This article originally appeared in the August 16, 2004, issue of the North Thompson Star Journal.
By Diane Werbowsky
St. Stephens Anglican Church in Little Fort will close on August 22, 2004.
The church was the dream of the members of this small North Thompson community. A dream of having a Protestant Church with its own services that no longer have to be held in houses or in a school house. The dream of the Little Fort congregation has finally come true through hard work and determination.
Today, 60 years later, on August 22, 2004, the last service will be held in the church as the building has been sold.
At a meeting in 1944, a cardboard model of a Norman-style church with a turreted tower was presented by Harold Gainer, a farmer living on Lemieux Creek. Interest grew, committees were formed and led by Harold Gainer, Mr. and Mrs. Ernie Woodward, Mr. and Mrs. Les Cunningham and Pat Rogers. Money was very scarce, but doors were knocked and promises were taken. One of the methods the committee chose to raise funds was “The Lord’s Acre Plan”. Promises were given at the beginning of the year on how they could raise funds for the new church. Fundraising took on an added commitment when, for example, someone pledged to sell a dozen eggs a week for the church. Another raised a piglet to sell in the fall. One of them planted a bag of potatoes with the product to go to the bottom.
It was exciting and the attendees felt like they were truly working for the Lord. With sales of crafts, home baking and many years of fundraising, the land was purchased and the foundation poured. Then Harold Gainer died.
The lumber was stacked ready to be built, but it seemed the dream had died with Mr. Gainer.
Who would take over? Who was going to frame the building?
In December 1949, Charles Struthers, a bridge builder in Vancouver, and his nephew Sandy Fennell of Chu Chua, offered to help. For three weeks they worked with the members of the congregation who staffed the church (while their room and board were provided by the Cunningtons). The dream was coming true again.
Bert Cleavely of Barriere donated materials for the interior of the building. Loy Jim provided the shingles for the roof “to be paid within the means of the committee”.
A church bell was located and donated by Ted Campbell of Western Sand & Gravel and Atlas Construction.
Many more work bees and fundraisers have taken place; Turkey and Chicken Shoots, Bazaars and Pie Socials, and a tea sale was hosted by the Archdeacon and Mrs. Bradshaw at their home in Kamloops (Archdeacon Bradshaw was Rector of North Thompson Parish when the church).
In 1951, the building was usable. The dream had come true. St. Stephens Church was dedicated. The name was chosen to honor the saint and also to honor Canon Akehurst, North Thompson’s first Anglican minister.
In 1953, Lydia Cunningham wrote to Vancouver Sun columnist Barry Mather.
“A handful of people have struggled to raise funds over the past three years to complete a church started with few means,” Cunningham wrote, “The people of Little Fort have raised $1900 to build our church. is up, the roof is up, but how are we going to raise funds to finish it?”
Barry’s response was, “Stop beeing a few people in Little Fort. Put it on some millionaires in Vancouver.
He also added to the letter a list of suggested names to contact for donations. The list then included Premier WAC Bennett, Austin Taylor, Mrs. Ron Graham, Mrs. E. Hamber, Mayor Hume of Vancouver and Robert Fiddes of Vancouver Breweries.
Some of the letters must have worked, because by 1954 enough money had been raised to have the siding laid.
In 1957, ceiling tiles and wall panels were hastily purchased and installed by members of the congregation just in time for the first wedding to be held in St. Stephens.
On August 3, 1957, Reverend Dean Jolly performed this wedding ceremony for Diane Cunnington and Robert Werbowsky.
In 1958, Reverend Jim Slater became rector of the parish and it was he who designed the magnificent woodwork of the sanctuary.
An addition to the building was made possible through donations from Angus Tompson and other members of the congregation.
In time, most of the “dreamers” are gone, but with their dream realized.
Now, on August 22, 2004, their dream dies – because this little church of St. Stephens in Little Fort has been sold!
Editor’s note: After 73 years, St. Stephens Church continues to exist in the community of Little Fort, British Columbia.