looked back.
Fair married Mattie Alcinda, an American, in Yakima, WA in 1893 and together they had at least two children: Eccevenit¹ was born in 1897, during their time in Victoria, B.C. and Virginia Victoria in 1901.²
Fair did his training at Knox College and later at the English Theological Seminary.³
Jackson Avenue Baptist
The ‘East End’ mission church of First Baptist Church, Vancouver, would be known, officially, as Jackson Avenue Baptist Church. In December 1893, 31 members of First Baptist expressed interest in forming the nucleus of Jackson Avenue Church and were granted letters of dismissal from the mother church so that they could join the East End church at its inception in January 1894. The initial church building seems to have been formerly a residence located at some (now unknown) location on Jackson Ave. Within the first couple of years, however, the church outgrew their first building and it bought the former building of the Zion Presbyterian Church on the corner of Jackson Avenue and Princess Street (East Pender, today). For several years, Jackson Ave. Baptist referred to their church as Zion Baptist.
Sometime in 1898, Fair was called to become the pastor at Jackson/Zion. His ministry there would prove brief. By July of that same year, Fair “left the church . . . [and] with a portion of his former flock, organized a “non-denomination” group, which apparently held to a “Pentecostal” variety of doctrine.” (Richards, p.98)
In fact, the theology that Fair had adopted and led his congregation into was early Dowieism.
Dowie and Fair
John Alexander Dowie was originally a Congregational minister from Australia. By 1888, however, his theology had changed some. His religious convictions became focussed upon divine healing and he established an International Divine Healing Association in Melbourne.
Over the next couple of years, Dowie was engaged in a missionary venture up the west coast of North America, from Mexico to B.C. According to James Opp, in August 1889, Dowie reached Victoria, where he held his first Canadian divine healing mission. (Opp, p. 93)
It isn’t clear when George Fair first was exposed to Dowie’s brand of faith. We know Fair was in Washington State for some of the early 1890s (he was married there in 1893), and there is some evidence that he was in Victoria (his eldest daughter was born there) in 1897. But whether in Washington, B.C. or elsewhere, it is clear that Fair was, by 1898, well and truly ‘bitten’ by Dowieism.
By the 1890s, Dowie had taken another step away from Congregational (and Baptist) theological orthodoxy, and towards developing his own, self-serving cult. From this period, Dowie was based in the Chicago area – specifically in his own Zion City, Illinois. Zion had a “Home” (for non-medicinal healing), a “College”, a “City Bank”, and a “Zion Land and Investment Association.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 Oct 1899, p.1). The name of his church had changed along with his HQ location. No longer was it called the International Divine Healing Association. It was now the Christian Catholic Church (CCC; the “Catholic” component of the name was not a favourable nod towards Roman Catholicism, which Dowie regarded as hopelessly apostate; but rather had the original meaning of “universal”). The creed of the CCC, succinctly put, was: “Obey Dr. Dowie, pay your tithes, let the doctors and all medicines alone as you would his Satanic majesty, no matter how ill you may be, and — pay your tithes.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 Oct 1899, p.1).
Fair in Rebellion
By the summer of 1899, George Fair was publicly, openly critical of Dowie. His issues with Dowie were not, however, theological in nature. As late as July of that year, he’d been quoted in the press spouting Dowie’s line that medicine is sinful (and so, likewise — by extension — were pharmacists, general practitioners, and surgeons). Fair’s problem with Dowie was that he collected the wealth and the power of his religious movement exclusively unto himself.
In 1899, Fair was the “branch leader” (or the CCC minister in charge) in Philadelphia. He wrote to Dowie expressing his disappointment in Dowie’s actions and demanding that he step down from his position as General Overseer of the CCC (Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 Oct 1899, p.2). The outcome of Fair’s letter was predictable: he was fired by Dowie from his CCC post.
Dowie — in a collection of his addresses given in the latter months of 1899, and titled, provocatively, Zion’s Holy War Against the Hosts of Hell in Chicago included this thrust directed at George Fair:
The Fable of the Mice and the Buzz-Saw
Have you ever seen a great big buzz-saw at work?
Voices –– “Yes.”
Dr. Dowie –– Did you ever see it plow, like a “sharp threshing instrument having teeth” through a great big log of timber? Do you not think that Zion-at-work is something like a buzz-saw?
Voices –– “Yes.”
Dr. Dowie –– Did you ever see a lot of little mice running about a saw-bed? Did you ever see some of the mice get upon the log? Did you ever hear one of the mice whose name is Fair say “Buzz-saw, stop! If you don’t stop, I’ll bite you”? (Applause and laughter.) Don’t you think it might be bad for the mouse? Do you think the General Overseer will stop the buzz-saw?
That is all I have to say about Fair. (Laughter and applause)
Any member of the Christain Catholic Church in this building who sympathizes with George Armour Fair, stand to his or her feet. (No one arose.) Any one in this whole house, just speak out and say that you sympathize with him, and we will know just how many sympathizers he has. Any one in this house who is a member of the Christian Catholic Church, stand on your feet and say you sympathize. We would protect you whilst you spoke. We would like to see you. Is there one?
All who are absolutely ashamed of his wicked conduct, stand to their feet. (As far as could be seen, no member of the Church remained sitting.)
Have you confidence in your leader still?
Audience (unanimously) –– “Yes.”
Dr. Dowie –– All who say the opposite, say No, (No response.)
The wicked lawyers who are looking on can take note of that. (Loud applause.) All the mice who want to bite the buzz-saw take note. (Laughter.)
––J. Alexander Dowie. Zion’s Holy War Against the Hosts of Hell in Chicago, pp91-92.
Dowie After Fair
After Dowie fired Fair, Dowie and the CCC experienced a downturn. Dowie’s wife and family left him at some point. And he suffered a stroke in 1905 from which he spent time recuperating in Mexico. While he was in Mexico, Wilbur Voliva, Dowie’s right-hand man in the CCC (and a proponent of “flat earth” theory) deposed Dowie from his position in the CCC. Dowie died in 1907.
Fair After Dowie
The Fairs in 1900 were living in Chicago and he was a clergyman with First Baptist Church, Chicago Heights. In July 1901, Fair left Chicago to accept a call to minister in Sioux City, Iowa. In October 1902, he resigned from Immanuel Baptist in Sioux City.
In February 1903, Rev. George Fair returned to Vancouver where he preached at the Royal Theatre. It isn’t clear to me which congregation he was preaching for. Divine healing was not down as one of his specific topics, however!
According to 1910 U.S. census records, the Fairs were living in Seattle and George was selling real estate for a living.
1920 U.S. census records show George Fair as an inventor that year (although just what he invented, if anything, isn’t clear). They were in Detroit that year and every subsequent year, evidently, until his passing in 1951. In 1930, he seems to have returned to his initial vocation as a Baptist preacher; but by 1940 (at age 74), he was retired.
He died on 31 January 1951.
Jackson/Zion Church After Fair
Jackson Avenue Baptist/Zion Baptist, like the Strathcona neighbourhood in which it was situated, was never a wealthy church. And, by 1952, the membership had dropped significantly. So Jackson Avenue merged with a later-established east end Baptist church – East Hastings Baptist Church – to form together a new church: Ward Memorial Baptist. It continues today at 465 Kamloops Street.
¹The name they gave their first-born is, in fact, made up of two latin words (ecce venit) which translated mean “Behold, He comes”. Evidently, by the time Virginia came along, the parents had learned a thing or two about the unkindness of freighting kids with names that amount to mini-sermons!
²Some sources record the birth of a son, John Fair, also in 1901. The historical record of a son born to the Fairs is inconsistent, however.
³Thanks are due to Robert of WestEndVancouver for info regarding Fair’s postsecondary training.
Carmichael, W. M. These Sixty Years: 1887-1947: Being the Story of First Baptist Church, Vancouver, B.C. Vancouver. 1947.
Cummings, Leslie J. Our First Century: 1887-1987. Vancouver. Updated: 2002.
Opp, James. The Lord for the Body: Religion, Medicine & Protestant Faith Healing In Canada, 1880-1930. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. 2005.
Richards, John Byron. Baptists in British Columbia: A Struggle to Maintain “Sectarianism”. M.A. Thesis. UBC. April 1964.