The Church and Religious Life

This section contains information about the church which has traditionally been a focal point of the North American Black community.  It was the expressed desire of the first Blacks who came to B.C. not to establish a Black church but to worship with the total community in already established churches.  This idea was not supported by all members of early Victoria’s church-going community and attempts were made to segregate Blacks in “Negro corners” in the church.  These attempts eventually failed adn for the most part Blacks and whites worshiped together in B.C.  A noted exception to this was the founding of the predominately Black African Methodist Episcopal Church in Vancouver in 1908.  Information about the religious life of Blacks, as a group as well as individually is also contained in this section.



Books and Articles

Fonerm, P. The Coloured Inhabitants of Vancouver Island.  op.cit. , pp. 29-33.

In this article, a Black American visiting Vancouver Island before 1864, noted that although the churches were integrated, it had been necessary for leading Blacks to fight to keep the churches free from segregation.  In the visitor’s opinion, this integration had been “grudgingly and unwillingly awarded”.

Hill, Douglas.  The Opening of the Canadian West.  Don Mills, Ontario: Longman Canada Ltd., 1973.  pp. 109-111. (PA)

Hill presents this short interpretation of the segregation issue and quotes the opinions of Reverend Clarke and Macfie.

Hills, George.  An Occasional Paper of the Columbia Mission.  op.cit. , p. 13.

George Hills was the Church of England Bishop of British Columbia from 1859 – 1872.  During a visit to Victoria he became aware of the controversy over seating in the Congregational Church.  Hills states that Macfie favoured the “unchristian narrowness” of those who desired segregated seating for Blacks.  Hills makes it clear by his remarks that he did not believe in segregated seating and that he supported Rev. Clarke who, “Nobly upheld the Christian and English sentiment.”

Kilian, C.  Go Do Some Great Thing.  op.cit. , 1st edition pp.53-60.

Kilian provides some details of the seating controversy in Cridge’s Church of England and the Congressional Church of Macfie and Clarke.  Kilian suggests that Clarke and his mission had been singled out as a political target, probably because of his anti-slavery reputation, for the Episcopalians and Methodists – who also integrated Black and white worshipers – had no trouble over the issue.

Macfie, M.  Vancouver Island and British Columbia.  op.cit. , pp.388-391.

Rev. Macfie, a Congregational minister, presents his views on the issue of Church segregation.  He notes that Blacks “were permitted on coming to Vancouver Island fee range of unoccupied pews in the only church then erected”.  He reports that “the worthy parson”, referring to Rev. Cridge) “took only the philanthroipic and religious ground” in dealing with the controversy which arose and gave a sermon on the equality of the races and said there was no segregated seating in his church.  In referring to the same kind of controversy which occurred in the Congregational Church, Macfie states that “a zealous Nonconformist fresh from the anti-slavery ‘platform’ of Canada (referring to Rev. Clarke) hastened to espouse the cause of the African” and announced that there would be no segregated seating in his church.  According to Macfie the Blacks soon outnumbered the whites in Clarke’s church so they “gradually withdrew to the fashionable church where they could enjoy the satisfaction of mingling more largely with the superior race”.  Macfie ws of the opinion that much of the controversy could have been avoided by “more prudent reticence” and “expedient neutrality of the part of the clergy”.

Reid, Patricia H.  Segregation in British Columbia.  The Committee on Archives of the United Church of Canada.  The Bulletin.  Number 16, 1960 – 1963, pp. 1-15. (PA)

Reid used correspondence reprinted in the Canada Independent Magazine as a primary source, gives a very detailed account of the issue of segregated seating in the Congregational Church.  In 1858, Rev. William Clarke was sent to Victoria by the Colonial Missionary Society (the North American extension of the English Congregational Union).  Clarke held services and was approached about establishing a “negro corner” in his church.  Clarke found the Blacks “respectable and intelligent” had no intention doing so.  Then Rev. Matthew Macfie, another Congregational minister, arrived but he did not co-operate with Clarke “as the Society had planned and expected him to do”.  Macfie conducted separate services and supported the idea of segregated seating.  The number of whites attending Clarke’s church decreased and Blacks would not attend Macfie’s services.  Both ministers received contradictory and ambivalent support from the Colonial Missionary Society.  Clarke eventually resigned from the Society and left Victoria.  It was not until after Clarke had left that the Colonial Missionary Society passed a resolution of “freedom of access secured to every part of the building to all persons, without distinction of colour”.  Later Macfie was recalled because of the financial difficulties of the Missionary Society.

Smith, D.B. Lady Franklin Visits the Pacific Northwest.  op. cit. , pp, 10, 22, 26-28, 32.

In this work, Sophia Cracroft, in her diary notes the existence of the controversy over integrated seating in the church.  When she and her aunt, Lady Franklin attended a service at Christchurch (Cridge’s Church of England), they were “struck by the large proportion of coloured people”.  When Lady Franklin was visited by several members of the Black community, Captain Johnson, of the all Black Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps, is reported to have stated that the Blacks may have left Victoria en masse if it had not been for the support of Bishop Hills and his clergy.

Wild, Roland.  Amor de Cosmos.  op. cit. , p. 99.

This is a very brief account of Reverend Macfie’s opinions concerning the issue of church segregation.  At a public meeting Blacks were of the opinion that “no one shall allow his family to go to Mr. Macfie’s church to be put in the niggers’ corner”.

Winks, R.  The Blacks in Canada.  op. cit. , pp. 280-282.

Using Reid’s work, Segregation in British Columbia, as a primary source, Winks gives an account of the issue of segregated seating in the Congregational Church.

The existence of controversy surrounding integrated seating in churches is very briefly mentioned in the following works:

Akrigg, G.V.P. & H.B. British Columbia Chronicle 1847-1871: Gold and Colonists Vancouver op. cit. , p. 108

Begg, Alexander, History of British Columbia.  op. cit. , p, 285.

Brown, Rosemary.  The Negroes.  op. cit. , p. 102

Fawcett, Edgar. Some Reminiscences of Old Victoria. op. cit. , p. 218.

Higgins, D.W. The Passing of a Race.  op. cit. , p. 176.

Mayne, Richard. Four Years in B.C. and Vancouver Island.   op. cit. , p. 351.


Cridge, Diary, May 6, 1858. (PA)

Rev. Cridge writes that the Blacks “did not intend to establish a distinct Church organization at Victoria but join some Church already in existence here”.  Cridge invited them to attend his church.

Pilton, James W. Negro Settlement in British Columbia 1858 – 1871.  op. cit. , pp. 40, 178-181.

Pilton gives a brief account of the controversy surrounding integrated seating in Cridge’s Church and describes the dispute between the Congregationalists, Rev. Clarke and Rev. Macfie.

Walden, Frederick E. The Social History of Victoria, British Columbia 1858 – 1871. op. cit. , pp. 22-24.

Walden states that the Church was a point of “contact and conflict”.  He briefly describes the fate of a “parson from Eastern Canada” who insisted on an integrated church and found his congregation split.  The number of whites decreased and the Blacks made up two-thirds of the congregation but since they didn’t want to be segregated they returned to the Church of England, “leaving the devoted friend of the negro faced with a church emptied of both Black and white”.


Colonist, October 21, 1859. “Religious Feud”.

The article describes the breech between the two Congregational Missionary Society ministers over the issue of seating in the church.  Reverend Clarke did not want segregation seating while Reverend Macfie favoured a “negro’s corner” in his church.

Colonist, January 11, 1861. “The Negro Corner in England”.

This article discusses the resolution of the disagreement between Rev. Clarke and Rev. Macfie over integrated seating in the church.  The Colonial Missionary Society ruled that there be “freedom of access to every part of the church to all persons”.

Colonist, September 30, 1861. “The Negro Question – Sewing Circles and Churches”.

In this letter to the editor, the writer, signed “Episcopalian”, suggested that the “social equality” for the Blacks was only tolerated on the surface of for some gain on the part of the whites. “Episcopalian” pointed out that Blacks did not attend the church’s Sewing Circle and often sat in the back pews.  The writer felt that “Social equality” should include social integration.

Colonist, January 11, 1861. “The Negro Corner in England”.

This article discusses the resolution of the disagreement between Rev. Clarke and Rev. Macfie over integrated seating in the church.  The Colonial Missionary Society ruled that there be “freedom of access to every part of the church to all persons”.

Colonist, October 3, 1861. “Hypocrisy in the Church”.

An account concerning the issue of seating at St. John’s Church is given by a writer signing himself or herself “An Occasional Worshiper”.

Colonist, October 5, 1861. “Reply to An Occasional Worshiper”.

Mr. R. J. Dundas (Rector) responds to the letter signed “An Occasional Worshiper”.

Gazette, August 24, 1858. “An Ernest Appeal”.

“Henry Sharpstone” wrote this letter to Reverend Cridge requesting him to provide separate seating for the Blacks attending Cridge’s (the only) church since the writer and other Americans found integrated seating “repugnant”.  “Sharpstone” felt that as long as they had black skin, the Blacks would never be equal to whites.

Gazette August 25, 1858. “An Answer to an Ernest Appeal”.

“M.W.G. alias Blackstone” wrote a lengthy rebuttal to “Sharpstone’s” letter.  Following the letter an editor’s note stated that both parties had had their say and the matter must close, since “our space is not so extended as to permit giving much of it to questions of slight importance and minor interest”.

Gazette August 25, 1858. “Letter from Rev. Cridge”.

In his letter to the editor, Cridge stated that he had no intention of pursuing the subject of the social relationship between Blacks and whites.  He preferred to devote his energy to building a stronger church.

Gazette November 10, 1859. “Colorphobia in Churches”.

This is a letter to the editor from W.F. Clarke giving his opinions about the church controversy.  He states, “if the white race is superior, as they claim, they should show their superiority by helping the inferior race share their progress”.


Books and Articles

Kilian, C.  Go Do Some Great Thing.  op. cit. , 1st edition pp. 153-154;

The author notes that in 1882, Fortune Richard published a protest against some members of Victoria’s Baptist Church “which under the pretext of financial distress, was trying to get rid of Black members”.


Colonist, January 28, 1882. “The Coloured Question is the Baptist Church Victoria”.

The article dealt with a meeting of Rev. Baker with the Baptist Church’s six committee members, three of whom were Black.  Reverend Baker delivered a speech which is reprinted.


The authors cited note the existence of the Fountain Chapel Episcopal Church on Jackson Street in Vancouver.  The Church founded in 1908 was a focus for the Black community until the 1940s although for several years it suffered from a decreasing congregation and a rapid succession of ministers, most of whom were American.

Books and Articles

Davis, C.  The Vancouver Book.  op. cit. , p, 106.

Kilian, C.  Go Do Some Great Thing.  op. cit. , 1st edition p. 159.


Walhouse, F. The Influence of Minority Ethnic Groups on the Cultural Geography of Vancouver.  Op. cit. , p. 317.


Province, January 17, 1944. “Life Too Easy Here Says Negro Pastor”.

In this article Rev. Jones, the Black pastor at the African Methodist Church gives his opinion of the causes of the Blacks’ disinterest in religion and invites more Blacks to come to church.

Vancouver Newspaper, November 3, 1945. “African Methodist Pastor to speak in Unitarian Church”.

It is announced that Rev. Johnson of the Fountain African Methodist Episcopal Church would address the East and West Association in the Unitarian Church on the topic of “What Does the American Negro Have to which to Look Forward”.

Vancouver Newspaper, February 9, 1946. “Negro Church Celebrates Founder’s Day”.

It is noted that a celebration is planned at the African Methodist Episcopal Church to commemorate the 159th anniversary of the church’s founding in Philadelphia, by a slave, Richard Allen.

Vancouver Newspaper, September 18, 1952. “City Council Grants $150 to Church”.

This article deals with a grant of $150 given to the AME Church by the city in lieu of a tax exemption.

Vancouver Newspaper, July 27, 1957. “African Church Unused”.

The author points out that the AME church has not had any services for over a year since Rev. J.I. Moore returned to the United States and the congregation became scattered.

Vancouver Newspaper, January 23, 1960. “African Methodists Open Church Sunday”.

This is an announcement of the approaching reopening of the AME Church with Rev. Malinda Thorne conducting the first service.

Vancouver Newspaper, September 6, 1969. “Historic Negro Church Reopens”.

An historical account of the background of the AME Church is given and its approaching reopening is announced.  The new minister is Re. J.M. McElrod, the only white minister of the AME Church in Canada or the United States.


Books and Articles

Glover, G. History of the United Church of Canada.  op. cit. , p. 3.

Glover describes the six hundred to eight hundred Blacks who arrived in the colony in 1858 as being a “humble, honest, industrious and deeply religious group”.

Hills, George.  An Occasional Paper on the Columbia Mission. op. cit. , p. 13.

Bishop Hills described the Black pioneers as being “steady communicants” who were always willing to contribute to the Church or other worthy causes

Kilian, C.  Go Do Some Great Thing.  op. cit. , 1st edition p. 36, 53, 60.

Kilian states that most of the early pioneers were “deeply religious” and that the church was an important part of their lives.  He mentions that the first group of Blacks who came on the ‘Commodore’ held a service of worship soon after their arrival and later attended Cridge’s church at Cridge’s invitation.  Kilian reports that “though they (the Blacks) made up only a fifth or sixth of Victoria’s population, they accounted for no less than half of all churchgoing colonists and showed themselves eager to work for the Church”.

Smith, Dorothy B. (Ed.) Lady Franklin Visits the Pacific Northwest.  Op. cit., p. 32.

While visiting Victoria in 1861, Lady Franklin and her niece reported being surprised by the large proportion of Blacks attending Cridge’s church.


Cridge, Diary, May 6, 1858.

Cridge wrote that he learned that the 35 Blacks who arrived on the ‘Commodore’ held a service of worship soon after their arrival.  Cridge visited them and after learning about some of their experiences in California, invited them to attend his church.

Cridge, Diary, May 26, 1858. (PA)

Cridge wrote that he held a prayer meeting with fifteen present “including 2 or 3 men of colour”.

Cridge to the Colonial and Continental Church Society, July 5, 1858. (PA)

In this letter Cridge described the Blacks as being “industrious, sober and religious”.  He reported that they were “chiefly Methodist” and that a minister of their own was coming to Victoria but they did not wish to establish a separate church.

Cridge, Record Book. Rev. J.J. Moore to Cridge, September 4, 1858.  (PA).

This is a letter of introduction of fourteen Blacks, who wished to worship, sent to Cridge by Rev. Moore, a Black minister in California.

Hayward, Charles. Diary.  May 11, 1862. (PA)

Hayward wrote that he was appointed by Mr. Cridge to teach one “Sabbath School” class made up of “… 6 or 8 very intelligent boys, three of them natives of Africa …”

Pilton, J. Negro Settlement in British Columbia 1858 – 1871.  op. cit. , pp. 39, 40, 44, 52, 53, 187.

Pilton reports that the newly arrived Blacks held a service of worship soon after landing.  The next day they were visited by Cridge who invited them to attend his church after he learned that the Blacks did not wish to establish a separate Black church.  Pilton also notes that some of the Blacks would not attend the theatre because they were church members. Many Blacks brought letters of introduction from their California ministers and Black children went to Cridge’s Sunday School.  Pilton notes that half of the church-attending population were Black.


From the information given in the sources cited, it would appear that in contrast to Victoria, Blacks and whites on Saltspring worshipped together without any suggestion of segregation.  One exception to this was noted by Re. Robinson who mentions a woman who did not wish to attend services with Blacks.  The spiritual needs of early Saltspring Island settlers were taken care of by several visiting ministers – Rev. Ebenezer Robson, Rev. Thomas Crosby, Rev. Edward White and Rev. W.S. Reece.

Books and Articles

Kilian, C.  Go Do Some Great Thing.  op. cit. , 1st edition p. 103.


Pilton, J. Negro Settlement in British Columbia 1858 – 1871.  op. cit. , pp. 136, 204.

Robson, E. Diaries, February 21, 1861.



The sources cited note that Charles Alexander helped to organize and build the interracial Methodist church in Shady Creek in Saanich and that he also acted as a local preacher in this church.

Books and Articles

Glover, George. History of the United Church: North and South Saanich Archives.  op. cit. , p. 4.

Kilian, C.  Go Do Some Great Thing.  op. cit.  1st edition p. 150-151; 2nd edition p. 128.

Virgin, V. History of North and South Saanich Pioneers and District.  op. cit. , pp. 46, 56.

Winks, R.  The Blacks in Canada.  op. cit. , p.. 277


Colonist, May 13, 1973, p. 4. “The Alexander Story” by Margaret Belford.




Colonist, May 13, 1973, p. 4. “The Alexander Story” by Margaret Belford

This article reports that Harold Alexander, son of Frederick Alexander, attended the Metropolitan United Church, where his mother, Mary Louise Alexander, sang in the choir.  They are both described as being deeply religious and musical.



Sun, October 21, 1972.

It is noted that Jacob Alexander, son of Charles Alexander, was a “self-styled missionary” and founded the Methodist Metropolitan Church in Victoria.


Burgon Bickersteth, an Anglican clergyman, described Baker as being “possessed of a highly developed religious vein”.  Baker wanted to start a Bible class so Bickersteth brought him some Bibles and Bible study papers when he visited Baker in Tete Jaune Cache in 1912.

Books and Articles

Bickersteth, B.  The Land of the Open Doors: Being Letters from Western Canada.  Toronto: The Musson Book Co. Ltd., 1914, pp. 188-189. (PA)

Winks, R.  The Blacks in Canada.  op. cit., p. 277.




Colonist, June 24, 1978, p. 17. “Local Mormons to ordain Black”

This article announces that Tony Parkes will become the first Black ordained to the Mormon priesthood in Victoria on Sunday (June 25, 1978).  Mr. Parkes has been actively involved in the church in Victoria for eight years. It is also noted that although Blacks could be members of the church, until June 9, 1978, they were excluded from the priesthood in the Mormon faith.



Books and Articles

Kilian, C.  Go Do Some Great Thing.  op. cit.  1st edition p. 109; 2nd edition p. 92.

Kilian notes that William Robinson began to teach Sunday school on Salt Spring Island in 1861.



Several authors mention Sylvia Stark’s strong religious faith which helped her to endure the loneliness and hardships of pioneer life on Salt Spring Island and in Nanaimo.

Books and Articles

Gould, J.  Women of British Columbia. op.cit, , p. 67-72.

Kilian, C.  Go Do Some Great Thing.  op. cit. 1st edition p. 108;  2nd edition p. 91.


Pilton, J. Negro Settlement in British Columbia 1858 – 1871, op. cit. , p. 146.

Pilton provides biographical information about Sylvia Stark and the Stark family’s life on Salt Spring.

Robson, E.  Diaries. December 21, 1861.

Wallace, Maria A.  Sylvia Stark’s Story, op. cit. p. 21.



Josephine Sullivan was an active member of the Methodist Church and was known as “Gastown’s First Methodist”.

Books and Articles

Kilian, C.  Go Do Some Great Thing.  op.cit. , 1st edition p. 155.

Morley, A.  Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis.  op.cit. , pp. 49. ,



The articles cited describe some of the activities of Malinda Thone, an ordained African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church elder, who has resided in Vancouver since 1957.  She runs God’s Rescue Mission and Miracle Centre where clients can obtain food and clothing as well as counselling from Rev. Thorne.  She is frequently a guest preacher at United and Baptist churches on the Lower Mainland and has been described as “part preacher, part social worker, part counsellor”.


Province, August 7, 1972. “Malinda heading uptown but only for a short stand.”

Province, June 30, 1973, p. 12. “Malinda Sounds Uptown”.

Sun, September 26, 1970, p. 16. “Tiny Mission run by a woman with a large heart”.

Sun, September 25, 1971, p. 13.

Picture and brief caption

Sun, March 11, 1978, p. B5

“Malinda tosses a lifeline to any soul in need”.