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Vancouver church marks 90th Remembrance Day

Canadian Memorial United Church was built as a memorial to peace
canadian memorial church
Minister Beth Hayward and music minister Lonnie Delisle at Canadian Memorial United Church. Photo Jennifer Gauthier

This Remembrance Day has extra special significance at Canadian Memorial United Church.

The stone church has sat on the corner of Burrard and 15th for 90 years. It was built as a memorial to peace — a vision of Methodist preacher Col. George Fallis, who served as a padre in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War.

“It was just this revelation while he was on the battlefields burying all these young men of ‘I need to do something that really speaks to how horrible this is,’” said Minister Beth Hayward, who has been with the church for six years.

“His vision was for what he called a memorial to peace, a physical place for all of Canada to celebrate with that vision of we’ve got to find another way.”

After criss-crossing the country fundraising, Fallis, who was originally from Ontario but had previously ministered at a church in Kitsilano, raised enough money to build the Gothic-style church.

The ground breaking took place in July 1927 and construction began. Canadian Memorial United Church was dedicated on Nov. 8, 1928 and the first service was held on Nov. 11, 1928, exactly 10 years after the end of the First World War.

canadian memorial church
Located at Burrard and 15th, the Gothic-style Canadian Memorial United Church was dedicated on Nov. 8, 1928 and the first service was held on Nov. 11, 1928, exactly 10 years after the end of the First World War. Photo Vancouver Archives, CVA 786-34.10

Every year since that first Nov. 11 service, the church has held a special Remembrance Day event to honour those who served and died in wars as well as promote peace.

“We want to honour those that gave their lives while simultaneously saying there must be a better way other than war,” said Minister Lonnie Delisle, director of music at the church.

“This is not about war commemoration so much as it is people that fought and we want to honour that while simultaneously holding out peace as the ultimate goal and standard.”

It’s not just the physical building itself that makes up the memorial; many elements inside the church also serve as testaments to peace and remembrance of lives lost in battle.

Canadian Memorial holds the only other copies of the Books of Remembrance outside of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The books hold the names of every Canadian soldier killed while serving in uniform.

The chapel features more than a dozen stained glass windows — there is one for each province that was part of Canada at the time (Newfoundland didn’t join confederation until 1949) and the Yukon Territory. The windows were designed and created by the Robert McCausland studio in Toronto. Each one contains a religious motif with the provincial coat-of-arms, and depicts historical events from each province.

To cover the costs of the windows, Fallis undertook a national fundraising campaign. His first stop was Victoria where he met with then-premier John Oliver and other provincial leaders. Fallis went on to visit every province, securing funds to cover the cost of each province’s window.

He chronicled with journey in a book, A Padre’s Pilgrimage.

There is also a series of memorial windows representing different branches of service in the war efforts during the First World War — The Soldier, The Sailor, The Airman, The Nurse.

Canadian Memorial is also home to a 90-year-old Casavant Frères pipe organ, purchased with money mostly donated from the U.S., including a large (for the time) contribution from the famous Rockefeller family.

“There was a member of the congregation who kept going to Col. Fallis as the minister and saying, ‘You’ve got to ask the Rockefellers for money,’” Hayward said. “He just kept dismissing her and writing her off until eventually he did write a letter to the Rockefellers.”

To Fallis’s surprise, John D. Rockefeller Jr. responded and sent $2,500.

“The organ was a lot of money from the states was contributed to that in honour of American soldiers that fought in World War I with the Canadian Forces,” Hayward said.

As it did 90 years ago, Remembrance Day falls on a Sunday this year. To mark the event Delisle created an original composition, “Peace Come Reign,” which will debut at Sunday’s Remembrance Day service.

“The piece that I wrote, it comes from a place of recognizing that peace has to begin within and somebody said, I can’t remember exactly the quote, but it takes a peaceful person to make a peaceful world,” he said.

The annual Remembrance Day ceremony starts at 10:30 a.m. and includes performances by the church choir and orchestra, as well as guest speaker peace advocate Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, and a wreath-laying ceremony.

“Not only will we reflect collectively on those that fought for our peace and freedom, we’ll also recognize the importance of our church as a tangible memorial to peace and its continued vision to enable people to live lives that exemplify peace,” Hayward said.

Following the ceremony, there will be an open house from 12:30 p.m. until 1:45 p.m. and then a Remembrance Day concert featuring Vancouver’s Universal Gospel Choir starting at 2 p.m.


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