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St Ann's Catholic Church on the Semiahmoo reserve: its Church history revealed.

St. Anns and the Semiahmoo Foot bridge

St Ann's on the Semiahmoo Reserve south of the foot bridge over the Little Campbell River at 160 th Street.


The earliest missionaries to the Lower Mainland of British Columbia were surprised that the Indians could make the sign of the Cross and also knew a few simple hymns. In the summer of 1841, Father Demers visited Fort Langley. He baptized 765 persons along the Fraser of which 350 appear to have been in the vicinity of Fort Langley.


The first visit by an Anglican clergy to these parts of BC was by the Rev. H. Beaver in 1836.


Work was begun by the Methodist missionaries in BC in 1859.


Contact with the Semiahmoo People occurred probably in the 1850s. Change to the spiritual life of the Semiahmoo Indians followed visits by the Oblate missionary priests who instructed them in the Catholic faith. It is written that in 1849 there were 300 Semiahmoo. In the passing years; wars (resulting from marauding tribes), and sickness (smallpox) had reduced the bands numbers to about 100.


Printed in the Oblate Quarterly (founded in 1862), a report written by Fr. (later Bishop) Louis D'Herbonez, dated Feb. 15, 1861, states that the Semiah–moos had already built their chapel in preparation of the missionary's visit.


This must have been a small temporary chapel as it does not appear on the 1879 Sketch of the Semiahmoo Village, drawn by GM Sproat, then Indian Commissioner.


Sketch of Semiahmoo Village, 1879

Semiahmoo houses, gardens, and grave yard are shown as part of the 1879 survey.


The first St. Ann's must have been built sometime after the 1879 survey.


The first St. Ann's Catholic Church

The first St. Ann's Catholic Church


The first St. Ann's Catholic Church was located originally on what is now known as Beach Ave., overlooking the bay on the Semiahmoo Indian Reserve. Nothing remains of this early 'house of worship' so learning the whereabouts of a photo of it was really very gratifying.


At first there was some doubt as to the true identity of the building in the photo but when compared with the White Rock's Museum's drawn-from-memory sketch by the late Harold Henry, the uncertainty vanished. As a boy living in White Rock's east end where his father worked for the then flourishing Campbell River Lumber Co. mill, Harold had played around the church. That was in the 1920's and at the time the building was already somewhat dilapidated. But his memory of the architectural details served him well when asked to do a drawing of it.


The Semiahmoo People were known to be peace-loving and of good character they happily participated in their conversion to Christianity. Not only did they build their own church but they undertook to provide food, lodging and the means of transportation for the missionaries who visited their village. The first St Ann's was built on the land presently occupied by the IOOF camp on Beach Road.


The band became even smaller over the years and in 1936, with their aging church in disrepair, a second Ann's (more suitable in size) was erected on a picturesque site further west on Beach Road, just south of the foot bridge across the Campbell River at Stayte Rd.


The second St. Ann's Catholic Church

Some of the lumber as well as the interior furnishings from the old building were utilized in establishing the new one. For years, even as the Semiahmoo continued to decrease in numbers, the Oblate missionaries came to St. Ann's twice a month. Finally, because so few Catholics remained the visits were discontinued.


In 1978, no longer in use for religious services, the contents of St. Ann's were moved into the White Rock Museum where they form a replica of the historic church's interior. The building was then converted into a school providing special instruction for Semiahmoo children. For sometime now, the vacated building has been used for storage. Its further use is in the future but whatever is in store for it, St. Ann's church on the Semiahmoo Indian Reserve will always be a significant part of our local heritage.


Sources

The Peace Arch News, Wednesday, April 9, 1986. Along the Way by Margaret Lang Hastings
Land of the Peace Arch. John Pearson, Surrey Centennial Committee, Cloverdale, BC 1979
Surrey Story. G. Fern Treleaven, Surrey Historical Society, Revised Edition 1992
The Semiahmoo Trail: Myths Makers Memories. Ron Dowle, Surrey Historical Society, 2009



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