J. McRee (“Mac”) Elrod was the last African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister to hold services at 823 Jackson Avenue. Mac Elrod (pictured second from right with his children from left to right Matthew, Christine, Cara, Lona and Laura) was an ordained AME minister (later becoming a Unitarian minister) as well as a prominent librarian and cataloguer who served as head of the cataloging department at the University of British Columbia (UBC) from 1967 to 1979.
Mac Elrod was born in Gainesville, Georgia, in 1932. He held graduate degrees in theology as well as information technology and library sciences. He was raised in the Methodist Church and was originally ordained as a Methodist minister. After living in Korea with his wife Norma Lee Cummins from 1955 to 1960, they returned to the United States and he transferred his ordination to the AME. While living in Ohio, Elrod volunteered to be the minister for several small AME churches there.
Elrod was heavily involved in the civil rights movement in the United States as well as the anti-Vietnam war movement. He decided to emigrate to Vancouver in the summer of 1967 in part because of his strong opposition to the Vietnam War. While not subject to the draft himself, he was instrumental in assisting draft dodgers in Vancouver through his work with the Vancouver Committee to Aid American War Objectors.
The photo above, from the steps of 823 Jackson Avenue, is from a newspaper article in 1969 entitled: “Historic Negro Church Reopens Here” and notes that the building had suffered “long years of neglect.” Elrod recollects in an interview from 2002 (Rudder, University of Victoria, 2004), that the AME Bishop in Ohio upon learning that Elrod was moving to Vancouver, said: “Oh we have a building there … I will appoint you as minister, see if you can get the congregation started again.” When Elrod first arrived at 823 Jackson Avenue it was not being used to hold church services but as a shelter for the homeless.
Alas, Elrod did not succeed in restarting the AME congregation. He estimated that there were about only about 20 members left at the time. In the end the presiding AME Elder from Seattle, who had authority over the building, decided to sell the building to Annie Girard. We will have more to say about Mac Elrod and Annie Girard in future posts.
Rev. Ulysses S. Robinson was the first Pastor of the newly formed African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in Vancouver. He crossed into Canada on October 17, 1921 so we can assume that the first official AME services started shortly thereafter. Rev. Robinson was born in 1888 in Chappell Hill, Texas and had been working in Denver, Colorado prior to arriving in Canada. He was married and 33 years old when he arrived. City directories confirm that the occupant of the building at 823 Jackson Avenue changed from the Norwegian Lutheran Church in 1921 to the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1922. The city directory for 1924 was the first time that the name “Fountain Chapel” appeared in the listing.
Leading up to the arrival of Rev. Robinson, many members of the black community in Vancouver had been working hard to purchase the building from the Norwegian Lutheran Church. Nora Hendrix (pictured with her husband Ross Hendrix) was instrumental in this process and she explains the establishment of the church in an interview from 1977 (Opening Doors, Marlatt and Itter, 1979). The building was available for $1000 and the AME head office agreed to put up $500 if the new local congregation would raise the other $500. As Ms. Hendrix explains this was a challenging task since typical wages were $1.50 per day and it took a while but they were eventually able to purchase the building. As there was no Canadian branch of the AME, the Fountain Chapel was subject to the oversight of an AME Presiding Elder from Seattle.
Nora Hendrix was born in 1883 in Knoxville, Tennessee and moved to Vancouver in 1911 from Seattle. Nora and Ross Hendrix were originally brought to Vancouver because Ross had a job there and they stayed and raised a family and spent the rest of their lives in Vancouver. Ross Hendrix died in 1934 and Nora Hendrix died in 1984.
Rev. Benjamin A. Sand (the Pastor for the Norwegian Lutheran Church) applied for water service for the new Church at 833, later 823 Jackson Avenue on November 15, 1910. According to the November 14, 1910 building permit application, the estimated cost to build the church was $2500. Architect Frederick William Mellish (pictured) is listed as the builder though he was likely the architect as well. He also took out in April 1910 a permit for a similar design for Saint Saviours Church on 1st Avenue at Semlin Drive.