Holy Rosary Cathedral (Vancouver)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Holy Rosary Cathedral
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary
A cathedral with two spires
Coordinates: 49°16′55″N 123°06′53″W / 49.281846°N 123.114606°W / 49.281846; -123.114606
Location 646 Richards Street, Vancouver[a]
Country Canada
Denomination Roman Catholic
Consecrated October 3, 1953
Status Cathedral
Functional status Active
Architect(s) Julian and Williams
Style French Gothic
Groundbreaking July 16, 1899
Completed December 8, 1900
Archdiocese Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver
Archbishop John Michael Miller

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, commonly known as Holy Rosary Cathedral, is a late 19th-century French Gothic revival church that serves as the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. It is located in the downtown area of the city at the intersection of Richards and Dunsmuir streets.[1]

The construction of the cathedral began in 1899 on the site of an earlier church by the same name. It opened on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1900, was blessed the day after, and was later consecrated in 1953. The style has been described as resembling the medieval Chartres Cathedral in France.[2] The church was elevated to the status of cathedral in 1916. It is listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register and is a legally protected building.[3]


Original structure (1887–1899)[edit]

The parish was established in June 1885 and Father Patrick Fay, the chaplain to Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) workers, was chosen as pastor. He officiated the first mass of the parish on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary in the same year at an unknown location. Although masses were held in Blair’s Hall and Keefer’s Hall, it became apparent that a new and permanent church was necessary to cope with the growing number of parishioners, which consisted of 69 families.[4][5][6]

"We choose the section surrounding the base of that tree."

— Father Patrick Fay's alleged words in selecting the site where the cathedral currently stands[6]
The original church circa 1889, featuring the newly built bell tower (left)

In order to pick a site for the new church, legend has it that Father Fay went to the Coal Harbour waterfront, looked south towards the forested land (present-day Downtown Vancouver) and chose the area that contained the tallest tree. Construction began in 1886 and the wooden church was completed and blessed in the following year. Two years later, the church was enlarged and a bell tower was added.[4][6]

Present-day cathedral[edit]

With the rapid growth of Vancouver at the time, plans were made for a greater expansion of the church. Fay was transferred in 1892 and died shortly after. Father Eumellin succeeded him in overseeing the plan for construction from 1893 to 1897. In the following year, the new pastor of the church, Father James McGuckin, took over the project.[4][5][6] By that time, the number of parishioners had outgrown the size of the church building.[7] In order to fund the construction of the new church, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) – the religious order McGuckin belonged to – mortgaged their headquarters in France,[2] and before his death, Fay worked as a CPR foreman for a construction crew.[5] Initially, parishioners and the OMI were skeptical of the project; the parish was already heavily in debt when McGuckin became pastor,[7][8] the Catholic community in Vancouver – though "rapidly growing"[6] – was still "relatively small" in number, and a friend of McGuckin who was a contractor was unable to provide the funds he had initially pledged.[8] These problems culminated in the construction project being labelled "McGuckin's Folly".[4][7][8]

Despite these doubts, the cornerstone of the new church was laid on July 16, 1899,[2][4][6] by Archbishop Adélard Langevin of Saint Boniface.[9] Thomas Ennor Julian and H.J. Williams were hired to be the architects,[2][10] and in just 491 days, the construction was completed.[5] At the time it was finished, the building was praised as "the finest piece of architecture west of Toronto and north of San Francisco."[11][12] The new Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary opened on December 8, 1900 – the Feast of the Immaculate Conception[4] – and was blessed one day later by Archbishop Alexander Christie of Portland, Oregon.[5][6] In 1916, the church was elevated to the status of cathedral.[2][4] The OMI – which administered the parish since 1893 – left in 1927 after difficulties arose from the mortgage agreement that had helped pay for the construction of the cathedral.[6][8] Since a Catholic church can only be consecrated once it has become free from debt,[13][14] the cathedral did not have its rite of consecration held until October 3, 1953, fifty-three years after it first opened. The ceremony was officiated by the Archbishop of Vancouver William M. Duke, with the subsequent solemn pontifical Mass celebrated by Michael Harrington, the Bishop of Kamloops.[15]

On October 7, 1952, the feast day of the cathedral's namesake, a gunman entered the church and fired a round from his rifle at the altar. No one was hurt and he was arrested shortly after.[16] A minor tilt in the bell tower of the cathedral was detected in April 1959, probably due to the drilling and blasting of a nearby tunnel.[17] However, nothing serious arose from the incident.

"[The] seats were so full people [were crushing] each other, and the aisles were full of people standing; as close as they could get together. No church in Vancouver was ever so closely packed with people. Not an inch of room was empty."

— An account of Joe Fortes' funeral in Early Vancouver: Narratives of Pioneers of Vancouver, BC by Major J. S. Matthews, the city's first archivist[18]

Many significant events have taken place at the cathedral. In 1936, it hosted an archdiocesan-level Eucharistic Congress, the first congress ever to be celebrated in Western Canada.[19] Forty-eight years later, in 1984, Pope John Paul II visited the church as part of his pastoral visit to Canada.[6] In late September 2001, the cathedral became the first place in Canada to host the relics of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux during her reliquary's the three-month-long tour of the country.[20]

Over the years, several notable people had their funeral requiem mass said at the cathedral, including beloved local lifeguard and swim instructor Joe Fortes (1922),[21] Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation (1981),[22] and former Vancouver police commissioner William Cameron Murphy in 1961.[23] The funeral of Fortes in February 1922 saw the cathedral filled to capacity, with thousands of others braving the rain and cold weather to view the funeral procession on the streets of Vancouver.[18] Requiem masses were also held at the cathedral for popes Pius XI (1939)[24] and Blessed John Paul II (2005),[25] while an interfaith requiem was also held for former Governor General of Canada Georges Vanier in 1967.[26]


The altar and sanctuary of the cathedral


The cathedral, built in a French Gothic style, is cruciform in the shape of the Latin cross. The columns that support the nave are made from red Scagliola marble. The cathedra is situated at the centre of the sanctuary, surrounded by an oak altar-piece and two towers of reredos.[10]

The reordering of the sanctuary took place in the 1960s after the Second Vatican Council. Refurbishing also took place before Pope John Paul II's visit to the cathedral in 1984. The cathedral was completely re-roofed from 1995 to 1997 and repainted from 2004 to 2006.[10]


When the cathedral was first built, seven bells (representing the sacraments) were cast at the Fonderie Paccard in Annecy-le-Vieux, Savoy, France and were blessed on October 21, 1900. However, they were soon found to be out of tune and were sent back to Europe, this time to a foundry near Bristol. This time, eight bells were made in order to complete an entire octave when rung. They were reinstalled in the cathedral in 1906 and operate on change ringing.[6][27][28] They were notably rung on February 12, 2010, in honour of the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.[29]

Stained glass windows[edit]

There are currently 21 stained glass windows at the cathedral. The most renowned ones are the five windows made by Canadian artist Guido Nincheri. They depict Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, the Baptism of Our Lord, Jesus Healing the Sick, Jesus with the Children and the Assumption. The window showing Our Lady of the Holy Rosary featured on Canada Post's annual Christmas stamp in 1997.[30] Furthermore, the Institute for Stained Glass in Canada documented the stained glass windows at the cathedral.[31]

Modern day[edit]

The cathedral made news in 2007, with the Vancouver Police Department having to be called in on a weekly basis; cathedral staff claimed they were "under siege" by panhandlers who frequented the building and who were involved in at least one incident daily.[32] These revelations came to light when a homeless man mugged an 81-year-old parishioner in the cathedral on August 1 of that year and was caught on camera.[33]

On March 23, 2008, First Nations protesters disrupted an Easter Sunday Mass at the cathedral by demonstrating on the steps outside. They ordered the Church to "get off native land" and demanded that they disclose the burial locations of children who died in residential schools.[34] A similar protest occurred on October 30, 2011, when a splinter group from the Occupy Vancouver movement marched to the cathedral from the Vancouver Art Gallery. They attempted to enter the cathedral and occupy it but were thwarted by Vancouver police officers and Knights of Columbus.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The front entrance of the church faces Dunsmuir Street.



  1. ^ "Contact". Holy Rosary Cathedral. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Thirkell, p. 139
  3. ^ "Vancouver Heritage Register". Vancouver.ca. City of Vancouver. July 2010. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "A Brief History". Holy Rosary Cathedral. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Priest Worked as 'Navvy' To Help Build Holy Rosary". The Vancouver Sun. December 7, 1950. p. 18. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Parish Profiles". RCAV.org. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. p. 175. Retrieved October 2, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c Ó Muirí, Réamonn (1999/2000). "Father James Maria McGuckin, OMI: Irish Pioneer Priest in British Columbia". Journal of the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society (Armagh Diocesan Historical Society) 18 (1): 248. JSTOR 29742704. Retrieved July 6, 2014.  (registration required)
  8. ^ a b c d Gresko, Jacqueline (1994). "McGuckin, James Maria". Dictionary of Canadian Biography 13. University of Toronto/Université Laval. Retrieved July 5, 2014. 
  9. ^ Davis, Chuck. "Chronology: 1892–1899". The History of Metropolitan Vancouver. Harbour Publishing. Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c "Architecture". Holy Rosary Cathedral. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  11. ^ "Church tour offers insight". Parksville Qualicum News. March 26, 2009. p. B6. Retrieved July 6, 2014.  (subscription required)
  12. ^ "Vancouver, British Columbia — Holy Rosary Cathedral". Casavant Frères. Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Dedicate Splendid Catholic Cathedral". The Evening Independent (St. Petersburg, Florida). 5 October 1910. p. 1. Retrieved 31 January 2013. 
  14. ^ "To Consecrate Catholic Churches.; St. Gabriel's to be So Honored on May 30 and St. Stephen's Later". The New York Times. 9 May 1894. Retrieved 31 January 2012. 
  15. ^ "Cathedral Rededicated in Solemn 4 12 Hour Ceremony". The Vancouver Sun. October 3, 1953. p. 1. Retrieved October 19, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Rifleman Takes Shot At Altar". The Calgary Herald. April 21, 1959. p. 2. Retrieved October 1, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Leaning Tower". The Calgary Herald. October 8, 1952. p. 13. Retrieved October 19, 2013. 
  18. ^ a b Wong, John (July 22, 2011). "‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being Black’: Race, Class, and Victorian Vancouver First Lifeguard". International Journal of the History of Sport (Routledge) 28 (11): 1536. Retrieved July 4, 2014.  (registration required)
  19. ^ "Clergy Gather For Eucharist At Vancouver". The Leader-Post (Regina). Canadian Press. June 12, 1936. p. 9. Retrieved November 23, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Thérèse's relics go to Canada". The Catholic Herald. September 28, 2001. Retrieved October 3, 2012. 
  21. ^ Thirkell, p. 87
  22. ^ "Chief would have loved scene". The Leader-Post (Regina). Canadian Press. September 30, 1981. p. A22. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  23. ^ "Brig. Murphy Funeral Set For Monday". The Vancouver Sun. October 21, 1961. p. 13. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  24. ^ "Vancouver Catholics to Unite in Requiem Mass". The Vancouver Sun. February 10, 1939. p. 1. Retrieved September 27, 2012. 
  25. ^ "Pope remembered at Vancouver mass". CBC News. April 8, 2005. Retrieved September 27, 2012. 
  26. ^ "'Uncommon Man' Honored by City". The Vancouver Sun. March 8, 1967. p. 14. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  27. ^ "Bells". Holy Rosary Cathedral. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. Retrieved September 27, 2012. 
  28. ^ "B.C. Bell Ringers Meet At New Year". The Montreal Gazette. Canadian Press. January 2, 1936. p. 14. Retrieved September 27, 2012. 
  29. ^ "Cathedral to ring in the Games with century-old bells". Canada.com. January 28, 2010. Retrieved September 27, 2012. 
  30. ^ "Windows". Holy Rosary Cathedral. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  31. ^ "Holy Rosary Cathedral". stainedglasscanada.ca. Institute for Stained Glass in Canada. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  32. ^ "Cathedral under siege by panhandlers, staff says in wake of attack". CBC News. August 2, 2007. Retrieved January 4, 2013. 
  33. ^ "Vancouver cathedral mugger given conditional sentence". CBC News. February 27, 2008. Retrieved January 4, 2013. 
  34. ^ "First Nations protesters disrupt Easter service". The Western Star. Canadian Press. March 24, 2008. Retrieved September 27, 2012. 
  35. ^ Raptis, Mike (October 31, 2011). "Breakaway faction of Occupy Vancouver marches on church". Global Television Network. Retrieved September 27, 2012. 


  • Thirkell, Fred; Scullion, Bob (May 1, 1996). Postcards from the Past: Edwardian Images of Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. Heritage House Publishing Co. 

External links[edit]