Fort St. John is the largest of the three congregations making up the North Peace Parish. Our worship time is 11:30 am. The 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month are Holy Communion. The 2nd and 4th Sundays are Morning Prayer. Our worship is taken out of the Book of Alternative Services on most Sundays. On the 5th Sunday of a month, the service is taken from the Book of Common Prayer.
Coffee and light snacks are available after our service. We hope you would come and join us!
The first thing Monica Storrs had to learn, when she came to the north Peace in 1929, was how to ride a horse western style. And learn she did, the hard way, taking spills, getting lost, and generally causing the local people around Fort St. John to wonder if this small blue-eyed English lady would ever stand the rigors of northern living. But her steely determination soon dispelled any doubts. Ostensibly she was to carry on the van mission work that began the year before. In fact Hasell notes in her book Canyons, Cans and Caravans that St. Andrew’s Van was left stored in Pouce Coupe “in readiness for her [Storrs] to start with her companion directly the roads open in the spring.” There’s no indication that Storrs ever used the van, probably because of the bad roads, but it was clear from the start that she would develop a ministry that was distinctly her own. After a year she was joined by first one and then two women workers from England, and their task, as she saw it, was to travel to every home they could find and to start Sunday schools, Scouts, and Guides, holding family services. They always travelled in twos, carrying bed rolls, but they slept and ate with families whenever they were asked.
Not long after her arrival in Fort St. John, Storrs secured land from a neighbour and built her first home, a 28 x 14 foot log structure that was added to by bits and pieces. The not-so-grand structure was immediately dubbed the Abbey and the name stuck. The Abbey was built on flat land near the breaks that fell away from the banks of the Peace River, and a little chapel, the Chapel of the Holy Cross, was built nearby. The year 1931 marked the beginning of permanent work in the parish. Not only had Storrs established a Sunday school that stretched as far as Hudson Hope, but she also provided free board and lodging for children who wanted to attend school in Fort St. John but were unable because of the distance involved. Twenty boys and 12 girls stayed at the Abbey, some as long as nine years. “But the real development of church life began,” Storrs wrote, “when Mr Wolfendale was ordained priest. Then our life was completed by the sacraments and by the bishop’s annual visits for confirmations.”
By this time the Fellowship of the West was committed to a five-year period of support in the Peace River area, and St. Martin’s Church was built, with the Rev George Wolfendale as its rector. In 1932 the parish was expanded when the Church of the Good Shepherd was built in Taylor by a homesteader in memory of four little daughters who drowned in the Peace River. After three years Wolfendale, described by Storrs as “eager, fearless, and entirely unselfish,” returned to Montreal. Later he served as chaplain to the Canadian forces in Italy. Reported missing in action, he never returned. Wolfendale was replaced by the Rev Nathan Noseworthy, a bluff Newfoundlander with a great sense of humour and a huge laugh, who disliked riding horses and got about in a buggy and a cutter. When the five-year period of work undertaken by the Fellowship of the West was completed, Rix asked them to continue support of the work on a year-to-year basis, until St. John’s Parish could support itself.
The Rev Russel Brown (later Bishop of Quebec) came to the Peace in 1936. He stayed for five years and designed two beautiful log churches—St. Matthias, Cecil Lake, supported by St. Matthias in Westmount, Quebec; and St. Peter’s at Hudson Hope. In 1940 Brown married Priscilla Oldacres one of Storrs’ fellow workers who was described by her as “a strikingly beautiful woman and very gifted. Nothing came amiss to her, singing, housekeeping, training a green horse, milking a stubborn cow, teaching a newborn horse to drink, handling boys and girls, nursing a sick cat or a fellow.” In 1940 Brown returned to Sherbrooke, Quebec where after 8 years Priscilla suddenly died.
During the 1930s the parish suffered its load of the Depression, and there seems no doubt that the sharing and caring of the church in England and eastern Canada helped many communities and individual homesteaders to survive. The Fellowship of the Maple Leaf which support Storrs, sent bales of warm clothing and contributed to the maintenance of the Abbey and its workers, and on one occasion provided farmers with seed grain when the crops failed. The Fellowship of the West also sent clothing to the parishioners of Fort St. John. Much of Storrs’ own financial resources too went to the settlers.
“Then quite suddenly,” Monica Storrs wrote, “in March of 1942, we woke up to find 10,000 U.S.A. army engineers had arrived to build the Alaska Highway and (with or without our permission) it was to go right across our parish! Not only that but soon after they began to construct four miles from St. John, a great bomber airport, the first of a chain to run westward parallel with the highway.” “The result of this, of course, was a new epoch for our little town and scattered struggling community. Now people of all occupations flowed in and new opportunities of making money too—with all its blessings and all its dangers.”
The Rev Selwyn Willis of Montreal was the priest during this transitory period and spent much of his time holding services in construction camps. The early 1950s saw the withdrawal of the Fellowship of the West and the return of Monica Storrs to England where she died on 14 December 1967. During the 50s and 60s a succession of incumbents stayed in Fort St. John while the parish and the country grappled with the post-war problems. “In my time,” wrote Duncan Cran, one of the parishes long-time residents and a deeply involved member of the church, “our worst tragedy is the drifting away, after confirmation, of so many of our young people. I have watched this with dismay, having known so many of them.”
In 1952 St. Martin’s suffered a serious fire, and although it was restored, it was moved in 1970 to the Old Fort Park, to make way for Fort St. John’s new shared church (Anglican and United), and was later burned by vandals. Soon after Storrs left for England, the land on which the Abbey stood was expropriated by British Columbia Hydro, and the buildings were again vandalized. What remained was restored and moved to Peace River Park near Taylor. The little Church of the Good Shepherd at Taylor and St. Matthias at Cecil Lake are still in use and lovingly cared for, as living links with the past.