Description of Historic Place
St. Helen's Anglican Church stands in a prominent location on the historic Old Yale Wagon Road, high on the south bank of the Fraser River. The site is comprised of a church and rectory, with a small cemetery located adjacent to the church. The building is clad in rough-cast stucco enlivened by three dimensional detailing on the towers and gable ends. The Church has a traditional floor plan, based on a central nave with flanking side aisles, with British Arts and Crafts style detailing. The adjacent rectory was built at the same time as the church, and was designed in a complementary Arts and Crafts style.
St. Helen's Anglican Church is valued as a superb example of British Arts and Crafts design. This church represents the Arts and Crafts Movement principles of fine craftsmanship, good design and the use of natural materials. The form and massing are unmistakably that of a Christian place of worship; the interior woodwork and finishing are of the highest quality and, combined with the stained glass by Charles Bloomfield, create an awe-inspiring and spiritual space. The interior is finished in British Arts and Crafts style with a Tudor arched ceiling, decorative woodwork and stained glass. The adjacent rectory was designed at the same time in a complementary Arts and Crafts style. Adjacent to the church is a small cemetery, indicative of the parishioners' traditional desire for interment near their place of worship.
The church and rectory are significant surviving examples of the work of architect Frank William Macey (1863-1935). Born and trained in England, Macey was well respected for having published two standard texts for the architectural profession. He was the first resident architect in Burnaby, where he settled in the first decade of the twentieth century, and where he obtained a number of commissions from prominent businessmen who were building grand homes in the new community of Deer Lake. He designed predominantly in the British Arts and Crafts style and introduced the use of rough-cast stucco for building exteriors, a characteristic for which he was renowned, and of which St. Helen's is a superior example.
St. Helen's is additionally valued for its association with Walter James Walker, Surrey Reeve and wealthy philanthropist, who wanted to ensure that the Anglican Church was established in the Diocese of New Westminster. Walker commissioned Macey to design three churches, two of which survive: St. Helen's in the South Westminster neighbourhood and St. Oswald's in Port Kells. Walker is also remembered in the adjacent City of New Westminster where a street is named in his honour for services as City Auditor, City Assessor, Police Commissioner and License Commissioner.
St. Helen's is also significant for its association with the development of the South Westminster area. A small community was established at Brownsville, across the Fraser River from New Westminster, at the convergence of the Yale Wagon Road and Semiahmoo Trail; this was also the location of the first commercial fish cannery on the B.C. Coast. Ferries connected the area to New Westminster. The first rail bridge across the river was built in 1904, and was used by the New Westminster Southern Railway, the Great Northern Railway (GNR), the BC Electric Railway (BCER) and the Canadian Northern Railway. By 1910, when the BCER established a passenger station, South Westminster was already an established community and a transportation hub for a rapidly growing population. The church occupies a strategic location and was a visual landmark in the area. The beacon in the tower (no longer extant) was used as a navigation aid by the Norwegian fishermen on the Fraser River.
Source: Heritage Planning Files, City of Surrey
Key elements that define the heritage character of the St. Helen's Anglican Church include its:
- prominent location on a hill, at a corner site on Old Yale Road at 128 Street;
- continuous use as a site of worship;
- picturesque and asymmetrical form, scale and massing, with gabled and pent roofs, square bell tower with engaged octagonal turret and complex surface articulation;
- British Arts and Crafts style, as expressed in the use of natural materials, fine craftsmanship and British historical precedents;
- exterior elements such as: rough-cast stucco cladding; the bell tower terminating the steeply pitched gable roof at the west; the secondary tower at the north east corner; the central spire marking the southern entry to the nave; glazed roof dormers; bas-relief designs on the end walls and the tower; entry porches on the north and south; regular fenestration in the church and irregular fenestration in the tower;
- interior elements such as: Tudor arched ceiling; rood screen; granite font with carved Tudor designs; carved wooden pulpit; wooden pews and stained glass windows;
- superior craftsmanship and detailing, including a finely worked granite baptismal font, exceptional woodwork and stained glass, and consistent use of decorative motifs throughout;
- adjacent one and one-half storey, plus basement rectory, designed in a complementary British Arts and Crafts style with generally symmetrical massing, a high side gable roof with front gable wall dormers, central brick chimney, wooden siding on the ground floor, rough-cast stucco and half-timbering on the second floor, and wood-sash casement windows in multiple assemblies;
- cemetery, located adjacent to the church, with early grave markers; and
- associated landscape features, including mature shrubs and trees, grassed areas and informal paths.