AME Restart in 1969

The Province, 20 September 1969

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’s Sermon

Annie Walker 1973

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.”

Altar Windows

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 owns and occupies the building with her husband Stephen Melvin and since 2011 has been an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church. They 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).

Basel Hakka Property Changes

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.

Pastor’s Side Entrance

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.

Black Pastors of the Fountain Chapel

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.

P. G.’s Pruning & Gardening Co.

Annie and Pierre Girard operated a landscaping and nursery business at 823 Jackson Avenue from approximately the mid 1970s through the early 1980s. The name “P. G.’s Pruning & Gardening Co. Ltd.” is listed on city directories from 1982 to 1985. Annie and Pierre are pictured above on the day they were married at the York County Courthouse in Fredericton, New Brunswick in December 1976.

As noted previously, Annie Girard owned and operated the building at 823 Jackson Avenue from 1969 through 1985 under a non-denominational ministry referred to first as the “Glory of God Church” and later as the “The Cry In The Wilderness Church“. During this time she kept the previous name of the “Fountain Chapel” as a reference to the building, although she had no association with the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. The AME used the name Fountain Chapel when services first started in 1921, but as noted previously the AME congregation gradually became smaller over many years starting at least as early as the mid 1940s and the last full time pastor, Rev. Ivan Moore, left in 1956, at which point regular church services ceased.

When Annie Girard first occupied the building she was known under her name from a previous marriage, Annie Walker. Pierre Girard was originally from Quebec, and he met Annie through the Jesus People movement. Annie and Pierre had a large bus they traveled across Canada on and it was during a trip in late 1976 that they visited Pierre’s family in Quebec and got married in a civil ceremony in Fredericton.

Hogan’s Alley

Pictured above is Vancouver’s 1912 Fire Insurance Map superimposed on the current streets and viaducts. The block bordered by Main, Union, Gore and Prior was demolished around 1970 to make room for the ramps for the Georgia and Dunsmiur viaducts. As shown, this block included 37 residential properties (along Union and Prior) and 10 commercial properties (along Main). The destruction of this block can be considered in the context of the very end of Vancouver’s 20 year “slum clearance” and “urban renewal” programs, which have been described in a previous post, that also obliterated many other blocks in Strathcona, including the block across the street on the northeast corner of Union and Gore. Under the program, which affected thousands of local residents, owners were offered a fixed price for their homes, in the range of $6,000 to $8,000, and houses were expropriated if an owner refused to sell.

The term Hogan’s Alley is sometimes used to refer to this block, although the term has not always been used consistently. John Atkins notes that Hogan’s Alley ran “from Gore to Main” [Strathcona – Vancouver’s First Neighbourhood]. Other authors have suggested it ran through to Jackson. For example Purvey and Belshaw [Vancouver Noir] describe it as “extending about two blocks to Jackson.” Wayde Compton [After Canaan] notes that the viaducts destroyed Hogan’s Alley, also suggesting it ended at Gore, and states that the building at 823 Jackson Avenue, which is two blocks away, “flanked Hogan’s Alley”. Several interviewees in Marlatt and Itter [Opening Doors] discuss Hogan’s Alley as the general area without a precise definition and in particular Austin Philips says it “ended around Jackson Avenue – that’s when you were out of Hogan’s Alley.” Canada Post, in the notes accompanying an envelope depicting the building at 823 Jackson Avenue asserts that Hogan’s Alley was a “four block-long dirt lane” without citing a source; then they quote Dorothy Nealy from Opening Doors but she doesn’t define Hogan’s Alley in that interview, and even extending to Jackson would only be three blocks.

Thus it’s hard to know how the term was used at the time. It seems likely that Hogan’s Alley was mainly associated with the T-shaped lane in the block that was destroyed . The north-south portion of this lane, which extends from the block to the south through to the block to the north was referred to historically as “Park Lane“. As noted in previous posts, the term Hogan’s Alley likely originated as a reference to a fictional place from the The Yellow Kid comics by R. F. Outcault.

Malinda Thorne

Malinda Thorne was an extraordinary individual; a dedicated and compassionate person who devoted her life to helping others through preaching and social work. Pictured above from an article in the Vancouver Sun on September 26, 1970, she operated a shelter and soup kitchen in Vancouver known as “God’s Rescue Mission”. At the time of the article she was operating from a location on Powell Street in the downtown east side but had previously operated from 823 Jackson Avenue. God’s Rescue Mission sheltered 10-15 transients and homeless people per night and Rev. Thorne served food and held nightly gospel services.

Rev. Thorne was born in Chicago in 1923. Her father and two brothers were Methodist ministers so she grew up in a religious household. She became interested in ministry when she befriended destitute girls in her neighborhood and taught them to read and write using the Bible. Eventually she became an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Rev. Thorne says that the idea of God’s Rescue Mission came to her in a dream when she was conducting revival services in Spokane, Washington. She came to Vancouver in 1957 and initially worked at the First United Church under Rev. Russell Ross. According to the Sun article “in 1960 she opened [a mission] in an unused church at 823 Jackson” and “she has been at her present location at 381 Powell since 1967”

The building at 823 Jackson had been vacant since Rev. Ivan Moore left in 1956. The Vancouver Sun reports in July 1957 that “In mid-summer 1956, Rev. J. Ivan Moore left for United States. There was no successor to his pulpit, … When services ceased, the congregation scattered.” As noted previously, it had been evident since as early as the mid 1940s that the AME congregation had dispersed to the point that it was difficult to operate as a church. In December 1957 the Vancouver Sun reported that: “A church that has been closed for two years will open its doors again. … Preacher will be Rev. Melinda Thorne, Chicago.” [Rev. Thorne’s first name is sometimes spelled Melinda]

While the exact timing is not clear, it’s likely that during the period from 1958 to 1969 Rev. Thorne operated God’s Rescue Mission on and off out of 823 Jackson Avenue. The city directories, which are known to sometimes lag by a few years, lists the building as AME with no pastor from 1958 to 1963, vacant in 1964 and 1965, then AME Zion with Rev. Thorne as pastor from from 1966 to 1971. We know that some time in 1969 she had to move out of the building because Mac Elrod had approval from the head office of AME to take over services. [Rudder, 2004]