VMC LogoFrom Camp to Community: Cowichan Forest Life

The Communities : COMMUNITY LIFE : Places of Worship

The 'Butter Church', the stone one: St. Ann's Roman Catholic, Comiaken, 1870 Built by Father Rondeault with money raised by churning butter from the milk of the Father's few cows.  Mason: Mr. Williams, Victoria.  Stone sourced from Comiaken Hill (on which church is built).  Abandoned in 1880

The "Butter Church"
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The logging camps rarely, if ever, provided a place for the loggers to practice religion. If the camp employees were not out in the woods, they were talking care of chores like washing clothes and shaving, not praying. It was only when they went to town that they could access religious communities.

When loggers and their families began to live in permanent housing and towns developed, there was a new interest in building religious architecture, hiring clergy and setting up meetings for their respective religious practices. This sparked vibrant and dedicated societies that contributed to community life in every thinkable way.

The early churches of the Cowichan Valley were built by Christian missionaries from primarily Roman Catholic orders. They were intent on gaining a following amongst the local First Nations community. A mission station at Comiaken Hill, overlooking Cowichan Bay, was erected by Father Peter Rondeault in 1858. Dedicated to St. Ann and sometimes known as the "Butter Church," this stone masonry building was constructed using money collected from the sale of butter churned from the milk of Father Rondeault's cows. In the 1880s, another St. Ann's was built below the hill and the stone church was left empty.

Logging companies began to realize that their employees and their families were more comfortable with places of worship nearby, rather than travelling each week to a distant town. The Hillcrest Lumber Company of Mesachie Lake constructed an Anglican church for their employees. St. Christopher's was dedicated in 1948. Both volunteers and Hillcrest employees working on company time contributed their skills to the construction, which used yellow cedar siding, a hemlock interior, Douglas fir corner posts and a crucifix of maple burl.

Hillcrest Lumber also provided for their Sikh employees. A Sikh temple, a gurudwara, was built with land and lumber donated by the company in 1935. This temple was moved to Lake Cowichan in the early 1940s to be near the new mill site at Mesachie Lake. Today, the Sikh community of Lake Cowichan uses a temple built in 1969.

Paldi Sikh Temple

Paldi Sikh Temple
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There are three gurudwaras in the Cowichan Valley. The first official temple in the town of Paldi was built by Mayo Singh in 1919. Before that time, Sikhs in Paldi could meet for prayers and blessings at private homes, or travel the great distance to the Victoria temple, built in 1912. A special Jor Malla, a festival, marks the opening of this early Paldi temple each year on July 1st. The Paldi temple was rebuilt in 1960 and in 1985, Duncan's temple was officially opened. These buildings combine the areas needed for the Sikh practices of sangat, sitting together in meeting, and another for pangat, the sharing of a meal prepared and served at the temple.

The Japanese community of Paldi built a hall which was used as a Buddhist temple and a meeting place. Constructed next to the gurudwara in 1923, it was built of wood with volunteer labour. Several forms of Buddhism were practiced by the Japanese families that used the hall. Meetings, celebrations, and occasionally United Church services also took place within its walls. In Chemainus, the Japanese community hall was built in 1927, and served not only as a place for Japanese Buddhists, but for the local Japanese labour organization and the meeting of Chemainus' Japanese Boy Scout Troup. The Paldi hall was no longer standing when Japanese residents returned from internment following the Second World War; the Chemainus temple remains today as a house.

Chinese religion does not usually have an identifiable place of worship in the same way Buddhist, Sikh and Christian communities do. Festivals and the special events of the calendar are marked, but without a specially designated building. Duncan's Chinese community drew Chinese labourers from their rail and forestry work in the surrounding region to share in religious traditions. The Dragon celebration held during the Chinese New Year was popular in the town's streets and often photographed for the local newspaper. The cemetery was also integral to aspects of Chinese religious life for the practices involved in honouring the ancestors.