For every stained glass window in St. Saviour’s Pro Cathedral, there’s a personal story. They include tales of prominent pioneers and church benefactors, direct descendants of royalty, and lives cut tragically short by accident or war.
Next week, as a prelude to the Touchstones Nelson heritage home tour, local historian Greg Scott will tell some of those stories and talk about the people the Anglican church’s windows and memorial plaques are dedicated to.
There are 16 windows in all, at least half created by Robert McCausland Ltd., a firm that dates back to 1856 and is still in business. Assembled in Toronto, the glass masterpieces were shipped to Nelson and fitted by a local contractor.
Other windows have not been attributed, although they’re mostly from the 1930s and ‘40s. (While the church dates to 1898, the building was gutted by fire in 1928 and rebuilt.)
The largest and most stunning, known as the Good Shepherd, is at end of the sanctuary, and was donated by Cominco boss Selwyn Blaylock in memory of his parents, who lived in Nelson late in life. Others, such as the Eperson window, in the far northeast corner, were donated by working class families.
“St. Saviour’s windows are collectively the best example of church stained glass in the Kootenays and on par with those in cathedrals in Vancouver and Victoria,” Scott says.
He became intrigued with them when tagging along with wife Denyse, a church member.
“With my interest in the people of Nelson, I started wondering about some of the names. I was familiar with Charles Busk, L.V. Rogers, and Dr. Rose. But who are these other people? What’s their story?”
Answering that question, he says, was “fairly easy” because most of those with windows in their honour were prominent.
“It’s a matter of using vital statistics to find out when they passed away, finding their obituaries, looking at the history of the church, and tying it all together.”
He had more trouble, however, locating accounts of the actual dedications. McCauslands sent him their file, which consisted of letters from church administrator Fred Irwin, and gave the dates the windows were ordered — but it could take up to 18 months before they were delivered, and even longer until they were installed.
The few dedications he uncovered in the newspapers were revealing, such as the one for Ida Astley.
“It alluded to her being ‘a long suffering woman,’” Scott says. “From that I gathered [her husband] Willoughby may have been an interesting character, but tough to live with.” (He’s the one who claimed royal blood.)
A Cathedral Whispers runs Thursday at the church from 7 to 8:30 p.m. In addition to Scott’s presentation, a family of local artisans will discuss the history of stained glass and the basics of the trade (see related story below).
Tickets are $7 for the general public and $5 for members of Touchstones and the Kootenay History Interest Group. They’re available at the museum and at the door.
If you miss the talk, the church is the site of a tea the following Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. as part of the heritage home tour, although it has a separate admission.
There are also plans to create a booklet highlighting the church’s windows.
Stained glass in the family
For the Hollands of Sproule Creek, stained glass is all in the family.
Moss Holland started working with the colourful medium in a small shop 40 years ago, and has since handled most of the repair jobs in the Kootenays. He and wife Bonnie also taught the craft to their children, Gavin and Gimel.
“I was probably the only glass worker in B.C. from 1972 to about 1980,” Moss says.
“Then there was a proliferation. We started teaching people and suddenly lots were doing glass around us.”
Gavin has been in the studio since he was five, and for the last few years had his own business in Nelson.
“The biggest job I did recently was a Trail hospital window,” he says. “It was four and a half by seven feet and very intricate. That was my masterwork so far.”
He’s also done repairs for the Catholic church, using traditional leaded stained glass and techniques his father showed him.
All four family members will be on hand next Thursday at St. Saviour’s Pro-Cathedral to talk about how stained glass has evolved and how a window is put together.
The tools have not changed much over the centuries, Moss says. The basic glass cutter is the same, “except now they’ve got one with a little barrel that lubricates as you’re cutting. The pliers are probably the same sort they used to break glass 300 years ago.”
The windows in St. Saviour’s, he adds, are “some of the finest examples of church glass in Canada … We’re quite lucky to have this work here.”