Victoria in the 1880’s was British Columbia’s largest city. Anglicans worshipped at either Christ Church Cathedral or St. John the Divine. When the Bishop, the Rt. Rev. George Hills, learned that there were Anglicans living in the vicinity of Pandora Ave. and Cook St holding services and desirous of building a church, he encouraged the Cathedral congregation to participate in raising up the proposed new parish.
In the early months of 1890, Bp Hills assigned to the new parish and its church a patron: St Barnabas. A wealthy Cypriot Jew, according to the Book of Acts, St Barnabas disposed of all his worldly goods in support of the church and set out to spread the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ. He traveled extensively throughout the Middle East with Paul and Mark, his cousin. Translated from the Greek, the name “Barnabas” (which the apostles gave to him upon his conversion), means “son of encouragement.” St Barnabas is the patron of many Anglo-Catholic parishes, after the first purpose-build Anglo-Catholic parish, St Barnabas, Pimlico (London), built in 1850.
Land was purchased at the north-east corner of Cook Street and Caledonia Avenue. Adjacent to the property was the Jay family’s nursery. Bp Hills laid the cornerstone on October 19th, 1890. Twelve weeks after construction began, January 8th, 1891, the church was dedicated. It was a simple, unpretentious building, in keeping with the new hopes being built nearby. Built of wood, in the carpenter-Gothic style popular at the time, it rested on a series of concrete footings. Inside, in front of a plain altar, stood a decorated rood screen on which was inscribed this phrase from St. John’s Gospel, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Heat was provided by a pot-bellied stove, and light by coal-oil lamps. This original church is still in use, on its original site, by the Ukranian Catholic congregation.
The parish of St Barnabas Spring-Ridge was given boundaries that roughly encompassed the area bounded today by Cook Street in the west, Bay Street in the north, Richmond Road in the east, and Pandora Avenue in the south. Spring Ridge, as the area was then called, was a growing community on the edge of what is today the larger neighbourhood of Fernwood. It was so-named because of the series of springs that for many years provided water for the residents of Victoria.
Bp Hills placed the new parish in the care of the Rev. James Taylor, a young priest who had served as one of a number of missionary priests throughout Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. From the beginning, St Barnabas incorporated a distinctly Anglo-Catholic ethos. With a surplice choir, it was the first parish in the diocese to offer Sung Mass each Sunday.
Thus began a distinguished musical reputation that continues to this day.
By 1906, the parish had grown to more than 200 families. A new pipe organ had been installed, an additional lot purchased and a Sunday School building erected on it, and all debts paid. The church was consecrated and no longer received financial assistance from the diocese. One example of the mission focus of the parish was the formation, in 1907, of the Woman’s Auxiliary, the first branch to be formed in this diocese, in support of mission work throughout the world.
By 1908, a building fund for the erection of a “permanent, stone” church had been created. But the cost ongoing repairs and maintenance, plus the depression of the 1930’s, stalled the building dream. But the parish continued to grow, the parish boundaries increased, and the mission parish of St Alban’s established in the nearby Oaklands area. By 1950, plans were well underway for the erection of the present parish church on the south-east corner of Belmont Avenue and Begbie Street. On a wet and windy day, November 25, 1951, Archbishop Harold Sexton laid the cornerstone. The new church stood on a rocky outcrop on the highest point of land in the Fernwood area.
Designed by eminent Victoria architect John Wade, the new St Barnabas building spoke of the twentieth century: soaring arches, large windows with translucent glass, and a steeply pitched roof that, together, gave people natural light and an uplifted spirit in which to worship. The rounded apse in the sanctuary gives clear emphasis to the High Altar and in turn the centrality of the Holy Sacrament in the lives of our people.
The first Mass in the new building was celebrated on Palm Sunday, 1952. Two Sundays later, April 20th, marked the church’s dedication by Archbishop Sexton. In this same month, he held the first of many ordinations he conducted in this liturgical space he greatly loved.
The joy of the people of St Barnabas at that time can only be imagined. The zeal of their generosity is best illustrated by Archbishop Sexton’s quick return to the parish for the consecration of the church, signaling its offering to God debt-free. The service was held on November 16th, 1952 – a mere six months after its dedication and only fifty one weeks after the laying of the cornerstone. An unusual and wonderful accomplishment!
To the new church building were brought many furnishings from the original, among them the altars, the impressive brass eagle lectern, the font, the altar rail in the Lady Chapel, and communion vessels. The pulpit is from the original wood diocesan Cathedral. On the Feast of St Barnabas, 1953, our splendid hanging rood was dedicated by Fr. Eric Munn, later 6th Bishop of Caledonia.
The history of the parish has all the joys and sorrows that accompany the actions of the Holy Spirit and the people of God. The 1960s brought change to the Anglican Church of Canada, change which some clergy and lay people answered with their disaffection from church. Amendments to the Marriage Canon permitting remarriage of divorced persons, the ordination of women, and the adoption of the Book of Alternative Services to be used in conjunction with the traditional Book of Common Prayer, all proved to be divisive.
These events, plus the interplay of human personalities in the parish, contributed to the departure of many parishioners, including key leadership. Left behind was a broken and grieving community, diminished in numbers but not in faith. At one time, it looked like the parish would have to be closed. But the Holy Spirit prevailed, together with the remaining faithful the determination of the then diocesan bishop, the Rt. Rev. Barry Jenks to maintain an Anglo-Catholic presence in the diocese.
By God’s grace, today St Barnabas is once again a thriving, inter-generational community – one that conscientiously stays true to its roots and to the Gospel of resurrection it thankfully and joyfully celebrates.
Easter Sunday 2018.