Get ready to have shivers up your spine. If you think you felt something brush against your leg, we can’t tell you with all truthfulness that it didn’t happen. If you didn’t believe in ghosts before you got here today, you may very well think differently in mighty short order.
Now, we’re not going to dive into any big history lectures, we have plenty of links at the end of this post that discuss in great detail the history of this incredible place. Instead, today we are going to share a story that is intertwined with both the rich history and the feelings we had the afternoon we did this photo-shoot. Feelings that we weren’t alone.
Ghosts don’t exist in the bright daylight of a sunny summer afternoon, do they? Do they? At the end of a road that is on designated native land on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada is this tiny church. At the top of Comiaken Hill in the Cowichan Valley sits the Old Stone Butter Church. This is a very well-known place to the locals of the valley, but remains absolutely hidden from obvious sight.
In 1858 Father Peter Rondeault headed for the Cowichan Valley with nothing. He canoed his way to the inlet far below the shadow of Mount Tzouhalem seen in the backdrop of the church. A famous mountain said to embody the spirit of a fierce local warrior chief, this is no average mountain. Father Rondeault arrived with no possessions, and set out to create a life for himself and his faith in a harsh and unforgiving place. The land here on Vancouver Island is full of mountains, hills, forests, lakes and ocean-front that presents a worthy opponent to even the act of survival.
The church presents a formidable silhouette on the hilltop, and the light that drapes through the non-existent windows dances on the stone floor that has not been used for over 120 years. The Old Stone Butter Church was built in 1880, and actively used until 1890. At that time the story goes a better location was found for the local church and thus St Ann’s was created. The Old Stone Butter Church is one of only three churches Father Rondeault built in his life, and he passed in 1900.
Story has it that even the natives have long abandoned this location and consider it to be actively haunted. It now serves as only a place for young folks to head out to on weekends to party in, and undoubtedly get spooked in, and also as a great photography subject. As we stand here taking this photograph, the wind whistles through the window openings and the strange light that paints the stone floor only adds to the feeling a hand is running its way up your back.
This picture was used in a wonderful photo collaboration with one of my good friends, Rob Hanson who happens to be a master photographer. This special feature can be found at “Toad’s Penultimate Shot“.
A shadow darts through the rafters, we turn suddenly. A feature of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, they described “The church of no services…in which no congregation has ever gathered.” According to Ripley, “the Indians will not go near (it) because all those who actually built it died mysteriously.”
Believe It or Not.
Well; not entirely true, but still… if you listen closely, the only sound is of those who inhabited these hallows for those 10 years. They loved them with all their hearts.
As the ghosts move amongst us, they come and go through the doorways and openings left behind. Even in the middle of the day, in broad daylight, there is no doubt they are here. Mrs. Toad beckons to leave soon, the strange sensations grow. We’re being watched.
The light creates long shadows on the stone floor, further adding to that unshakable feeling. We’re captivated by the beautiful stonework and the intricate and interesting wooden rafters, but that feeling of urgency pushes us forward on this shoot. Let’s get this wrapped up.
Just a couple more shots. We can’t have taken the time to come all the way here, get setup, and not grab those must have shots. I tell you, though, now that we’re deeper into the church cavern we feel a much stronger sense of being trapped, of being surrounded by those who are watching. Father Rondeault had his pulpit here, he stood in front of his congregation and shared his view of religion in some truly harsh outdoor conditions. There were no roads, no electricity, and certainly no running water. The land was difficult to traverse and absolutely unforgiving.
We peek through one of the side windows to see the remnants of an out-building. Clearly not far from being completely overtaken by Mother Nature herself, the only entity stronger than the stone that makes the backbone of the church and the reason it still stands strong on a hilltop over 120 years later.
We know there’s one last shot to be had, the shot looking through the back door directly into the entire structure. Again, the light paints the floor creating a false sense of security, but much stronger is the sense of getting this wrapped and getting out. The rich textures in the stone-work and the details that are seen here create a photographers perfect canvas to capture light, but these stone walls also hold the energy of those that once built and loved this place. It’s time to leave. We are both absolutely satisfied that we got the shots we came for, and are also overwhelmed with a desire to get to the car and out of here.
I can feel the hair on my arms stand as I write tonight’s post as I recall the feeling we had during the shoot. It’s a strange sensation to be present in such a place, a place where history, hardship, architectural interest, and the foundations of local character were once created. It’s definitely time to leave… for now. We’ll be back to the Old Stone Butter Church to grab some more shots, in different times of the year, in different lighting. But I can still feel the spirits that were with us this day.
We back slowly out the door and head for our car.
Thanks so kindly for your visit today. Please feel free to leave us any comments you may have as we truly love to hear from all our visitors.
Old Stone Butter Church - Duncan, BC – This Old Church on Waymarking.com – way more than just a series of latitudes and longitudes, this site contains a great historical overview of the church, Father Rondeault and the surrounding area.
The Old Butter Stone Church & Mt Tzouhalem – describes in great detail the history and legend of the church and the spirits that haunt it.
Landscapes of my Father – mentions a story of the church in a wonderful post on National Geographic. Truly well worth the time to read, the church is part of a rich backdrop.