Our parents met in a pub...
Our story begins in a Vancouver pub – Blair’s Saloon on Abbott Street. The year was 1886, and Vancouver had just been incorporated as a city of almost 5,000. A small group of Baptists saw the increasing need to establish a church for the booming city.
On Sunday, June 6, they launched the inaugural Sunday School program, welcoming 30 children into the Blair’s Saloon Hall. Mr. J. H. Carlisle, Vancouver’s First Fire Chief, was appointed Superintendent.
The following Sunday, June 13, 1886, Blair’s Saloon and most of the city were destroyed by fire.
...And built a home for our family on the Westside
Following the fire, Rev. Lennie obtained two building lots from the Canadian Pacific Railway (on what is now 432 Main Street) to build a dedicated space for worship. The modest building was 24 by 35 feet and cost just $700 to built.
The following March, Rev. Lennie called a meeting in the Sullivan Hall (63 Cordova Street) to move that the group officially form First Baptist Church. Soon after, Rev J.W. Daniels from Seattle, Washington, became the first pastor. The church soon saw fruit of its ministry: the first person to be baptized was Robert Palmer. He was baptized in False Creek, as the small building had no baptistry. Within months, the congregation outgrew the little building on Main Street. A new church, seating about 800, was built at Hamilton and Dunsmuir Streets, and was dedicated on Sunday, September 15, 1887.
By the turn of the twentieth century, our founders saw the importance of putting down permanent roots on the westside of Vancouver. In 1904, they purchased our current lot on Burrard and Nelson Streets for $4,000. John Morton, the first white settler in Vancouver, donated the first $1,000. Before construction began, the church faced another setback: a fire erupted in the Sunday School rooms, damaging the roof and foundation. The church moved into a rented location to regroup, repair the building, and refocus on their Burrard Street building project.
On April 2, 1910, John Morton laid the cornerstone for the new church, and on June 9, 1911, the new building was dedicated. During 1931 the sanctuary was destroyed by fire, but was later rebuilt. The blaze broke out behind the organ, and destroyed most of the roof. For the third time, we had to rebuild after a fire. Since then, our building has grown and changed with us. First continues to serve Vancouver from its key location on the westside.
Laying the Cornerstone
Eyewitness Leslie J. Cummings described the scene:
Describing such an auspicious event as the laying of a cornerstone usually calls for flower phrases, but to me the occasion is indelibly etched in my childhood memory for a more simple reason. As a very little boy I was taken to the ceremony by my mother and her sister. I still can recall how my interest was gripped by a fuzzy caterpillar as I followed its path across and inside my aunt’s collar.
Leading the group of dignitaries on the platform high over my head was the happy pastor, Dr. H. Francis Perry. Culminating the ceremony, John Morton, original settler in the West End and staunch church member, took up a silver trowel, tapped the stone, and uttered the impressive words: “I declare this cornerstone to be truly laid.”