A building in downtown Vernon that is often overlooked, yet holds an important piece of the town’s history is slated for demolition, and brings an opportunity to revisit the past.
The building at 3001 31 Ave., currently sits vacant, and was most recently home to the Vernon Flower Shop. However, this now derelict looking building with its orange roof and 1970s motif was once home to one of Vernon’s earliest churches, the Methodist Church, built in 1893.
In 1892, Vernon was incorporated as a city, with a population of about 400 people. Rev. Thomas Nevill was the first resident missionary of Vernon from 1892 to 1893, and would become the first minister of the Methodist Church. Neville would preach in Vernon in the morning and Kelowna in the evening. You can imagine the time involved travelling the distance between Vernon and Kelowna, 35 miles over a narrow and bumpy road by horse and buggy. During this time, construction had begun on the new Methodist Church.
During the building of the church, a serious accident took place in which several workers escaped serious injury. The Vernon News reported that, “They were working on a scaffold which suddenly gave way and precipitated them to the bottom, a distance of about 10 feet(…)Mr. Wintemute had a toe dislocated, Mr. Harris’ ankle and leg was pretty badly bruised and Mr. Cryderman escaped with the exception of a general shaking up. They were assisted home in Wright &Lawrence’s sleigh, and Dr. Beckingsale was sent for.”
This quote shows the community effort in building a church in Vernon in 1892.
The official opening of the Methodist Church took place May 21, 1893 with Rev. Carman, general superintendent of the Methodist Church officiating. Up until that time, the congregation had made use of the Presbyterian Church.
Neville was reverend of the church until he was succeeded by Rev. J. A. Wood from 1893 to 1895.
Wood was one of the busiest ministers in the country. In his diary, which he kept from 1888, he reports: “trained Sunday school children for the Christmas concert, fixed Mrs. Shaw’s finger, put up the new range in the manse kitchen, visited the Ladies’ Aid, sowed oats, went to Conference in Victoria, got the horse shod, attended fruit growers meeting, officiated as the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Sweeten at Tappen, built a woodshed, went to Enderby where he assisted Dr. Ernest Hall with several operations, went to Kamloops to attend meetings of the Mission Boards.”
His diary entries show that the life of an early reverend in Vernon involved much more than preaching on Sunday morning, but truly meant being a pillar of the community.
Over the years, the church saw changes and additions to the building. In 1900, a parsonage was built and occupied by Rev. J.P. Westman. In 1902, there was discussion of installing electric lights in the church. An extension of the church building at the south end was completed in 1906. An entry with storm proof doors and a gallery were added at a cost of $600.00.
Dr. Osterhout was reverend at the church from 1907 to 1910. Osterhout had a very successful pastorate and the church flourished at this time. His kindly disposition and his keen sense of humour enriched the relationship between minister and congregation members. Attendance at Sunday services reached an all time high.
The war years were a difficult time for the Methodist Church. Citizens turned to the church for consolation during this time of deep distress. The Methodist Church was proud of its youth who chose to serve their country with honour. Their names are inscribed in bronze on a beautiful memorial plaque at Trinity United Church.
On April 12, 1923 the Vernon News reports, “Vernon churches discussing union. Church union may soon be a reality in Vernon.” Union of Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational Churches became effective throughout Canada in 1925, and the Vernon Methodist Church voted to change its name to Central United Church in the same year.
For 40 years, the Vernon Methodist Church was home to the Vernon Flower Shop. As the time draws near for this tired and worn building to be torn down, take a moment next time you are driving by to stop and think of the wonderful history and contribution this building had made to Vernon.
Nancy Josland Dalsin is a resident of Vernon.