This article appeared in the August 16, 2004, issue of the North Thompson Star Journal.
By Diane Werbowsky
St. Stephens’ Anglican Church at Little Fort will close on Aug. 22, 2004.
The church was the dream of members of this small North Thompson community. A dream of having a Protestant Church with their own services no longer having to be held in homes or in a school house. The Little Fort congregation’s dream finally became a reality through hard work and determination.
Now 60 years later on Aug. 22, 2004, the last service will be held in the Church as the building has been sold.
At a 1944 meeting a cardboard model of a Normandy style church with a turreted tower was presented by Harold Gainer, a farmer living on Lemieux Creek. Interest grew, committees were formed and spearheaded by Harold Gainer, Mr, and Mrs. Ernie Woodward, Mr. and Mrs. Les Cunningham, and Pat Rogers. Money was very scarce, but doors were knocked on and pledges were taken. One method the committee chose to raise funds was “The Lord’s Acre Plan”. Pledges were given at the beginning of the year on how they could raise money for the new church. The fundraising took on added commitment when, for instance, one person promised to sell one dozen eggs per week for the church. Another raised a piglet for sale in the fall. One planted a sack of potatoes with the proceeds to go to the fund.
It was all exciting and made those taking part feel they really were working for the Lord. With sales of handicrafts, home baking and many years of fund raising the lot was purchased and the foundation poured. Then Harold Gainer died.
The lumber was piled ready for building, but it seemed the dream had died along with Mr. Gainer.
Who would take over? Who was going to frame the building?
In December of 1949, Charles Struthers, a bridge builder in Vancouver, and his nephew Sandy Fennell of Chu Chua, offered their help. For three weeks they worked along with members of the congregation framing the church (while their room and board was supplied by the Cunningtons). The dream was once again becoming a reality.
Bert Cleavely of Barriere donated materials for the inside of the building. Loy Jim supplied the shingles for the roof “to be paid for as the committee could afford”.
A church bell was located and donated by Ted Campbell of Western Sand & Gravel and Atlas Construction.
Many more work bees and fund raisers were held; Turkey and Chicken Shoots, Bazaars and Pie Socials, and a tea sale was hosted by Archdeacon and Mrs. Bradshaw at their home in Kamloops (Archdeacon Bradshaw was the Rector for the North Thompson Parish during the building of the church).
In 1951 the building was usable. The dream had been realized. St. Stephens Church was consecrated. The name was chosen to honour the Saint and also to honour Canon Akehurst, the first Anglican minister in the North Thompson.
In 1953, Lydia Cunningham wrote to then columnist Barry Mather of the Vancouver Sun.
“A handful of people have been struggling to raise funds for the past three years to finish a church started on a shoestring,” wrote Cunningham, “Little Fort people have raised $1900 to build our church. It is up, the roof is on, but how are we to raise funds to finish it?”
Barry’s reply was, “Stop putting the bee on a few people in Little Fort. Put it on a few millionaires in Vancouver.”
He also added to the letter a list of suggested names to contact for donations. The list included then 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, for in 1954 enough money had been raised to have the siding put on.
In 1957 ceiling tile and wallboard were purchased and hastily installed by members of the congregation just in time for the first wedding to be held in St. Stephens.
On Aug. 3, 1957, Rev. Dean Jolly officiated at this wedding ceremony for Diane Cunnington and Robert Werbowsky.
In 1958 Rev. Jim Slater became Rector of the Parish, and it was he who did the beautiful woodwork in the sanctuary.
An addition to the building was made possible by donations from Angus Tompson and other members of the congregation.
With time, most of the ‘dreamers’ have gone, but with their dream fulfilled.
Now, on Aug. 22, 2004, their dream dies – as this little church of St. Stephens at little Fort has been sold!
Editor’s Note: After 73 years, the St. Stephens’ church building continues to stand in the community of Little Fort, B.C.