UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Upon Thy holy hill : a history geography of the early vernacular church architecture of the southern interior of British Columbia Sommer, Warren Frederick


This thesis is an examination of the early vernacular church architecture of the southern interior of British Columbia. The thesis addresses several main tasks, examining the location, form, origins, and intrinsic meaning of early rural churches. After an introductory statement discussing purpose, theoretical foundations, and methods, the study identifies the agents of organised religion in early British Columbia, examining their backgrounds, beliefs, aims, and achievements. This initial section concludes by discussing the geography of denominational strengths that emerged in British Columbia as aresult of inteer-denominational rivalries. The thesis then considers the theme of church construction. Dates and places of church construction are identified and regional and temporal patterns are explained as functions of denominational geographies of strength, as well as of the the province's history of settlement and economic development. This section illustrates the province's transmogrification in the 1890's from a realm primarily of Indian churches to one in which European churches predominated. The next section of the thesis describes and classifies the visual characteristics of the southern interior's churches; temporally and regionally and according to denomination. Subsequent chapters identify the ideological, techno logical, and stylistic forces that diffused from Europe and eastern Canada to mould the early churches of British Columbia. Concern focuses on the issue on innovation and tradi-tion in the frontier setting. The thesis concludes with a discussion of church and society in the pioneer province. The chapter includes an assessment of the role played by organised religion in the lives of early British Columbians. It discusses the image of the church (both as building and as institution) and concludes by comparing, events in British Columbia with those of the wider world. The study suggests that the early churches of the southern interior were among the province's most conservative buildings. The churches of the area were generally built according to the liturgical and artistic traditions of Europe and eastern Canada. Evangelicalism, Tractarian-ism, the Catholic Revival, and neo-Mediaevalism largely influenced their form. With few exceptions, pioneer churches responded only slightly to the altered conditions of frontier life. For the most part, early settlers longed to recreate the church architecture and religious life they had known in their homelands. In frontier British Columbia, building dimensions might be reduced, floor-plans might be simplified, superfluous embellishments might be discarded, and unessen-tial furnishings might be temporarily discarded, but builders generally strove to retain as much architectural authenticity as conditions permitted. At the same time, however, the province's builders were quick to master the technological innovations of the North American frontier. Churches were built not with the pre-industrial log and stone technologies of Europe and eastern Canada, but with industrially-produced materials and modern technologies. Although much of the southern interior long remained wilderness, it must be borne in mind that the area was settled during an industrialising age. Most of the province's lumber and other building materials were mass-produced in factories and mills (though craft was not entirely dormant). Further, though British Columbia was a distant and not altogether significant component of a far-flung empire, she was at no time severed from the influences of the wider world. Efficient transportation and communication systems facilitated the flow of goods and ideas from San Francisco, Montreal, London, and Paris. Although the role, dogmas, and stature of organised religion and the form and arrangement of churches remained traditional, the technology through which churches were built and furnished was very often fully modern.

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