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Dunbar-Southlands: Church basement hosts holy rollers

Built in 1949, two five-pin lanes are still in use
Matthew Stephens, Caitlin Reilley Beck and John Stephens have a ball at the bowling lanes in the basement of St. Philip’s Anglican church.

Since 1949, St. Philip’s Anglican Church in Dunbar has kept a decades-old secret in its basement: two five-pin bowling lanes.
“It’s a wonderful symbol of that connection between the church or faith community and the neighbourhood,” said John Stephens, the rector of St. Philip’s and archdeacon of Vancouver’s Anglican churches.
The lanes at West 27th Avenue and Dunbar Street opened in 1949 after extensive renovations to the property purchased by the church in 1927.
Two glowing round red and white signs identify lane one and lane two. A sign suspended from the ceiling reads “Please Keep Back of the Foul Line” and the list of rules notes: “Remember these alleys cost a lot of money, and we want them to last a long time, so that you and I, and the people who follow after us can continue to enjoy the healthy exercise associated with bowling.”
The pins need to be reset by hand and can only be reached by walking down the gutters. The only place to rest is on a platform above the pins.
William Shand, who’s been involved with the church since 1943, says his father was one of the three men who built the lanes. His most vivid memory is getting hit by a pin.
“I was quite big around,” Shand said. “So it took a lot of energy to get my ass up there.”
Betty Done, who was baptized at the church in the early 1940s, also bowled in the church basement.
Neither she nor Shand bowled anywhere else.
“This church was like a community centre,” Shand said. “Because Dunbar Community Centre wasn’t really established, not to the way it is today.”
St. Philip’s also includes a gym, as do other area churches.
Stephens says church leagues kept the lanes rolling every day except Sundays until the mid 1970s. According to Shand, leagues played at 7 p.m. and 9 and the church made money from lane rentals. He earned 50 cents a night setting up pins.
Caitlin Reilley Beck, the church’s youth and family worker, said St. Philip’s hosted a bowling tournament last year with youth groups from its parish and four other churches to raise money for KidSafe, which provides spring, summer and winter break programs for 400 children from six inner city elementary schools.
But Stephens said the lanes are used only twice a month.
Raising their profile was discussed when residents protested the loss of Varsity Ridge bowling alley, but the conversation didn’t go far.
Stephens isn’t sure how keen bowlers would be to use the two lanes where bowlers have to continuously reset pins.
But Reilley Beck noted kids love the lanes for that reason.
“They don’t clean their rooms but setting pins here is, like, the coolest thing.” she said.
“I’d love to hear if there are some people who would like to see them brought back to life entirely and maybe that’s something that we can partner with in some way,” Stephens said.