Life wasn’t easy at all in the mid 1800’s here on Vancouver Island for the settlers. The landscape is very rugged, and vast distances existed between farms and homesteads. This makes these stories all the more incredible. In today’s post we are going to visit an absolutely wonderful little Anglican church hidden in the farms and rolling hills of Central Saanich on Vancouver Island, and take a look at its historical significance as we continue our photoblog series “The Anglican Church Project“.
It all started out as a normal day for me that would quickly turn into one of the highlights of my entire year thus far. I had a chance to meet my contact at the Anglican Diocese of BC and tour a hand-selected set of the churches we were going to be photographing for the Diocese in our project. He took me around showing me these sites and the churches on them, and gave me some background information that only served to increase my love for these buildings. It was a wonderful afternoon, teaching me quite a bit about the churches we’ll be shooting comprehensively inside and out on Vancouver Island. I also feel like I made a good friend.
The lovely little church itself has somehow managed to keep itself hidden from me all these years. I’ve lived here on Vancouver Island since 1980 and traveled the roads in Central Saanich many, many times. I had no idea that St. Stephen’s, one of the hidden treasures here on the island, sat just a few feet off the main road. Arriving at the parking lot and looking through the quaint white picket fence, one sees peeking through the incredible trees the outline of something absolutely special. In the summer it must be completely hidden. We’ll definitely find out next year when we return for another visit.
“This is the oldest church in the Anglican Diocese of BC on its original site and in which service has been held continuously”
As you get out of the car and wander towards the lovely little gate, the sign reads the statement above. This 150 year span of history is much more significant than might first meet the eye. Vancouver Island was being settled actively in 1862 when the church was built, travel was difficult at best, the winters were harsh and things that only take a few scant moments in today’s world would have taken an entire day back then. The church was a central and important place in the new burgeoning community, serving as a place of worship and a place to congregate as a community. Hard work and toil on the new farms and fields would have been mostly a lonely existence back then, with the promise of a better future. The need for places like this was very important, forming a fabric and foundation for the new communities to thrive from. As we walked through the gate and wandered up to the door, a feeling like the modern world completely melted away overtook me. Stepping inside was like stepping back in time.
The woodwork here is simply incredible. The warm tones found inside almost wrap you, like a thick winter coat. The history is truly palpable. As I was standing taking it all in and shooting photographs, I could almost hear the voices of the original pioneers of the area talking in excited tones with hope towards the new future. I’ve said it many times before here on our blog, even though our local history in terms of colonization is only around 150 years old, we’ve got a rich past that warrants sharing. These are all real stories, told and experienced by real people who took a huge risk to travel vast distances across roiling oceans to arrive on the shores of a very rugged island with absolutely no creature comforts. Everything had to be shipped here from the UK, or made on site.
Everywhere I looked, lovely little vignettes revealed themselves. The light plays with the rich wood, casting shadows and with it strong emotional reactions. This is a very special place, created by and for a very special community. I was told that all the churches we will be shooting were designed with the light in mind. The pulpits and stained glass features are all architected to reside on the east side of the church to take advantage of the rising sun in the morning. As the day progresses and the sun makes it’s journey westward, the side windows come alive, letting in the bright light and with it a sense of love and peace like no other. Time flies for us when we have a chance to visit these old heritage sites. Hours whiz by in what seems to us to be fleeting moments. When the visit comes to an end, it’s almost hard to leave, to be honest, there remains a pull, beckoning us back in for just one more look to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. But the time had come, it was time to leave…
As we step outside back into the contemporary world, the church has one last feature to explore, the wonderfully kept cemetery. In late fall the shadows are long, casting dramatic elements across the landscape unlike any other. The serenity, peace and love interred here is something easily sensed for those receptive to it. This project we’ve taken on working with the Anglican Diocese of BC is very exciting for us. We are planning on visiting all the churches here on Vancouver Island and some of the surrounding islands that fall under the blanket of the Anglican Diocese of BC over the coming months. We can honestly say that if you have a chance to personally visit heritage churches in your area that you take that up without delay. These visits are not just a means of documenting and capturing great imagery for the portfolio, they become an entire experience unto themselves.
Thank you so much for your kind visit today, we really appreciate it. As always, we love to hear from all our visitors so please feel free to leave us any comments you may have below. Until next time, my friends!