The building at 823 Jackson Avenue in Vancouver, British Columbia has an interesting and diverse history. It was built as a church and has gone through a variety of different types of uses from when it was built around 1910 until it was decommissioned in 2008. Today it is a private residence. This blog explores the fascinating history of 823 Jackson Avenue.
Norwegian Lutheran Church
The north half of the property originally housed a smaller church built around 1893 that was used as a church by the Scandinavian Lutherans (Swedish and Norwegian). Around 1905 the Swedish and Norwegian congregations split, with the Swedish congregation moving elsewhere, and the present building was built in 1910 by architect Federick Mellish and housed the Norwegian Lutheran Church. Mr. Mellish was a well-known local architect who was born in Ontario and moved to Vancouver in 1908 and designed a built a number of local homes, churches and warehouses.
African Methodist Episcopal Church
Around 1921 the building was purchased to start a local congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, co-founded by Nora Hendrix, and was referred to as the Fountain Chapel. The AME Church was founded in Philadelphia in 1816 and as there was no Canadian chapter the Fountain Chapel was administered by a chapter in Seattle. The Fountain Chapel thrived and was an active congregation for many years, becoming a focal point for the black community that was once concentrated in the neighborhood. The AME Church sent a number of pastors to preside over the congregation throughout the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. By the mid-40’s however the congregation was dwindling and by the late 50’s to early 60’s the building was little used and mostly vacant.
In 1969 the AME Church sent J. McRee (Mac) Elrod in a final attempt to restart the congregation. Mac Elrod was an ordained AME minister (later becoming a Unitarian minister) and after moving to Vancouver became an instrumental figure in the Vancouver Committee to Aid American War Objectors (“the Committee”) and helped numerous draft dodgers from the United States get oriented and navigate the immigration system in Canada. Mr. Elrod’s attempt to restart the AME congregation failed, partially because by then there were few members and they had dispersed throughout Vancouver and were involved with other churches.
During the time Mr. Elrod was conducting services, he agreed to share the use of the building with Annie Girard, who had started her own non-denominational worship services. In 1969 the AME church decided to sell the building to Ms. Girard as she had an active and growing congregation. Ms. Girard (nee Barry) was born in Sunnybrook, Alberta and had moved to Vancouver and experienced a profound calling to establish a church. She established her ministry as the “Cry in the Wilderness Church” and at times operated the building as a sort of sanctuary for lost youth. In 1977 Ms. Girard purchased the south half of the lot, which was owned by the City of Vancouver, and joined the property into the double lot that it is today.
Basel Hakka Lutheran Church
In 1985 the building was sold to the Basel Hakka Lutheran Congregation, which was started by the Chinese Hakka community and whose first pastor was Yuk Kiong Chong. The Basel Hakka Church was very successful as the Hakka community in Vancouver grew in the 80’s and 90’s. The Basel Hakka Church moved to a new building in 2006 and still exists today. In 2008 the building was decommissioned as the Basel Hakka Church.
In 2011 the property at 823 Jackson Avenue was purchased by Stephen Melvin and Torrie Groening. Torrie Groening is an artist and photographer who works with drawing, painting and printmaking. Stephen Melvin is an electrical engineer who consults on issues related to intellectual property. Stephen Melvin and Torrie Groening live in the ground floor caretaker residence of the building.