Bralorne Community Church - History
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Brief History of Church Contents
- Bralorne Community Church, Bralorne, British Columbia --- Contact Information
This essay, written by Irene Monroe, appeared in the Lillooet News on August 4, 1999.
The Bralorne Community Church was built by Bralorne Mines in 1936. Initially, its "official" name was the Boultbee Memorial Church named after W.W. Boultbee, the Secretary-Treasurer of Bralorne Mines, who died in 1936.
The church was built by Bralorne Mines when the mining activity in the area began to have a degree of security and permanence, when it became apparent that Bralorne was not a gold rush town but a gold mining community. To this end, the Mines built the Bralorne Community Church, as well as the Community Hall (which also still stands), in an effort to provide a decent town for the miners and their families.
Drinking, gambling and general carousing were intended to be carried out in other connnunities not controlled by the Mines - specifically Ogden and Gold Bridge, down the hill from Bralorne and Pioneer. The Mines went into full swing during the Depression, having their pick of choice, high-standard employees. Bralorne enjoyed a good stable way of life; the Bralorne Church was an integral part of this company town.
The Church quickly became well-used by the entire community. The first wedding took place there on July 16, 1936, when William Gordon Richards, 23, and Winnifred Moffat, 18, were married.
The Mines intended the church to be interfaith and available for everyone, with no preference given to any particular religion.
On June 7, 1938 the first meeting of the Provisional Board was held in the church. A board was elected and a $150 cheque was received from Bralorne Mines for debts incurred to June 30, 1938. Janitorial services were provided by Bralorne Mines. Tiny chairs for Sunday school, an organ and fencing for the church were also paid for by the Mines. On Jan. 15, 1939, the Rev. George Pringle's salary was set at $35 a month.
United Church, Anglican and Catholic services were held at the Boultbee Memorial Church in the late '30s. The scheduling of services for these three different churches required ongoing, frequently frustrating negotiations. In September, 1939, it became necessary for Don Matheson, general manager of Bralorne Mines, to call a meeting for the participants so that an amicable solution could be worked out; otherwise, the Mines would set the scheduling.
Eventually, the Catholics moved their own church up from Gold Bridge, and the Anglican and United church goers were able to work out a Sunday worship schedule i.e. Anglican Sunday services from 1845 to 1945 hours, United Church Sunday services at 2000 hours.
In the 1940s, the church was raised up from its foundations, creating a church basement which was used for a myriad of community activities. Rev. Pete Collins held Scout meetings there, planning week-long horseback trail riding trips for Scouts in the country beyond Gun Creek and Tyax.
Sunday school, Christmas teas, Ladies Auxiliary meetings (from whence sprang the Ladies Auxiliary Recipe Book), were held in the church basement. Upstairs in the sanctuary Sunday services, weddings, baptisms, funerals, Christmas services and Easter services went on, year after year, "a continuing thread of worship, ritual, tradition, civility and grace; respite and haven from the furnaces of the mines."
Ministers who left their mark over the years included Rev. Jim Stobie, who was the driving force for children's camps in the area. A camp for Scouts, Camp Stobie, at Gun Lake was named in his memory. It was said Rev. Stobie "never let the cloth come between him and the people.'
In 1948 the Rev. G. Smith took up temporary duties as United Church minister. His son, David Smith, writes, "My father, Rev. Geoffrey Smith was the United Church minister in Bralorne, 1948-49. He had been a missionary in China for eight years (where my older brother Stephen and I were born), and we returned to Canada in 1948, because of the Maoist Revolution in China (all foreigners kicked out). Our first place of settlement back in Canada was Bralorne. I was only two years old at the time, but still have memories of the community - the mountains, the covered stairs down the valley, the brown house we lived in."
Rev. Pete Collins ministered at Bralome from 1951 to 1955. He is well remembered for his devotion to the children of Bralome, leading schools, teaching Sunday School. Rev. Collins, along with the beloved church organist Arnold Howard, led the church choirs for adults and young people. Rev. Collins conducted Anglican services once a month (as well as his regular United Church services) when no Anglican minister was available.
Rev. Sid Rowles (1962-65) was the last full-time ordained minister at the Bralome Community Church. As the mines began to shut down, the population and congregation began to decrease. Rev. Rowles went to work in the mines to help offset the expenses of running a church, earning respect from his fellow miners.
By April, 1967, no more regular services were scheduled for the church. It was agreed at a church meeting to delegate a person to phone those interested in attending whenever a service could be scheduled. In the early '80s a Pentecostal group met in the church. Lay ministers such as Bill Bell from Lillooet and Gary Dickson, under the supervision of Rev. Clinton of Ashcroft, provided intermittent services in the church whenever possible.
As the Mines continued to shut down, plans were made to remove the stained glass windows of the church for safekeeping. At the present time their whereabouts are unknown.
In 1975, the Whiting family bought the entire town of Bralorne from the Mines with the dream of making it into a retirement commumty. The Whiting brothers did considerable restoration work on the church which was already falling into disrepair. They put a new roof on the church, re-wired it, sanded the floors, painted the outside and supported the collapsing basement walls, among other improvements.
But Bralorne never recovered from the closure of the mine, and as the population continued to decline even further, the church fell into disrepair again and was subject to vandalism and neglect over the years.
Today, the church is the only remaining church in the entire Bridge River Valley. It has intrinsic value in its history and its service to the community.