Church preservation recognized

In going above and beyond his 'Calling' Vernon Reverand Dale Normandeau is helping to preserve the cultural and historical past in the City of Vernon. And a grant from the Vernon heritage grant program will help further the preservation.

Vernon Mayor Rob Sawatzky recently  posed with  Normandeau to take pictures of the historical St. James church and to recognize the reverend’s commitment to restoring and preserving the church as part of the heritage grant program.

Mayor Sawatzky said, “It’s great to see the St. James Church’s commitment to preserving this important historical structure.”In 2012, Council awarded a heritage restoration grant of $5,000 to assist with significant restoration work on the exterior of the church building.

The City also presented church officials with a heritage plaque in recognition of the heritage significance of the building. The plaque is located at the front of the church near the bottom of the stairs where it can be easily viewed by the

Vernon City Council has established, and provides, funds for the Heritage Restoration grant program. The program applies to properties listed on the Vernon heritage register in order to assist owners with the cost of restoring the exterior, foundations and roof structures of heritage buildings. Applications are submitted prior to March 30th each year. Submissions are reviewed by the heritage advisory committee which then provides their recommendations to city council for its consideration. Council awards grants based upon compliance with the grant program criteria, recommendation from the advisory committee and funding availability.

St. James Church is a substantial concrete gothic revival type structure located on the east side of 27thStreet on the East Hill. The church façade is constructed around a central buttressed tower surmounted by a four-sided steeple.

St. James is valued as a landmark feature on the East Hill. Rising above 27 Street, its scale and form are imposing. Built in 1908-10 at a cost of $14,000, it was described in the Vernon News as “one of the handsomest edifices of its kind in the interior”. Its gothic revival style reflects the solemnity and enduring values of the building and reinforces its ecclesiastical purpose. The building is 92 feet in length, 44 feet in width, and 100 feet high, with an elegant steeple surmounting its central tower.

The church is further valued for its fine gothic revival architectural details. The central tower is heavily buttressed and supported by castellated parapets. The entry doors and windows are lancet arches. The spacious nave contains eight round concrete arches 30 feet high on two-foot thick concrete Doric pillars. Some of the original oak pews are found in the choir loft. James Barnet (1865-1932), an Australian architect who immigrated to the Okanagan, designed the church. He designed the first front of the church near the bottom of the stairs where it can be easily viewed by the public.

St. James Church is also valued for its association with a century of Catholic life in Vernon. Cornelius O’Keefe donated the church site in 1907, when the congregation outgrew an earlier wooden Catholic church built in 1896. O’Keefe was a wealthy rancher and one of the largest landowners in the Okanagan Valley.

A group of eighteen Vernon pioneers raised funds for the church. An inscription on the church bell, bought from Savoi, France, in 1902, commemorates them. A sign of their perseverance was the challenge of having to tear down and rebuild the partially constructed church when the original concrete blocks were found defective. The cornerstone was laid in 1908 but the half-constructed church had to be torn down and rebuilt.

Church staff and organizations played a significant role in the life of Vernon. These included the Sisters of St. Anne, the Catholic Women’s League, Knights of Columbus, and the Catholic Youth Organization. One of the most prominent priests serving the church was Father Miles who served from 1944 to 1971. He was notable for caring for English refugee children during WWII, for acting as Chaplain at the Vernon Army Camp, in opening a John Howard House in Vernon, for hosting a radio program, for raising funds for an orphanage in India, for establishing St. James Catholic School, and for bringing the Sisters of St. Anne to teach there.

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