Grave robbers, cougars and bathing beauties

St. Oswald’s Anglican Church celebrates 100 memorable years in Port Kells.

Elsie Preedy first attended St. Oswald's Church in Port Kells as a baby in 1928.

By Boaz Joseph, Black Press

Port Kells never materialized as a freshwater port as its namesakes – two unrelated Irishmen named Henry Kells – had envisioned.

But as a general store and post offices were added to the townsite in the 1860s, followed by an Anglican Church in 1892, a sense of community had already taken hold.

That original church, east of Latimer Road (192 Street) and north of Wilson-Townline Road (96 Avenue) was torn down in 1905 under pressure from the Canadian National Railway line.

“It was (also) sitting on a really good gravel pit, and Henry Kells (the one that stayed – the other Henry Kells moved to Edmonton) wanted that gravel for the roads in Vancouver,” says Louise Goode, secretary of the church committee at St. Oswald’s Anglican Church.

“In return, he gave us this property.”

Over the next several years after 1905, parishioners worshipped at the home of local Charles Corlett on Wilson-Townline Road.

Meanwhile, according to legend (owing to a style similar to his work at St. Helen’s Church), architect Frank W. Macey drew up plans for a mixed Tudorized medieval church that would survive 100 years in the fast-developing industrial area of Port Kells.

Today, St. Oswald’s Anglican Church is a quiet, picturesque oasis in the middle of a busy industrial park where the constant clatter of diesel engines echoes off the pavement and the walls of machine shops, processing plants and warehouses.

Parishioner Elsie Preedy was “not very big” when she first attended St. Oswald’s – it was 1928, the same year in which she was born.

The 83-year-old, who sang in the church choir in the late 1940s, recalls an old wagon shed that was used as a parish hall before a new community hall was built in 1991.

People came by horse and buggy in the early days, she recalls.

One day, a “darling little child” – a teenager – set fire to it.

“He met his demise a year later… on a motorcycle,” Preedy explains.

There were other moments of excitement.

Over a two night-period in June 1983, the church was broken into and the graveyard was torn up.

“One of the graves had been dug up,” Preedy says. “We had a Satanic cult group who needed a skull. They (also) took the altar pieces, the cross and two large candles.”

The three teens who were caught at their clubhouse were fined $450 each, and the victim of the grave robbery was quietly reburied.

Further back, the post-Second World War church had movie nights for kids on Saturdays.

Parishioner Sandra Cattermole tells a story of how one night, a cougar on the roof of the church surprised the man who brought the projector and movie into the church.

He had to make a series of panicked phone calls.

“They didn’t get their movie that night,” she says with a laugh.

The church, like its community, evolved over the past 100 years.

1947 St. Oswald's choirWeddings and funerals took place, renovations improved the buildings and garden, new community groups came and went (Sunday school is still going strong) and new building materials and artifacts were donated.

“Bathing beauties that we were,” recalls Preedy of the 1930s, “we used to have these massive picnics in White Rock. We took a ton of food down.”

St. Oswald’s history also records when the left-handed clergy was seen doing carpentry on the church roof.

After a growth spurt in the 1990s when the church hall was rebuilt, the congregation now stands at about 50-60 people.

Skits, Christmas parties and bazaars are still going on.

A lunch takes place at the hall each Sunday after the morning service.

“We are a family,” says Goode. “We’re there to support each other.”

It’s a form of breaking the bread, says new priest Rev. Paul Illical, who arrived in February following of the retirement of Rev. Alexis Saunders last December.

St. Oswald’s Anglican Church (9566 190 St.) will hold an open house on May 7 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Snacks will be provided courtesy of La Charcuterie Delicatessen. The church will also hold a (small-T) thanksgiving event at the Sunday service May 8 at 10:30 a.m.

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