It all started when…
In 1874 Alexander and Fanny Clyde and their children, 6 sons and 2 daughters arrived in Victoria, B.C. They had traveled west in a covered wagon over the Oregon Trail to San Francisco then took a steamer to Vancouver Island. Once they had settled in their new home, Alexander Clyde sought out other Baptists in the community. This group, including both blacks and whites, met in their homes for prayer meetings. There had already been a community of black Baptists on the island since 1859. The Clydes’ pastor in Stratford, Ontario placed an appeal for a pastor for Victoria in the Canadian Baptist and on March 29, 1876 Rev. William Carnes, accompanied by John Suggett, arrived from Chesley, Ontario.
On May 3, 1876 fifteen people met to organize the First Baptist Church. They were: William Carnes, Fielding Spotts, Alexander Clyde, Julia Spotts, Mrs. Fanny Clyde, Thomas W. Pierie, Caleb Bishop, Alfred Oldershaw, Mrs. Johnson, Thomas Mathews, John Sluggett, Augustus Christopher, Madison F. Bailey, Mrs. Sally Page, Mrs. Mary A. Bailey. This was the first Baptist cause to be inaugurated in British Columbia, and indeed the first Canadian Baptist work west of Winnipeg. The following January, the “Baptist Chapel” was built and the first baptismal service in the province was conducted with 3 persons being baptized on February 2, 1877.
In the following years the church went through many transformations, brought about by times of prosperity and tribulations. On July 24, 1907, the church, known at the time as Calvary Baptist Church, was burned to the ground. “There was nothing saved but a few hymn books and the piano which was old and of little worth.” The Central and Calvary congregations continued to meet in rented buildings. During the following months Calvary suffered a steady loss of congregation, most joining with Central. On December 3, 1908 Calvary Baptist became officially known as First Baptist Church and began looking for a new home. In 1911 a property at Fisgard and Vancouver Streets was finally chosen.
First Baptist continued its ministry through services and Sunday Schools, but further hardships fell upon the city during the first world war. Problems with leadership and finances persisted even after the Armistice Agreement was signed. In spite of financial problems, the congregation was still looking for a permanent pastor and a permanent building. The executive considered the Congregational Church building on Quadra Street for the first time. The church moved through the city from temporary locations to shared accommodations and struggled to stay operational, even considering disbanding in 1917. The Church persevered through their financial struggles and continued to meet and hold services with the Congregational Church. During the depression the church decided to move to temporary quarters considering that the rent was too high.
In 1913, the Canadian Pipe Organ Company, of St. Hyacinthe, QC, built a two-manual and pedal organ of 20 stops, 18 ranks for the then Congregational Church. Major repairs were completed on the organ in 1960. When the First Baptist Church moved to its current building, in 1975, Hugo Spilker rebuilt, revoiced, and installed the organ in the rear of the sanctuary. He provided a new case and facade design along with a detached two-manual stop tab console located in the front left of the room. This beautiful organ sits in the church today and fills the building with its majestic reverberations.
The land where the church stands today was bought in 1964. It was not until November 16, 1975 that the new church building at Quadra and North Park Streets opened. September 19, 1976 marked the church building dedicated and the church has remained until this day. The history of First Baptist is fraught with uncertainty and challenges. Pastoral leadership has been strong at times, growing the church and expanding its ministries. During difficult eras, the church has struggled to keep its doors open, even disbanding in 1883. First Baptist Church has survived through the burning of its first building, two world wars, and the Great Depression. Today, the church continues to serve the community and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God has continued to use the church and its members to do His work.