Purcell Hall and the B.C. School of Church Music (the two were ‘tied at the hip’ for most of their lives) came into being in 1936 at the SW corner of Georgia at Denman Streets (1808 W Georgia), adjacent to where the Running Room is located today. The Hall/School had two pianos and a Hammond Electric Organ. It was founded and directed by Frederick Chubb with occasional teaching assistance from his son, Arthur Chubb.
It was never publicly stated, as far as I could tell, where the name of the hall originated, but it seems safe to assume that it was borrowed from the late 17th century English baroque composer, Henry Purcell. If this was the origin of the Hall’s name, it was a peculiar choice, for the music that was played there was predominantly modern. Holst, Ravel, and Vaughn Williams were more likely to be played and sung there than were Bach, Handel or Purcell. Indeed, I could find just one occasion when a Purcell work was played at the Hall/School.
One of the major users of the space, in addition to private and Church Music School recitals, was the B.C. Music Festival competition. (It was from the 1937 Festival programme that I first learned of the existence of Purcell Hall).
The School was at pains to portray itself as non-sectarian. “[I]ts help is willingly given to churches which feel the need of fine church music, especially in the case of smaller churches where the musical equipment may be unavoidably crude and undeveloped” (Province, 19 April 1937). Non-denominationalism may have been a goal of the school, but in fact it tended to be dominated by Anglicans (the Chubbs were Anglicans) and by the very nature of the music that was played there, which tended to exclude participation by denominations that were ‘lower church’ in terms of music preference (e.g., Baptists, Pentecostals). The music was simply too high brow, even ‘snooty’ for such churches.
The School of Church Music (Vancouver) seems to have been modelled to some extent on the St. Nicholas School for Church Music (today it is known as the Royal School of Church Music – RSCM). It may be that one or both Chubbs spent time at the English school. At the inaugural recital given at the Vancouver Hall/School in November 1936, a lecture was given by Leonard Wilson (local Anglican church organist and later Sun music critic) about the English school.
Purcell Hall faded to black even more quietly than it had started. By 1943, the Hall/School no longer appeared in the Vancouver directory, and that address was being used as a gathering place by a church called the Christian Institute. By 1946, the Sunday occupants of the former Purcell Hall were Parkway Gospel Hall; they were still there in 1953. By 1955, it had become a coffee shop. (Whether or not it was deemed necessary to demolish and rebuild the site for this new use, isn’t known by me).
Purcell Hall seems to have been widely forgotten, today. It was a very tiny meeting space (I’d be surprised if it could have seated many more than 50 people); the space as it appeared in 1978 appears below. (1)
(1) Many thanks to Robert, of the very detailed Westendvancouver blog for tracking down this CVA photo of the former site of Purcell Hall and for his help with a couple other details in this post.