By Dan Walton
There are many churches in the valley that are rich with history, but the valleys oldest, St. Marks church located between Brisco and Spillimacheen in the old hamlet of Galena, had a new chapter added last month after a close call with a chimney fire on Wednesday, April 17th.
While the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, many assume a passerby used the unlocked building to keep warm, naively firing up an old woodstove with a clogged stovepipe.
Someone fired up the stove and I guess there was a nest up in the chimney, said Warner
Einer, the president of Brisco and District Recreation Commission. He noted cycling groups are sometimes known to use the church for shelter.
We certainly dont advertise it; it just happens to be a church in the rural area, and people like to check it out.
Thankfully, a passerby noticed an unusual amount of smoke and called the authorities. Before emergency workers were on scene, the Good Samaritan was able to extinguish the flames with tools he had on hand. Once the hazard had been taken care of, forestry workers
tended to the scene, ensuring there was no chance of a fire sparking up in the woods nearby.
The construction of St. Marks began in 1895 and finished in 1896. The project was spearheaded by pioneers Thomas and Agnes Pirie, who relocated from Ontario shortly before the construction of the church.
Agnes was raised Presbyterian and missed her church after moving to the valley. She inspired the community to come together and bring St. Marks to fruition. There was no shortage of logs in the area, but the raw materials needed processing to construct the building.
The logs used were sent up the river to Goldens mill in exchange for shingles and building supplies.
While it was originally furnished with makeshift seating, St. Marks Church opened in June of 1896.
Framed in the historic church, dated from Thursday, June 18th, 1896, is a letter from one church wife to another which was sent in preparation for the grand opening.
The church is to be finished for Sunday and to celebrate the opening the ladies that were at the service last Sunday proposed I have a lunch after the service is over, reads the letter. And for fear you do not get word any other way, I thought I would send this note for we want everyone to turn out and make as large a congregation as possible.
Not long after Agness vision of a Presbyterian church became a reality, she became ill and passed away, shortly after the birth of her fifth child in 1903. Agness body was the second to be buried at St. Marks cemetery, and the Pirie family moved back to Ontario that same year.
After many years passed, the building became an Anglican church, and remained a landmark for decades after weekly service ceased. The church is still used for funeral and wedding services on occasion.
The church was restored in 1990 with support from local volunteers and the B.C. Heritage trust. The cemetery was revamped, and the building was renovated and repaired.
Six years later in 1996, St. Marks hosted a centenary celebration of the church, an event which drew more than 250 people.
Since then, the church has been kept aesthetically maintained. To avoid vandalism, the church doors remain unlocked, allowing passers by to take a peek without breaking in.