Plenty of room at the inn

Published March 1, 2004

Patrick Kelly (right) of the Fairmont Hotel (seen in the background) offered a hotel ballroom for Christmas services for the congregation of Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral. Dean Peter Elliott is leading the cathedral’s $8.6 million renovation project.

The parishioners of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver are, metaphorically, keeping their running shoes on as they attend services in a public library, a hotel and a United church while the cathedral is undergoing a year of renovations.

Their peripatetic existence “has added a sense of adventure and community spirit,” said Dean Peter Elliott, who is leading the $8.6 million project.

At Christmas, there was definitely room at the inn as the cathedral’s services took place in a ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, an equally historic building located across the street from the cathedral. The cathedral and the hotel were once literally connected prior to 1970 by a heating corridor that allowed the hotel’s boiler to supply heat to the church.

Responding to a letter from Mr. Elliott, general manager Patrick Kelly and banquet manager Lisa Boyle donated the use of a ballroom, which hosted a Christmas Eve service of carols and two masses as well as a Christmas Day mass.

Daily eucharist ? which Mr. Elliott noted is an essential part of a cathedral’s identity ? takes place in a donated 11th-floor suite at the neighbouring Park Place office building. He cuts an unusual figure among the business-suited tenants. “There I am, traveling on the elevator in an alb and stole,” said Mr. Elliott.

Dedicated in 1895, Christ Church Cathedral is the oldest surviving church in Vancouver and last underwent major work in the 1950s. “The stonework needed to be repointed and cleaned. We needed new wheelchair ramps, new landscaping. The heating system was from the 1940s. In the 1950s, they covered a Douglas fir floor with red linoleum tile. We also found that we had to do seismic work, since the building was, essentially, built on rubble. So we had to shore up the foundations ? that was the biggest surprise,” said Mr. Elliott.

The cathedral narrowly escaped demolition in the early 1970s. The vestry approved a radical design that would have torn down the building and re-constructed the cathedral underground beneath a large cross sculpture, to be reflected in a glass office tower. However, the city of Vancouver in 1973 designated the cathedral a historic site and refused to issue a development permit.

The current renovations began last May and the congregation had planned to be back in the building by Christmas. However, as work and fundraising progressed last fall, parishioners voted to proceed immediately with a previously-planned second phase of interior renovations, with reoccupation date moved to March, 2004. Nearly the full cost of the project has been raised, with $500,000 to go, Mr. Elliott said.

Although attendance at daily eucharist is down somewhat, the Sunday services ? wherever they are in any particular week ? are holding at about 300 to 400 worshippers. Communication has been essential, with service locations on the cathedral Web site, its newsletter, signs, some advertising and voice mail greetings. Parishioners are also getting the word out to each other. “I think we’ve discovered a deeper sense of belonging,” said Mr. Elliott.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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