Links and documents
1908/01/01 to 1910/01/01
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
St. James Catholic Church is a substantial concrete Gothic Revival church located on the east side of 27th Street on the East Hill. The church façade is constructed around a central buttressed tower surmounted by a four-sided steeple.
St. James Catholic Church is valued as a landmark feature on the East Hill. Rising above 27th Street, its scale and form are imposing. Built in 1908-10 at a cost of $14,000, it was described in the Vernon News as 'one of the handsomest edifices of its kind in the interior'. The Gothic Revival style reflects the solemnity and enduring values of the building and reinforces its ecclesiastical purpose. The building is 92 feet in length, 44 feet in width, and 100 feet high, with an elegant steeple surmounting its central tower. The use of rusticated concrete block, dressed to resemble stone, reinforces its air of permanence.
The church is further valued for its fine Gothic Revival architectural details. The central tower is heavily buttressed and supported by castellated parapets. The entry doors and windows are lancet arches. The spacious nave contains eight round concrete arches 30 feet high on two-foot thick concrete Doric pillars. Some of the original oak pews are found in the choir loft. James Barnet (1865-1932), an Australian architect who immigrated to the Okanagan, designed the church. He designed the first Vernon hospital and later designed a Catholic church in Nelson. The contractor for the church was W. R. Megaw.
St. James Catholic Church is also valued for its association with a century of Catholic life in Vernon. Cornelius O’Keefe donated the church site in 1907, when the congregation outgrew an earlier wooden Catholic church built in 1896. O’Keefe was a wealthy rancher and one of the largest landowners in the Okanagan Valley. A group of eighteen Vernon pioneers raised funds for the church. An inscription on the church bell, bought from Savoi, France, in 1902, commemorates them. A sign of their perseverance was the challenge of having to tear down and rebuild the partially constructed church when the original concrete blocks were found defective. The cornerstone was laid in 1908 but the half-constructed church had to be torn down and rebuilt. The contractor was replaced with G. Gwyllt from Calgary, who brought ten workers with him. Several of these workers died in the Okanagan Hotel fire.
Church staff and organizations played a significant role in the life of Vernon. These included the Sisters of St. Ann, the Catholic Women’s League, the Knights of Columbus, and the Catholic Youth Organization. One of the most prominent priests serving the church was Monsignor John Miles, who served from 1944 to 1971. He was notable for caring for English refugee children during WWII, for acting as Chaplain at the Vernon Army Camp, in opening a John Howard House in Vernon, for hosting a radio program, for raising funds for an orphanage in India, for establishing St. James Catholic School, and for bringing the Sisters of St. Ann to teach there.
Source: City of Vernon Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of St. James Catholic Church include its:
- continuous ecclesiastical use for 100 years
- form, scale and massing of the building
- Gothic Revival architectural form and details, such as the central tower with six-sided spire, crosses, arch lancet windows and doors, and rose window
- use of rusticated concrete block as the building material
- interior features, including the arches and pillars, vaulted ceiling, altarpiece, oak pews (some original 1910 pews in choir loft), memorials, and church bell
- niche on tower containing plaster statue of St. James
- memorial date plaque on front of tower
Local Governments (BC)
Local Government Act, s.954
Community Heritage Register
Theme - Category and Type
- Building Social and Community Life
- Religious Institutions
- Peopling the Land
Function - Category and Type
- Religion, Ritual and Funeral
- Religious Facility or Place of Worship
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
City of Vernon Planning Department
Cross-Reference to Collection