St. Mary’s Church & Cemetary

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Church of St. Mary the Virgin

The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, built in 1873, is the third oldest Anglican Church in continuous use on Vancouver Island although religious services were begun by the Anglican Church in the Metchosin community five years before Confederation, in 1862.

Two acres of land for church and churchyard were the gift of Mr. John Witty, of Bilston Farm. The list of subscriptions to the building fund was headed by Sir James Douglas with a donation of $100. The total cost of the building and contents as recorded in July 1874 was $1,500.50.

The foundation stone was laid on July 24, 1873, by Mrs. Hills, the wife of the Bishop of Columbia, the Right Reverend George Hills in the presence of the Lieutenant-Governor William Trutch. The Church of St. Mary the Virgin was consecrated on October 22, 1873. It was on this occasion that Sir James Douglas wrote the following letter to his daughter in England:

“Metchosin looked its best, the beautiful slopes, the richly tinted foliage, the bright clear sky, the warm sunshine, the glassy smooth sea and the grand mountains in the distance, formed a combination of indescribable beauty. I felt an exhilaration of mind which led me to wander away through the woods towards the white cliffs bordering the sea from whence I contemplated its placid waters with delight.”

In 1876 the churchyard was fenced and at the Harvest Festival, August 29th, the ground was consecrated and set apart for a cemetery. On this day the bell which has called the faithful to worship ever since was rung for the first time.

In 1883 a marble tablet was erected by “A few of the Settlers,” in memory of John Witty, who died the day before the Consecration of the Church, “as a token of their esteem for his liberality.”

On October 22, 1933, memorial stained glass windows replacing the plain glass were dedicated by the Bishop of Columbia. Pioneer names like Reverend R. and Lady Emily Walker, Witty, Weir, Helgesen, Fisher, Reid and Ashe appear on brass plates beneath each window. Wrought Iron Memorial Entrance Gates were presented to the Parish by the late Mr. Lee Field in “Memory of his Family,” in May 1964.

For nearly forty years after consecration, the history of St. Mary’s was closely linked with that of Christ Church Cathedral and St. Paul’s Garrison Church, Esquimalt. It was served by the Clergy of both churches and later by successive rectors of St. Paul’s. The Reverend F. B. Gribbell was the officiating minister on the day the Foundation Stone was laid on July 24, 1873, and came on horseback from St. Paul’s, Esquimalt. This he did frequently to minister to the spiritual needs of the pioneer settlers.

It was in 1911 that the Reverend H. B. Hadlow was appointed by Bishop Perrin to the sole charge of Metchosin, Colwood and Rocky Point. With great keenness, he soon enlarged the parish to include Sooke and this resulted in the dual parish of Metchosin-Sooke which continued as such until 1963.

Many well known and faithful clergy and their wives have served this Church and Parish over these many years. Reverend A. E. de L. Nunns, Archdeacon, the Reverend F. Vernon Venables, the Reverend L. A. Todd; the Reverend Cecil Swanson who later served in Vancouver and Toronto; the Reverend F. Comley who was succeeded by the Reverend H. M. Bolton who served until 1956, 23 years in all; the Reverend J. McDonald; the Reverend A. W. R. Ashley served the Parish for two periods, the Reverend H. W. Sibley and the Reverend F. E. Cyril Venables who was vicar for five years, ending his incumbency in the fall of 1968.

In 1974 that St. Mary’s became a self-supporting Parish and ceased to be a mission church.

Source: Footprints Pioneer Families of the Metchosin District, Marion I. Helgesen editor