There are a number of things that make Rupert unique even in the north, but one of them is our historical architecture. Our visitors often comment on it, and often want to learn more about the history of these iconic buildings.
Old churches are an important part of the Prince Rupert skyline. I doubt it would be possible to count the number of tourist photos that show the Sunken Garden in the foreground, with the Presbyterian Church on the hill behind. The Anglican Cathedral, with its magnificent stained glass, towers above the downtown.
The first church service held in the new city was an Anglican service conducted in a tent by Canon Rushbrook in November 1906. The Anglican congregation followed this by building a hall in which to conduct services, the first real church building in the city, and then gradually built the cathedral on Fourth Avenue West between 1912 and 1925.
The Carpenter Gothic-style Presbyterian church that features so prominently in tourist photos was erected in 1925 by Mitchell & Currie for a congregation that had declined to join the unification of denominations that resulted in the United Church. Today’s United Church building, meanwhile, is a much-adapted Methodist church erected in 1911.
“Religion played an important part in the community in those days,” wrote Dr. Large, “and the Sunday sermons were reported at length and debated in the public press. Indeed the ministers took an active interest in civic affairs and did not hesitate to speak out on local issues, sometimes to the embarrassment of the civic dignitaries. Liquor licenses and the restricted district of Comox Avenue particularly received their attention.”
In turn, some of the early religious figures offer fascinating glimpses of early Prince Rupert. It’s sometimes difficult to read these today in the deathly-serious light in which they were intended. J.J. Rouse was a Plymouth Brethren Evangelist who visited here at the town’s beginning, and he did not seem particularly
“With regard to climate in Prince Rupert,” Rouse wrote in Pioneer Work in Canada in 1935, “during the time I was there, there was only one day it did not rain, and when it rains it pours. To the back of Prince Rupert is a mountain covered with green trees. All the rains come from the east, and these trees seem to tear holes in the clouds, and then the rain in dumped on the town in what seemed to me like a buckets full. The whole surface of land is of mossy formation over rock. Draining the surface is useless, as it holds water like a sponge. If people want to grass to grow on their lawns they have to import soil to put over the surface to seed upon. The streets and side-walks are all high in the air, on stilts quite like bridges with timbers and plank surface. This is also true of some houses. I have seen some of them standing twenty-five feet in the air on timbers to bring the houses up to street level.”
Nor, it seems, was Prince Rupert particularly impressed with J.J. Rouse.
“Morally,” he wrote, “Prince Rupert, like all northern coast towns, was reeking with iniquity.”
He would no doubt be bewildered by the community of today, with its diverse selection of places of worship.