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St. Paul's: A Little Church in a Gold Rush Boomtown

For the week of Monday October 18, 2010

On October 24, 1897, St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Dawson City, Yukon, held its first service, conducted by Reverend R. J. Bowen. More than a hundred years later, it continues to be an active parish in the Yukon diocese.

St. Paul's Anglican Church
© Courtesy of Rev. Lee Titterington / St. Paul's Anglican Church, Dawson, Y.T.
Anglican missions to the Canadian Northwest began in 1862 and were mainly oriented towards the Aboriginal populations living there. However, by the time Reverend Bowen arrived in the Yukon from England in 1895, the Dawson missionaries had already begun to shift their focus to the rapidly increasing number of new settlers. When gold was discovered in 1896, miners and entrepreneurs flocked to Dawson with the hopes of making a quick fortune. Almost overnight the little Town of Dawson exploded into a boomtown, boasting a rapidly growing population and economy.

Reverend Bowen was sent to Dawson City specifically to preach among the rowdy miners. Though practical jokes were often played on local ministers, Bowen quickly earned the miners’ respect and trust by sympathizing with them and playing music in church. Besides being the parish minister, Reverend Bowen was also somewhat of a doctor and dentist, providing whatever medical knowledge he had in the service of the parish.

Rev. R. J. Bowen
© Courtesy of Christ Church Cathedral, Diocese of Yukon, Whitehorse, Y.T.
Prior to the construction of the church existing today, the first sermons at St. Paul’s were held in a small log cabin, which adequately served Bowen’s religious services in the late 1890s. However as the city grew at the turn of the 20th century, Reverend Warren, one of the parish’s succeeding ministers, decided it was time to erect a more respectable church building, one that would better serve the established congregation and reflect the popular Gothic Revival archetectural style. Built in 1902, the new church was designed by architect James G. Purden and has such characteristics as a steep pitched roof, pointed arch entry, and tall windows adorned with pointed arches and stained glass. Interior finishes include well-crafted woodwork.

Today, the church continues to be a symbol of the long-standing presence of Anglican missions in Canada’s Northern territories. Dawson Historical Complex was designated a National Historic Site in 1959 to commemorate a collection of buildings associated with the Gold Rush. In 1989, St. Paul’s Anglican Church was included in this designation, and was separately designated in 1990 for its Gothic Revival architecture. The Original Gold Discovery/ Discovery Claim was designated a National Historic Event in 1959. It was this discovery of gold in 1896 that would lead to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897-98.

For more information about the Gold Rush in the Yukon, please visit the Dawson Historical Complex National Historic Site and read "Gold!!!" in the This Week in History archives. For more information about St. Paul’s Anglican Church, see the Canada's Historic Places web site.

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