Tales & Legends of the Mountain Kingdom: The Red Roof Church
We actually have three iconic buildings in Rossland, and while I was writing about the courthouse and Bank of Montreal building, I was thinking the whole time about the other building that we see in all kinds of postcards and local artwork: the red roofed church on First Avenue.
This is a pretty cool church, if I do say so myself, and in my travels, I have never seen another one like it. Every town with an epic mountain backdrop needs a similarly epic spired church to complete the fairytale-like look and feel of the town. Just look at Europe! But what’s interesting about the Red Roof Church is not only its uniqueness as a piece of colourful architecture, but it also has a history of multi-purpose use, community meeting space, and interfaith co-operation.
As Rossland became a growing, lively place to be in 1895, the influx of people – rough and tumble though they were – brought the need to establish houses of religion. The first church services in Rossland were actually not held in a church at all, but rather in a room in a butcher’s shop on Spokane Street that wasn’t even finished yet. The first service was held on May 26, 1895 and was led by a Presbyterian, Hugh J. Robertson.
As the Presbyterian parish grew, they needed a dedicated building, so one was constructed on the Nickel Plate Flat. But not to be outdone, the Methodists also started a church that year, led by Rev. D.D. Birks.
The current incarnation of the Red Roof Church was complete by 1910 and remained a Presbyterian church until, in 1917, the parish of St. Andrew’s and the Methodist parish formed a partnership wherein the two faiths shared the space for their services. The building retained the name St. Andrew’s Church, and by 1925 the church fell under the aegis of the United Church of Canada, and it’s reverends were all of the United Church. The Methodist parish had discontinued use of the building by this time.
But there was another church in town, an often ramshackle affair on Columbia Avenue near the courthouse: St. George’s Anglican Church. The Anglican church bought the land in 1900 after Father Pat had been leading Anglican services in the Opera House for about two years. Unfortunately, this building was never fated to be a fixture in town. It had never been built on a proper foundation and by 1908 it was near collapse, so that year a reconstruction took place. But again, by 1929 it was nearly falling into the street. In 1931, the parish and Anglican church endeavoured to restore the church and finally put it on a proper foundation. The restored church was quite a site, but alas, it was not meant to be: in 1969, it burnt to the ground. It was 59 years old.
The fire led to some big decisions on the part of the parish of St. George’s, but interfaith co-operation saved the day: the United Church parish of St. Andrew’s agreed to lease out its building to the Anglican parish of St. George’s on the basis that the two faiths share the space. This deal was maintained until 1982 when the Anglican parish became too small and was likely unable to afford to renew the lease, choosing instead to combine with the Anglican parish of St. George’s in Trail.
I grew up in the Anglican parish of first St. George’s in Rossland and then the joint parish that formed after, so I have many fond childhood memories of the Red Roof Church. I was baptized there, as were both of my brothers, I went to Sunday school there, and I remember weddings and other events there. The red theme continued on the interior, with red carpeting and colourful stained glass. I even got to ring the bell as a child and what a thrill that was!
But as I said, the Red Roof Church was also a community gathering space that was used for a lot of different things. I attended Brownies there. I seem to recall that I attended the odd Rossland Rec activity there. And the parish hall was utilized very well as a pre-school playgroup I attended before kindergarten. This I remember very well and even have lots of photos of kids I still know to this day doing crafts and having Santa visits and storytimes there. More recently, it’s still used for mom/dad and tot groups, and the Rossland Radio Co-op even had its digs there temporarily a few years back before moving to their current space.
The Red Roof Church is a place I have a lot of fondness for. I played in its grounds as a child, I got my Religion in Life Brownie badge there during a church service one year, and I remember the church as a place where my roots in the community really began. It was always more than a place of worship; it was, for my early years, the centre of my world. For me, that’s what makes it iconic, that’s what makes it epic.
But the building itself, I think, epitomizes the tenacity of the community and its members, and exemplifies the spirit of co-operation and neighbourliness that binds a community together.
(Photo credit: http://www.rossland.ca/st-andrews-united-church-c-1907)