Burns Lake's  St. John’s Heritage Church

Burns Lake’s St. John’s Heritage Church

Located at 125 First Avenue in Burns Lake, St. John’s Heritage Church was the third Anglican house of worship built in the village. The first, a cabin, was constructed by Rev. William Sweetnam of Endako, who performed the first service there January 5, 1919.

The church got a resident minister that same year when Rev. A. Garlick arrived in Burns Lake. By the time Rev. J.H. Kerr came to town in 1923, the cabin had been replaced by the Anglican Hall, a wood frame structure located on the site of the present church. Kerr and his wife occupied living quarters at one end of the building.

In the late 1920s, Rev. Kerr and Forestdale resident Baynard B. Keddy began campaigning for a new church. Keddy already had experience in such matters, having been instrumental in establishing a church in Forestdale in 1920.

So committed to the project was Keddy that he relocated his family to Burns Lake. They camped on the church property so he could be close to the work site, and he and Kerr started dismantling the existing Anglican Hall.

By July 12, 1928, work was well underway. Excavation for the structure’s basement was complete by mid-August, when forms and footings for the foundation were also under construction. By November 29, the building’s wood frame had already taken shape.

Work paused briefly during winter, but started again in earnest the following June. Kerr and Keddy built the church on “pay as you go” basis, reusing most of the wood from the old hall, but purchased new fir lumber for the roof and had it shipped to Burns Lake from Vancouver.

The largesse of many others helped finish the building. Churches in the Toronto area donated its eight stained glass windows, and Canadian National Railway provided a bell from one of its locomotives. F.C.H. Ramsden, a former Burns Lake resident who had relocated to Grande Prairie, donated pews in the name of his mother, Elizabeth Prentiss. Kerr built his own prayer desk.

Measuring 45 feet by 20 feet, the new (but not entirely finished) church opened to the public on August 25, 1929. Anglican Bishop G.A. Rix, assisted by Kerr and Sweetnam, performed the consecration before a large and appreciative crowd.

Damaged but not destroyed by the fire that swept through Burns Lake’s downtown core on May 11, 1931, the church remained in service for more than 60 years before being sold (along with the church manse) to the municipality. Over the last nine decades, it has seen countless christenings, weddings, and funerals, and for a time, even served as a high school classroom.

Designated a municipal heritage building in 2005, the church now sits empty. The grand old building’s exterior requires a fresh coat of paint, but its interior remains as beautiful as it was nearly a century ago.

Efforts are underway to refurbish and reopen St. John’s Heritage Church as a publicly accessible, multi-use facility.

© 2019 Michael Riis-Christianson and the Lakes District Museum Society