Vancouver's First Catholic Church

Posted by Daniel on Oct 19, 2009 - 1 comment

Vancouver historian Chuck Davis writes:

By 1886 there were 69 Catholic families in Vancouver, and it was decided to build a church for them. Father Patrick Fay—chaplain to workers of the Canadian Pacific Railway—chose the location. He looked south from the waterfront, “up the slopes of the uncut forest,” and pointed to the tallest tree against the skyline. “There!” he said. “Build it there!”

“There” is the southeast corner of Richards and Dunsmuir Streets today, and it was there that the original Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary was erected in 1888. That small church’s life was brief: it was replaced on the same spot in 1900 by the lofty Gothic pile we know today as Holy Rosary Cathedral. The cornerstone was laid July 16, 1899 by Archbishop Langevin of Saint Boniface.

The cornerstone is a seven-tonne giant . . . and it contains a time capsule. Inside: “Two coins made from metal of the steamer Beaver, one coin of each denomination of the Canadian currency, copies of the News-Advertiser, Daily World and The Province, photos of the plans of the building, and a parchment containing the names of many influential citizens present.” Included in the time capsule is a record of the event itself, which notes the names of the incumbent Pope (Leo XIII), Queen (Victoria), Governor General (Lord Minto), and so on down the ranks. A throng of more than 1,000 people—church officials, civic and other governmental representatives, and the general public—gathered to watch as His Grace led the ceremony.


The church took 490 days to build, from July 16, 1899 to December 8, 1900. Mass was celebrated there for the first time on December 9, 1900. “His Lordship Bishop Dontenwill,” a newspaper account had it, “assisted by dignitaries and priests, celebrated the first mass in the new church . . . Before 10 o'clock the people had gathered at the corner of Richards and Dunsmuir streets and by the time the bishop blessed the outside of the church there must have been a thousand people there . . . At the close of the morning services the new chimes were sounded and the sweet tones of the bells were easily heard over the city.”

The church was elevated to a cathedral in 1916.