The Stolen Church

August 6th, 2021 3 Minutes
The Stolen Church – located in Windermere B.C. – Image courtesy of the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History

In 1885 the town of Donald B.C., known originally as ‘First Crossing’, was located where the C.P.R. first crossed the Columbia River, 28 Kilometres west of Golden. It was a rather lively canvas town in its heyday, consisting of numerous stores, saloons, and gambling houses. Money and liquor were plentiful, and 2,000 C.P.R. men worked nearby to complete the railway line through the Selkirk Mountains.

At this time, the Rev. Henry Irwin “Father Pat” (who was known all over B.C.) and the Anglican Main Line Missionary were also in Donald. They had acquired the funds to erect the very first church of any denomination in the region. Along with the building funds, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, one of the richest women in England, sent a beautiful 600-pound silver-toned bell for the church.

Just on the other side of the Selkirk Mountains, Anglicans in Revelstoke shared a small schoolhouse and were particularly jealous of the new church in Donald. But, as luck would have it, Revelstoke wouldn’t have to wait very long to get a chance to have St. Peter’s Church.

In 1897 location, utility, and commercial development required the Canadian Pacific Railway to make Revelstoke its Divisional Mountain Headquarters instead of Donald. In fairness to the townspeople, the C.P.R. offered to move any building, home, and household goods to any place on their mainline.

When the Anglicans in Revelstoke heard the news, they were overjoyed; they asked if they could have St. Peter’s Anglican Church moved to Revelstoke. With jurisdiction over the Kootenays, the Synod of New Westminster granted Revelstoke the church but told the parishioners, “if you want it, go get it”. When the townspeople of Revelstoke arrived in Donald, however, they found that the church had vanished.

Many of Donald’s residents chose not to move to Revelstoke with the railroad. Instead, they decided to move south to Windermere, B.C., and that’s just what leading Donald merchant and citizen Rufus Kimpton did, along with his wife Celina and family. By 1898 the Kimptons were re-settled into their home that they had brought with them from Donald.

Rufus and Celina were very passionate church parishioners of St. Peter’s Church in Donald, and unfortunately, there was no church in Windermere at that time. Rufus, wanting to make his wife happy, had the idea of going back to Donald and bringing St. Peter’s Church to Windermere, even though the Church had been promised to Revelstoke. When he arrived in Donald, he found the Church still sitting there waiting to be shipped, so he made arrangements for it to be moved to Windermere by steamer and barge.

When the ‘stolen’ church arrived in Windermere, Rufus, with help from his C.P.R. friends and Captain Armstrong, resurrected the structure on a hill overlooking Lake Windermere. The only thing missing was the Baroness’ bell, stolen while the ‘stolen’ church was waiting in Golden for a special barge to take it up the Columbia River to Windermere.

Just as Revelstoke had wondered where their Church had vanished to, so Rufus wondered where the bell had gone. It didn’t take long to trace the theft of the bell back to St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Golden; just as Revelstoke had written some very stern letters to Windermere demanding their Church back, so too did Rufus in Windermere write to Golden seeking the return of the bell. Goldens replied that since Windermere had stolen the Church along with its bell in the first place, Windermere had no legal right to it.

Resentment simmered between St. Peter’s Anglican Church – ‘The Stolen Church’ and St. Paul’s Anglican – “The Church of the Stolen Bell” for more than half a century over the bell. Then, one night in 1957, a group from Windermere stole back the 600-pound bell, even going so far as to hold a parade in honour of their accomplishment.

Church officials in Windermere decided it wasn’t right to steal a stolen bell and, since they already were the owners of a stolen church, returned the stolen bell to Golden. As a result, St. Peter’s Anglican Church – ‘The Stolen Church’ still has its doors open in the town of Windermere, B.C., the legacy of Rufus Kimpton, the man who stole a church.

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