First United Church – Gore and East Hastings

First United

Here’s another building that, like the Salvation Army Citadel across the street, is in a second incarnation in the same location. Like the Citadel, it’s unlikely to be around too much longer, although R MacDthe role of a church here is expected to continue in the future. It’s said to be seen here in a 1931 photograph – although we have doubts. That’s because it has a sign on the side proclaiming ‘Ramsay MacDonald’. There’s nobody in the city of that name (we checked!) but there was the British politician of that name who was a former Labour Prime Minister and who visited the city in 1928, when he dedicated the Robert Burns statue in Stanley Park. He was also a Presbyterian.

The first church here is the wooden structure in our image, erected around 1893. It was the East End Presbyterian Church and we thought it was probably designed by C Y H Sansom. We’re relying on an 1892 newspaper report from that year: “The plans for the new East End Presbyterian church have just been completed by architect C. Y. H. Sansom. The edifice is to be built of stone and brick and will have an imposing appearance. It will have a seating capacity of 1,100 and is estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $25,000. The basement will contain four rooms for Sunday school purposes, also furnaces and heating apparatus, which will be of the Smead – Dowd system. The seats will be placed in a semi – circular fashion similar to those in the Congregational church. All the modern improvements will be introduced, and when completed the edifice bids fair to compare favorably with any in the city.

Clearly the structure as built wasn’t of brick and stone construction – it’s wooden, making a serious attempt to look brick-like, although the foundations of the building were stone. We’re assuming that Mr. Sansom retained the commission for the church’s design and didn’t storm off the job when he discovered the budget wouldn’t stretch to brick. Initially there was a competition to design the new building, won by an American, Arlen Towle, who had an office in New Westminster, so it’s possible he was the architect.

It was replaced with the building that’s there today in 1964. The architect was James Earl Dudley; he moved here in the mid 50’s and lived in the UBC endowment lands where he went to the United Church.  He also designed the new United Church on the University Boulevard, and that was the connection to him designing this church. Today the church also serves as a low-barrier shelter, although at a significantly reduced level compared to a few years ago when it operated controversially as a 200-bed dormitory. Today it provides 60 beds each night– space for 40 men and 20 women. Shelter residents have 24-access to the building and are provided three meals a day, seven days a week. The church partner with Carnegie Outreach Team and BC Housing to help shelter residents transition to appropriate permanent housing.

Longer term redevelopment plans are reported to intend to retain a church, possibly a continued shelter use, and other non-market housing.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA Ch N75.2

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