The Balfour and District Business and Historic Association has announced the acquisition of the St. Michael’s and All Angels’ Church in Balfour. The purchase of this historic church is conditional upon future financing, for which the Diocese of Kootenay, Anglican Church of Canada, has granted a one year term to complete.
Located in the heart of the old Balfour townsite, the site chosen for St. Michael’s was selected by the first Bishop of New Westminster, the Right Rev. Acton W. Sillitoe in 1892 and the first service held in the new church was on Dec. 26 of that year. The little church is not only one of the oldest in the Kootenays, but one of the oldest wood frame structures still in use between Nelson and Kaslo.
The quaint building, with its steeple and the distinctive circular, stained-glass window above the entranceway, has stood quietly as the backdrop for many local events over the years. It has always been a community church. It was a place of lodging for the Ktunaxa people when they were in the area during annual fishing trips. It withstood the record flood of 1894, when water was said to be lapping at the foot of the church steps.
The first wedding in the church took place in 1910, uniting the Balfour couple Eveline Hobson and Arthur Hazeldene Noakes. Two years later, Longbeach residents Winifred Goodwin and Commander Burrard Smith were also married there. During the time when the CPR hotel at Balfour was used as a military sanatorium from 1917 to 1921, the church’s vicar was on hand to aid the invalid soldiers. Years later, when the Anglican churches in Procter and Longbeach were closed, some of their furnishings and their Rolls of Honour were brought here.
One touching piece transferred from the Longbeach church is an intricately carved First World War baptismal font in memory of Longbeach resident Capt. Lenox McClure John, 3rd Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment, who died in France on Sept. 24, 1916. St. Michael’s has never wavered from welcoming all to its doors; doors that, throughout its 128-year existence, have never been locked. The last Anglican service in the church was on Dec. 24, 2019.
In 1889, Charles W. Busk, a native of Greenwich, England, staked a 200-acre pre-emption claim for the townsite he named Balfour. He donated the land for the church and it is believed that he personally contributed some money for its construction, although his aunt in England donated most of the funds. She also bought the original church bell.
In his will, Busk bequeathed a small sum to the church, which was later used to purchase new pews, altar hangings, a lectern, and a prayer-desk. But, while Busk and his family were the church’s early benefactors, the story of St. Michael’s long survival is due entirely to stalwart community volunteerism and the strong sense of commitment its members have.
Through the decades, the Ladies’ Guild has hosted countless fundraisers, raffles, even fancy dress balls, to raise money for improvements and repairs. Likewise, parishioners have been instrumental in painstakingly maintaining this community symbol. They’ve handled big jobs, like painting the exterior, repairing the steeple and replacing the roof — not once but five times — to innumerable small jobs, a necessity when it comes to battling the scars of time.
Like the Balfour community, St. Michael’s has seen many changes over the years, such as the small vicarage that was added to its south wall. The rough-cut ceiling trusses are original, but in 1936, U-bolts and iron strapping were added to stiffen the trusses that had cracked. Beneath the floor, the old log supports have been renewed.
The church’s tall, narrow lancet windows behind the altar are original as are the small side windows. Inside, the church’s simple interior has been changed and restyled over time. The walls have been paneled, parts of the ceiling enclosed, and carpeting installed. When the building was modernized with electricity, it was done in such a way as to make the wiring hardly noticeable. The original wood-burning heater has long since been replaced with a natural gas furnace.
Thanks to grants from the Columbia Basin Trust and Regional District of Central Kootenay, the Balfour and District Business and Historic Association has been able to fund over 70 per cent of the church’s purchase price. The association’s first goal is to complete the funding for the remaining difference of approximately $35,000. This will be achieved by hosting fundraising events and through private donations.
Plans are already in the works for minor upgrades aimed at improving public access and providing the building with a few amenities, all without altering the church’s historic character. A small addition on the church’s north side will provide wheelchair access, a washroom and a storage area. Also, some work will be needed on the grounds for septic facilities. Financing for these projects is expected to be paid through grants and the work is slated to begin once the conditional sales agreement has been finalized.
The Balfour and District Business and Historic Association intends to have the historic church available for weddings and other events, such as performances, storytelling and lectures for the enjoyment of the community. In keeping with its new role, the church will be re-named St. Michael’s and All Angels Chapel and Performance Centre. It will also continue to be home to the Christian Science Church.
“While this is a big step for the Balfour and District Business and Historic Association, we are convinced the small chapel can be economically sustainable with community support while retaining its historic value to Balfour and the Outlet district,” the association said.
It feels the chapel could be a vibrant part of the growing number of small entertainment venues offered year-round in the region, like Kaslo’s Langham Cultural Centre, the Silverton Gallery and a host of other intimate historic halls, schoolhouses and galleries. The association says it welcomes community input in building a financial model for the chapel and is very interested to know what people think about the project.
With help, the chapel will become a thriving community centre for Balfour and the Outlet district. A website is currently being developed that will allow for event scheduling and public feedback. Anyone wanting more information about the chapel project or who has ideas for fundraising events that they would like to share, or wants to make a donation can contact heritage committee members Truus Zelonka at 250-229-2113 or Michael Cone at 250-229-2251.