Benvoulin Church in Kelowna will be 125 this year - InfoNews.ca

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Benvoulin Church in Kelowna will be 125 this year

Don Knox, President of the Central Okanagan Heritage Society, in front of the Benvoulin Heritage Church.
February 17, 2017 - 10:31 AM

KELOWNA - Standing in what used to be the downtown core in Kelowna, the Benvoulin Heritage Church has been a landmark for over a century.

The heritage church turns 125 this September, only 25 years younger than Canada itself.

Donald Knox, the President of the Central Okanagan Heritage Society, says preserving history is important not only to document history, but to form the future.

“If you look at where you came from, it tells you where you are,” Knox says. “If you lose the values our forefathers held and developed, you lose a sense of place.”

The Benvoulin Church was built in 1892, with money provided by the Aberdeen family. According to Knox, when Lady Aberdeen came to Kelowna to visit her brother, Coutts Majoribanks who had moved to Kelowna months prior, she realized there was no church for him to attend, leading to the building of the Benvoulin Heritage Church.

The church was built to look like the Crathie Kirk church in Aberdeen, Scotland. Initially a Bethel Presbyterian Church, the building has held at least three variations of the Christian faith. In 1925 it joined the United Church, and currently an Anglican service is held every Sunday.

The pews inside the church are the original pews from 125 years ago. The church itself can hold up to 90 people, and is commonly used for weddings and other small events.
The pews inside the church are the original pews from 125 years ago. The church itself can hold up to 90 people, and is commonly used for weddings and other small events.

However, for the 125 years the building has been standing, it has not always been active. Between 1964 and 1986 the church’s future was undetermined, according to Knox.

It was in 1982, when Dr. Walter Anderson found out the church was to be used by the fire department for fire drill practice that he initiated the church’s restoration. A budget of $85,000 initiated by the Heritage Society was put in place to bring the building back to life.

For Knox, whose grandfather came to Kelowna in 1903, the church is a labor of love.

“Heritage isn’t cheap,” Knox says. “It’s a lot more cost effective to remove and build new, but where’s the value in that?”

Over the past few years $20,000 was spend on redoing the original windows and $35,000 was spent on a new roof, according to Knox. In addition to the regular upkeep of garden maintenance and snow removal in the summer.

Knox even does some of the repairs himself, a few years ago, him and a friend redid the wooden deck at the front of the church.

The inside of the church between 1912 and 1913, with the still existing wooden pews.
The inside of the church between 1912 and 1913, with the still existing wooden pews.
Image Credit: Contributed

“There’s always something to do, the challenge is figuring out where the money will come from,” Knox says.

He says funding for each project comes from various grants, fundraisers and private donations. In recent years the City of Kelowna has given the Heritage Society around $10,000 in grant money, however this year that number was cut to $5,000. The Society has just applied for a Canada 150 grant to help with covering the costs of redoing the kitchen and the floors in the Reid Hall, an addition to the church built in 2000.

Knox says the City’s view has changed in regard to recognizing the value of heritage buildings.

“During the 1960s a lot of buildings were lost along Pandosy,” he says. “My grandfather had a large house on the Pandosy block - right off the highway, which I tried to get the city to purchase, but in those days heritage didn’t have the same sort of recognition it does now.”

Now, the City of Kelowna dedicates an entire week to its heritage. A mystery bus tour will take place Saturday, Feb. 20, making a stop at the Benvoulin Church. Additionally, an afternoon tea will be held at the Hotel Eldorado on Sunday.

“You can wail and cry about what has happened or you can look forward and do the best with what we have left,” Knox says. “It’s interesting, because the buildings we are making today will likely be heritage buildings as well one day.”

Raising the steeple of the church - date not known.
Raising the steeple of the church - date not known.
Image Credit: Contributed

Church congregation and minister in 1952.
Church congregation and minister in 1952.
Image Credit: Contributed

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Hickman or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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