In 1985 Annie Girard, the owner and Pastor at 823 Jackson Avenue, provided shelter to striking fruit workers. The short article shown above, from The Province, notes that: “locked-out workers at … a wholesale fruit distributor … [are] in their ninth month on the picket line.” Shown in the photo above is Annie Girard with the striking workers standing in the parking area at 823 Jackson Avenue. Also shown is the bus that was parked in front of the building for many years and in which she and her husband used to travel across Canada. (“The evangelist preacher is giving the group shelter in a converted school bus, parked beside her home at Prior and Jackson that she uses on the praying circuit.”) [The Province, January 27, 1985]
It’s well known that at a young age Jimi Hendrix, while living in Seattle, would occasionally visit Vancouver. His paternal grandmother, Nora Hendrix, a co-founder of the Fountain Chapel at 823 Jackson Avenue, was living in Vancouver at the time. Jimi Hendrix also had other relatives living in Vancouver during 1949 and 1950 and he stayed with them for extended periods.
In “My Son Jimi,” Jimi’s father James Allen [“Al”] Hendrix recounts how Jimi stayed first with Al’s brother Frank Hendrix and sister-in-law Pearl during the summer of 1949 and next with Al’s sister Pat Hendrix and brother-in-law Joe Lashley in the fall of 1949 and spring of 1950. In the latter period, Jimi spent spent part of his first grade year attending Dawson Creek Annex, which was a primary school on Burrard Street a few blocks from where Pat and Joe lived.
“Jimmy, Leon, and I went up to Vancouver a lot in that old convertible to see my mother [Nora] and my sister Pat and just socialize. … During one trip, my brother Frank and his wife Pearl said, ‘We’d like to take Jimmy and Leon off your hands for a while.’ Their kids, Jimmy’s cousins Bobby and Diane, were also there. They were living near the house where I was born in the old Triumph Street Neighborhood. It was during the summertime, so I let the boys stay up there a month or two. I went up there two or three weekends to visit them. While Jimmy was staying in Vancouver, my mother and Pat would see him a lot.” [My Son Jimi, pp. 66-67]
“I was working in the daytime and there was nobody there to take care of the kids, so during the school term my sister [Pat] called and told me, ‘Al, you got your hands full down there. Why don’t you let me take care of the boys [Jimi and Leon] for a while to give you a break?’ I need a little relief, so I said okay. Pat and her husband, Joe Lashley, lived in Vancouver on Drake Street. Jimmy liked his auntie Pat and had been around her, so it wasn’t a real big thing like he was going to strangers. So I took them back up there, and he and Leon got a lot of good loving care from Pat. Pat worked as a teacher’s aide, and she enrolled Jimmy in Dawson School, where I used to go as a kid. Leon was still too young to be in grade school, so he went to pre-kindergarten classes. … Jimmy and Leon weren’t living in Vancouver for all that long, though, because Joe Lashley died while the kids were there [in Feb. 1950]. Right after that Pat and the kids came down to Seattle to stay with me on Genesee [Street].” [My Son Jimi, p. 67]
Pictured above is a photo of Jimi Hendrix and his brother Leon in 1950, a photo of Dawson Creek Annex school, which was located at Barclay and Burrard streets, and an obituary of Joe Lashley, from February, 1950.
It’s not known for certain whether the young Jimi Hendrix ever attended services at the Fountain Chapel at 823 Jackson Avenue during the time of his extended stays in Vancouver in the fall and winter of 1949-1950. But it seems likely given that his grandmother Nora Hendrix, who was a founder of the church, was living nearby at 827 Georgia Street and the church was still active and offering services. Perhaps the seven year old Jimi Hendrix was inspired and influenced by the musical services in this very building.
Shown above is an aerial photo taken by Gordon Sayle from the City of Vancouver Archives (https://searcharchives.vancouver.ca/nst-5522). It shows the eastern portion of Strathcona looking north from Prior between Jackson and Gore. In the lower right is the building at 823 Jackson Avenue.
The photo is not dated other than 1970s, but is believed to have been taken between 1972 and 1976. The left side of the photo shows that the viaduct on-ramps had already been built in the block previously known as Hogan’s Alley. On the right side of the photo the building at 823 Jackson. During this time the building was owned by Annie Girard and operating as the Fountain Chapel as a non-denominational church. Annie and her husband Pierre were living in the building and owned a bus that they used to travel across Canada. Shown below is a blow up of the right corner of the photo showing building and the bus parked next to the church and the empty lot to the south, which was owned by the City of Vancouver between 1959 and 1977 and was purchased by Annie Girard in 1977 and combined with 823 Jackson into the single lot it is today.
It turns out that the property was originally two separate lots split in the other direction (east/west) as are the other lots on the block. In 1891 the two lots were purchased by Swan G. Hoffard from The Vancouver Improvement Company Limited. In 1984 the two lots were split in the north/south direction with separate titles for each half, to make room for the The First Scandinavian Lutheran Church, which was the first church built on the north lot, before the current building.
For a brief period in the fall of 1969, in an attempt to restart the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) congregation at 823 Jackson Avenue, J. McRee (“Mac”) Elrod got some previous members of the congregation to agree to attend once a week services.
The caption on the photo above reads: “Decision was made to hold once a week services for a newly-formed African Methodist Episcopal church here.” [The Province, Sept. 20, 1969]. The newspaper likely refers to the church as being “newly-formed” because the building had not been used to hold AME church services since the last full-time pastor (Rev. J. Ivan Moore) left in the summer of 1956. An article in 1957 states that when Rev. Moore left, “there was no successor to his pulpit”, and “when services ceased, the congregation scattered” and “at the moment there is no minister in prospect.” [Vancouver Sun, July 27, 1957]
Rev. Malinda Thorne, a minister at the AME Zion church, attempted to restart services in late 1957, as reported in The Province from December 14, 1957, but there does not appear to have been regular church services and Rev. Thorne used the building at times as a soup kitchen and homeless shelter.
In the end, the attempt to restart the AME church at 823 Jackson Avenue in 1969 was not successful. Mac Elrod and Annie Walker, a non-denominational pastor, shared the building for a period, each conducting their own services. Eventually the decision was made by the presiding elder in Seattle to sell the building to Annie Walker. Mac Elrod reflected on his attempt to restart the congregation in an interview in 2002, stating that there were only 20 “old-timers” left from the previous congregation when he moved to Vancouver in 1969 and they: “were willing to come for an afternoon service, but not a morning because they had scattered, their children were involved in their own communities and things.” [Rudder, 2004]
Although the AME church in Vancouver did not continue, from 1969 through 1985 Annie Walker (later Annie Girard) was active in the community and she retained the name “Fountain Chapel” to refer to the building. She conducted regular services, presided over weddings, used the building to help young people and later she also ran a gardening and landscaping business out of the building with her husband Pierre Girard.
Pictured in the photo above are from left to right: John Wagner, Mac Elrod, Eden Shand and Richard Nann in the altar at 823 Jackson Avenue.
Annie Girard (previously Annie Walker), was the pastor of the Fountain Chapel at 823 Jackson Avenue and gave sermons starting even before she bought the building in 1969. Although the name “Fountain Chapel” originated with the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in 1921, Annie Girard decided to keep the name for the building, even though her ministry was nondenominational and not associated with AME. She called her ministry the “Cry In The Wilderness” ministry and her style was of a Pentecostal tradition.
Fortunately one of Annie Girard’s sermons survives in audio form. During the interview for the book Opening Doors [unpublished interview, Marlatt and Itter], she played a tape of that sermon that was recorded and is now part of the archive at the Royal BC Museum.
Pastor Girard’s sermon is entitled “Denying The Right To Be A Human Being” and her point in this sermon is that the way many interpret religious doctrine defies common sense and amounts to denying human nature. She advocated for a more experiential approach. Below is an excerpted portion of that sermon:
“God made man and he gave him love in his heart. He gave him common sense. And if we look at it in so many terms, this is what I talk about, don’t be bound by the top of the barrel. Fill your barrel up with water and look down in the bottom. Don’t look on the top of your barrel. You see, the top of the barrel is for people that don’t want much. They just want to get by, just go to church. Just go to church to say I was in church this Sunday, and the preacher gets up and says the same old message every time. And oh, I got a little headache this Sunday. I think I’ll go to church and get the preacher to pray for me.”
“So they’ll come up to the pulpit and the preacher will lay his hand on them and he’ll pray for them. They go back and say, ‘Thank you, preacher.’ And go ahead back and put their little donation into the pot and go ahead. Now they feel much better. And they go out and say, ‘Sister so and so, oh brother, I sure feel good.’ They were on the top of the barrel. But if they had looked down the depths of that barrel, they would’ve found what the real healing was. They would’ve found something deeper in there than the top of that barrel. They would’ve came to church for many different reasons. They wouldn’t have came there just for a little headache. They would’ve came there for something for their soul. They would’ve came there for the healing of their soul. Look down the deep depths of that barrel.”
“Again, a religion, and binding you, denying yourself the right of being a human being because the real human being today is crying for God. God has placed within each one of us himself, within each one of our lives, within each one of our hearts. And that’s what we’re hungering for. And when we can get down and find the Bible speaks of if Christ doesn’t come soon, that there will be no flesh left. If he doesn’t shorten the days, there will be no flesh left. You see, we’re being eat up by all traditions and by bondage. And Christ says, ‘Whom the son has set free, is free indeed.’ It doesn’t mean because you’ve come up here to the altar and said, ‘Lord, forgive me,’ now I am free. No, first you are not free until you have been truly ordained of God, until you have been freed by God.”
“God is perhaps calling you up to that altar, but to his altar. You see, if we go up into man’s altar, we’re putting ourselves in bondage. But if we go to God’s altar, we’re coming to freedom because God works down in the depths of our souls, in the depths of our hearts, and he sees our heart.”
“God does live directly in your heart. And this is where you worship him. This is where you praise him. This is where you curse him. It’s in your heart and in your life. It’s up to you whether you are in bondage or in freedom. Religion is bondage, but Christ is freedom. The Bible says the truth will set you free. And today, the whole world is in bondage, and if Christ doesn’t start coming up into our hearts and into our lives and start feeding this world, it will perish because we’re all being eaten by spirits or by some other means, denying ourselves the right of being a human being.”
The windows for the altar of the church at 823 Jackson Avenue have changed at least twice over the years as illustrated in the photos above. The earliest known design is shown on the left, which comes from a home movie of a wedding that took place in the church in June 1973. This design is also confirmed from a black and white photo from 1969. It’s possible that this design existed much earlier, perhaps even is the original design for the altar windows.
In 1985 when the Hakka Lutheran church took over the building the windows were changed to the blue and red cross design shown in the middle. These windows were on the building throughout the time the Hakka church used the building. In 2012 the windows were replaced with the existing design shown on the right, each of which is a two piece double-pane clear glass window with an arc shaped divider (or “muntin”). The arcs in each window can be seen as tracing portions of a single arch and complement the interior arch of the ceiling leading up to the altar.
The current windows were designed by artist Torrie Groening and she was granted a US Design Patent on the windows in 2013. Torrie Groening and her husband Stephen Melvin live on the main floor of the building which was converted into a caretaker’s residence in 2008.
This is the church alarm bell that’s been on the building for at least 50 years, recently re-painted as an eyeball. Some have said this is suggestive of the Eye Of Providence (or the All-Seeing Eye of God), always observing humanity’s thoughts and deeds (with benevolence and compassion).
The Basel Hakka Lutheran Church (BHLC) was a Chinese church that held services at 823 Jackson Avenue from 1985 until 2008. An active and growing congregation throughout the 1990s, they eventually outgrew the space. The BHLC started raising money to acquire a new church in 2002 and by 2007 they were able to purchase a new church and education building at 2575 Nanaimo Street. The church at 823 Jackson Avenue was officially decommissioned by BHLC on Sunday the 26th of October, 2008. On the following Sunday, November 2, 2008 the BHLC held services in their new location.
During the 23 years that the BHLC owned the property at 823 Jackson Avenue numerous changes and improvements were made, both inside and outside the building. Shown above are a few photos from that period. The first two photos from 1985 show the property as it looked when it was first purchased (visible in the first photo is the bus in which Annie and Pierre Girard traveled across Canada). The photo from 1986 shows the building a year later with the installation of signs and two white crosses, the painting of the shingles and the removal of some landscaping. The photo from 1987 shows the laying of asphalt on the southern half of the property which was used as parking for the congregation. The photo from 1995 shows a new red metal roof being installed. Other changes were made as well, including the replacement of the windows (including the altar windows), the installation of permanent pews, finishing of the interior ceiling and creating an opening between the congregation area and the pastor’s office.
During an exterior repair operation in 2015, it was evident that at one time there had been a narrow exterior door leading from the outside to the “west chancel” of the church at 823 Jackson Avenue. Above is shown a photo showing the old doorway, long since filled in, and a floor plan showing the location. The intent of such a door would have been to allow the pastor and/or choir to enter and exit the building without having to walk through the congregation area. The presence of this door also leads to the possibility that the building was raised since it was originally constructed. At the building’s present height, this doorway is about 4 meters off the ground and would have needed a long narrow stairway to access. If the building was originally constructed as a single story structure only a few steps would have been needed.
For Black history month we honour the Black pastors who have offered services at one time at 823 Jackson Avenue. While the building was originally built as a Norwegian Lutheran Church, starting in 1921 it became an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. The AME Church was founded in 1816 in Philadelphia by Rev. Richard Allen and was the first independent Black denomination. As there was no Canadian branch of the AME, organizers of the Vancouver congregation were presided over by a Seattle branch and almost all of the pastors were sent from the United States.
Starting with the AME, the building became known as the Fountain Chapel and the first minister to serve was Reverend Ulysses S. Robinson, who arrived in Canada in October, 1921 (b. Texas, 1888; d. Chicago, 1947). Rev. Robinson was the longest serving minister of the AME and was in Vancouver about nine years. From the city directories and contemporaneous newspaper articles we can determine the names of at least some of the pastors who served after him. Shown in the table above are the names of the pastors, the approximate years that they were active and their associated church. This list is likely incomplete, especially in the period from 1944 to 1952 as there was a high turnover of pastors and they were not all recorded in city directories.
In her interview in Opening Doors, Nora Hendrix notes the high turnover of pastors after Rev. Robinson, saying “… then after six years we commenced getting different preachers every year pretty well” [Marlatt and Itter, 1979]. This was at least in part due to a dwindling congregation and the difficulty in supporting a full-time pastor. Rev. Theodore R. Jones, who was the pastor in 1943-1944 gave his opinion in a newspaper article at the time that his small congregation was due to the lack of racial discrimination which made it too easy for Black people in Canada. [Province, January 17, 1944.] Adam Rudder also notes that “… it seems certain that by the end of the 1950s Black people had moved from Strathcona and scattered into the greater Vancouver area … families chose to move outside of the lower socioeconomic area of Strathcona and into more middle class neighborhoods … when black people were able to get better jobs, they began to buy houses in other areas of the city.” [Rudder, 2004] Also, Rev. Mac Elrod, who attempted to restart the AME congregation in 1969 found that the original congregation had largely moved out of the neighborhood and were attending services in other churches. Thus, the decline of the AME congregation at 823 Jackson Avenue can at least in part be attributed to the upward mobility of the original congregation. Many had left Strathcona not because they had to but because they could (i.e. on their own terms).
Due to the decline and lack of a viable AME congregation, from the mid-1950’s through the 1960’s the building at 823 Jackson Avenue was little used and mostly vacant. We do know that some of this time it was utilized by Rev. Malinda Thorne, who operated a shelter and soup kitchen in Vancouver known as “God’s Rescue Mission”. The shelter housed 10-15 transients and homeless people per night and Rev. Thorne served food and held nightly gospel services. Rev. Thorne was a minister with the AME Zion Church, a different denomination from AME and was forced to vacate the building in 1969.
Starting in 1969, Rev. Annie Walker (who changed her name to Annie Girard in 1976) took over the building and operated a non-denominational ministry she called the Cry In The Wilderness Church, while maintaining the name of the Fountain Chapel for the building. Rev. Girard (nee Annie Lluella Barry) was born in Stonybrook, Alberta and along with Rev. J. Ivan Moore (who was born in Guelph, Ontario) were the only Canadian born pastors in this list, the rest being from the United States.
Rev. Girard describes in an interview from 1977 how she had a life changing vision in June 1969 in which she was visited by an angelic being who instructed her to “Go and claim the old cloured people’s church for the glory of God.” [Opening Doors unpublished interview, Marlatt and Itter, Royal BC Museum and Archives] At the time she did not know how to make this a reality, but she persevered. She first volunteered to clean up at the church, then she started preaching her own worship services at the church and eventually convinced the presiding AME elder in Seattle to sell her the building. While she owned the building until 1985, it’s not clear how long Rev. Girard offered church services. At least until the early to mid-1970s she preached and performed weddings in the building.