The First Presbyterian Church of Prince Rupert was recently named on a list no one wants to be on: Heritage BC’s first Watch List for at-risk historic sites in the province.
The Gothic-style church is currently up for sale after it closed on May 30, 2018. It hosted countless services, baptisms, weddings and funerals since it opened in 1925. The first Presbyterian service in the city had been held even earlier than that, starting a more than a 110-year long congregation.
“Ultimately, we want the British Columbians to be aware of the many issues and the constant threats to the heritage sites that are part of our lives and environment,” Heritage BC executive director, Paul Gravett, said in the press release. “If we do not have this awareness, we will lose our heritage – and once it is gone, it is gone for good.”
The Watch List is the first by Heritage BC and covers six sites from churches to schools to places that contributed to the province’s history. The list has little power to actually prevent a heritage building from being preserved, but the organization hopes it stimulates “awareness and conversation”.
The First Presbyterian Church, the list states, was chosen because “Churches offer aesthetic and architectural merit that defines the character of the built environment and adds value to the landscape and urban context.” The description adds how the function of churches has been forced to change in the last 50 years or face demolition.
On June 3, 1991, the First Presbyterian Church was designated a municipal heritage site by the City of Prince Rupert, in which the city wanted to preserve the building’s architectural distinction. However, the city no longer has a heritage commission, or a committee or bylaws to monitor heritage sites, including the First Presbyterian Church.
Twenty-seven years later, when the congregation dwindled to six people, and they could no longer afford a minister, its pews were only full for its last service in 2018. For the past two-and-a-half months, the city-designated heritage site has been up for sale.
In an email, Brianne Bunko, the executive assistant for the city, said city staff are “currently conducting ongoing discussions and research regarding the heritage aspects this particular building.”
Beyond the heritage designation by the city, there is no heritage committee to help protect the 93-year-old place of worship.
Heritage BC hopes the publication of their new Watch List can inspire such protection, conservation and advocacy.