Building the First Church

by Aage Pedersen, 1962

In the years before breaking the ground for our church, many talked about building a Danish church in Vancouver, and when thinking about those times, many come to mind who should be mentioned. Listing all would be impossible, and some would easily be forgotten, but one must be mentioned: our old supporter of everything Danish and everything associated with Denmark, Professor Carl Brink Christensen who had lived for many years at Cape Scott on Vancouver Island. His great diligence and burning desire for a real Danish church led to the purchase of a lot.

The lot had to remain empty for some years, but when Pastor Clemens Sørensen came to town our confidence in the possibility of our own church grew. We had a lot and about $150. Some paper bricks were printed and sold rasing about $100; Pastor Sørensen wrote to individuals, papers and magazines in Denmark and to all the Danes in British Columbia he could find: all had to help build the church in Vancouver. With that the few Danes had the courage to begin building a church.

Breaking the Ground
Breaking the ground, December 31st, 1936. In the front: Pastor Clemens Sørensen (left) and Professor C.B. Christensen (right).

A small group of people gathered on the last day of the year 1936 at the corner of 19th Avenue and Prince Albert Street (then Burns Street) to participate in breaking the ground for our church. Professor Carl Brink Christensen broke the ground first; it was an important day for him and all Danes in Vancouver.

On the first working day of the new year some workers with a team of horses began excavating the basement. The weather was fine, and after a few days the basement was done despite trouble keeping the water out. Eventually drain pipes were put in, and working in the hole became easier.

The molds for the foundation were quickly put in, and everybody showed great interest in helping, so we could soon begin pouring in the concrete. But suddenly the weather changed: we had snow and frost, so all work had to wait for better weather. The day came, and the foundation was completed in one long and strenuous day that ended only after sunset.

Sixteen men carrying a wooden beam It was a hard time with many unemployed who lacked everything. It was therefore decided that all unemployed who helped should have one dollar per day. I used to go to the bank to get $150 in one-dollar notes (a large roll), but soon we had spent our entire capital. Fortunately Consul Jessen offered to lend us money so that we could continue paying the unemployed who some days numbered 25 (though it wasn’t the same every day). If we were short of men, Pastor Clemens Sørensen would drive around in his old Ford seeking out unemployed men and persuading them to help build the church.

The ladies were involved too. They served warm soup to the men in a little shed on what is now the parking lot; they made many, many cups of coffee; they made cake at home and served it with the coffee in the shed. Everything helped to strengthen the already strong eagerness to work; many became so absorbed in the church work that they forgot to seek employment.

Raising the Rooftree The day for raising the rooftree came quickly. It was snowing and the snow fell between the rafters, but high over the church the Danish flag was flying; it was a solemn event with a speech by Professor Carl Brink Christensen. The next day we gathered in the Norwegian church (now Hope Reformed Church) and shared our joyous expectation of a Danish church.

As the work progressed it went the other way with our old friend Carl Brink Christensen. On the 8th of May his coffin was carried from the church. Yes, that was the first Divine Service in our as yet unfinished church, but Carl Brink Christensen died knowing that his and Pastor Clemens Sørensen’s hope of a Danish church was becoming a reality.

It is worth mentioning that all the work was done by hand; we had no machines. When we sit in church looking at the arches, you shall know that they were cut with a Danish handsaw; we did not have anything as fancifully as a band saw. Much sweat flowed before everything had been cut from raw planks. I remember a carpenter who stood by the saw day after day while others were up in the scaffolding nailing up the arches. Then came other tasks: wires, pipes, plaster work; and again there were men who were willing to help.

Sct. Ansgar Church, 1960(?), seen from the west Now everybody could see how beautiful the church was with its white walls and red tile roof. When the day for the consecration came, all Danes gathered in a church that actually wasn’t quite finished yet. Some cheap kitchen chairs had been bought, a large box covered in white paper made do for an altar, and a preliminary pulpit had been put together. That was all we had inside the outwardly finished church.

After the consecration the work on the church rested for a while. We could use the church even if it lacked furniture. The following winter the unemployed men began again, and we received many gifts from Denmark and many Danish homes in Canada.

Do not despise the days of small things!
It will succeed as Scripture says:
Our gracious Lord, the God of all things,
the feeble hands of men will bless.
Who the foundation humbly laid
shall see the house for which they prayed.
©2000 by Mogens Lemvig Hansen.

The longing to have our church consecrated on August 15th, 1937, was great but when we think back to the services in the unfinished church, we think of Grundtvig’s hymn Do not despise the days of small things, a hymn we learned to love in those days.

View of Vancouver in the 1940'ies
A view of a Danish village church on the unusual backdrop of mountains. To the right you can see the Norwegian church (now Hope Reformed Church).