The Other Mellish Church

In 1910 Frederick Mellish designed two churches in Vancouver, the one at 823 Jackson Avenue being the second one (in November 1910). Earlier that year Mellish designed the building at 1656 Semlin Drive (pictured, originally the Saint Savior’s Church, now the Vancouver Mandarin Church), which is not far away on 1st Avenue just east of Commercial Drive.

The similarities between the two churches are obvious. They share the same roof pitch, the half timbering design of the upper gable, the shape and detailing of the dormers as well as the knee braces (including crosses on the end of some of them).  The knee braces (aka “eave brackets”) are an interesting detail.  Knee braces on overhanging eaves were made popular with the Art and Crafts style of architecture around 1910. While ostensibly functional to add support to a roof structure, many knee braces are considered embellishments and are merely decorative.  Mellish used this aspect of the Arts and Crafts style by adding knee braces to the gables (four on the main gables and two on the smaller gables), but he chose not to put a knee brace at the peak of the gable (as is common in many Craftsman style homes with low pitch roofs).  This serves to reinforce the clean look of the roof peak.  The building at 823 Jackson Avenue has been referred to as an Arts and Crafts institutional building and other aspects of Arts and Crafts that can be seen in the building are the use of eaves with exposed rafters, the use of dormers (in this case as attic vents) and the half-timbering design around the louvered attic vent on the main gable.

Before he moved to Vancouver Mellish was a renowned architect in Galt, Ontario (now part of Cambridge, Ontario in the Waterloo Region) and he designed and supervised the construction of an impressive number of buildings in the Galt region between 1890 and 1908.  Mellish is mentioned in the Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, the Region of Waterloo Generations List, the City of Cambridge Hall of Fame and in Luxton’s “Building the West, Early Architects of British Columbia”.  The list of Mellish’s buildings includes the Galt Hospital (1891), the Gore Mutual Insurance Company Head Office at Main and Ainslie (1895); the two-storey section of the Galt Market Building (1896); the Galt Fire Hall (1898); and the Galt Carnegie Library (1905).  In addition he was responsible for a number of other commercial blocks in Preston and other towns in the area as well as a number of private residences.

Mellish was born in Galt on April 11, 1860, the first of the six children of Robert F. and Louisa Mellish.  Mellish received his early education in private schools and at the Galt Collegiate Institute.  He first trained as a carpenter and a builder with a view to eventually becoming an architect.  He registered with the Ontario Association of Architects on March 21, 1891 at the age of 30, but he was active in the profession prior to that date.

In 1908 Mr. Mellish moved to Vancouver where he worked as an architect and contractor from 1909 to about 1920, mainly as a designer of houses during the real estate boom of 1912-1913.  Upon retirement, he continued to reside in Vancouver and, in 1919, built a Craftsman style house for himself and his family (Mellish House at 2325 East 1st Avenue).  Frederick Mellish died in Vancouver on April 15, 1928 at the age of 68.

Hakka Lutherans

The Hakka are a distinct ethnic sub-group of Chinese people and Hakka is also a distinct language.  The Hakkas originated from Northern China and in a series of migrations, they moved and settled in their present areas in Southern China, and from there, substantial numbers migrated to various countries throughout the world. With nomadic origins, the Hakkas are not named after a geographical region, but modern day Hakkas are generally identified with people who either speak the Hakka language or share Hakka ancestry.  While the Vancouver Hakka community was estimated as less than 100 in 1970 (Wilmott, BC Studies, 1970), there was significant immigration growth in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1982 a group of Hakka Lutherans had a vision of starting a Hakka church in Vancouver and thus created the Basel Hakka Lutheran Church (BHLC). According to the BHLC web site, the first meeting was held at the basement of Brother Stephen Chong‘s residence and the BHLC subsequently used the First Lutheran Church for Sunday services. After three years, in 1985, the BHLC was able to acquire their own building and moved into 823 Jackson Avenue (pictured shortly after purchase in 1985).  The congregation grew very quickly during the immigration rush from 1985-1995.  Initial services were conducted only in the Hakka language, but seeing the increasing number of young people, who primarily speak only English, the church started the English service in 1992.

The BHLC made a number of changes to the property at 823 Jackson Avenue during the time they owned it. Shortly after purchasing the building, the BHLC installed two white crosses, one on the south side of the building and one on the east side, and replaced the altar windows.  In 1987 the south half of the property was asphalted for use as a parking lot. Sometime between 1988 and 1994 the upstairs windows were replaced and in 1995 the roof was replaced with a red metal roof (from the  previous black shingles).

In 2000, due to the growth of its activities, BHLC decided to expand its church building and formed a building expansion committee. In 2007 sufficient money was raised to purchase the building at 2575 Nanaimo Street in Vancouver. On October 26, 2008, 823 Jackson Avenue was officially decommissioned by the BHLC in a ceremony that included members of the Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project, and the property was sold as a private residence.

Annie Girard

Annie Girard became responsible for the building at 823 Jackson Avenue in 1969 based on the decision of the Presiding Elder of the Afican Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Seattle. With that decision, the presence of the AME in Vancouver effectively ended, although the title transfer was not finalized until 1974.

Girard (pictured above in front of 823 Jackson Avenue) was born Annie Lluella Barry in 1922 in Stonybrook Alberta. She grew up on a farm with her three siblings and 10 half-siblings. In 1936 she moved to Kelowna and lived there for two years before moving to Vancouver in 1938 at the age of 16. Girard’s first husband was Herman Cecil Walker and they had three children; she was known as Annie Walker when she first took over the building.

Girard describes in an interview from 1977 (Opening Doors unpublished interview, Marlatt and Itter) 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.” It wasn’t easy but she worked hard to make this a reality. She worked at cleaning up the church, started preaching in her own non-denominational worship services at the church and eventually was able to purchase the property.

Girard established a ministry in the name of the “Cry in the Wilderness Church”, which is how the listing of 823 Jackson Avenue appears on city directories from 1975 to 1985, although she still referred to the building as the Fountain Chapel during this time. Ms. Girard hosted people associated with the Jesus Movement at the Fountain Chapel for a period of time in the early 1970s and eventually broke with them, while continuing her own sanctuary for youth. She recounts in her 1977 interview how she would drive her red station wagon to Jericho Beach and talk to young people and offer them a place to stay at the church.

Girard’s third husband was Pierre Girard, and they established a landscaping business in the church, “P.G.’s Pruning and Gardening Co. Ltd.,” and for many years Annie and Pierre operated the business together.  Girard was injured in an accident and could no longer work in the landscaping business. Pierre subsequently returned to Montreal and without a source of income Ms. Girard was forced to give up the church in 1985. Annie Girard died in 2007 and is buried in Abbostford, BC.

Mac Elrod

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.

Fountain Chapel Beginnings

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.

Frederick Mellish

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.