CENTRAL CHRISTIAN CHURCH
The heritage value of Central Christian Church lies in its association with the congregation of Central Christian Church, its WC Harris architecture and its importance in supporting the Kent Street screenscape.
The building is the second church used by the congregation. the group was originally identified as Baptist, but became their own group in the middle of the 19 Century. In 1878 they purchased a building at 237 University Avenue – formally known as Malpeque Road (beside Harvest House – Bowlan’s Electronics that still stands). It could seat 450, likely not comfortably and initially has no electricity.
In 1897 a split developed in the church and the group that met at the YMCA, at a rental rate of $1.50 a week. One of the members of the congregation, John Kennedy, donated $500.00 as the “Nucleus of a Building Fund” and in Feb 1898, there was a report of $10 being given over in to the building fund from the Sunday School. At that time, they hired a youthful, powerful evangelist by the name of RF Whiston, had a total membership of 56 and an average Sunday School attendance of 30.
In October 1899, the land was purchased and stone for the foundation was on the premises. The lot was chosen very near to the spot where George Coles, the Island’s first premier, had carried on an extensive brewery trade. with all due respect, the land was now converted to a more spiritual is less spirituous enterprise.
The new building was carefully planned by WC Harris of Charlottetown, brother of Robert Harris, the distinguished artist whose paintings constitute the permanent collection at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery. The building was opened on Sunday, Sept 22, 1900 The newspaper reported: As to the building itself, one has to see it to appreciate its beauty and design. The magnificent ceiling work, the perfect harmony of colors, the excellent seating arrangement and the good acoustic properties, all testify to the good judgement of the architect, WS Harris, and the faithful honest work of H&S Lowe. The ceiling which is groined and finished in clear spruce, rests on column and capitols of Island birch. The pews of the church are also birch. The windows are of cathedral glass. The walls are tinted moss green. After completion, the church property was valued at$7,000.
The actual “Act to Incorporate” received assent in the Provincial Legislature in June 1900.
In 1922, the church began to work on the Annex and the Annual Meeting for Feb 14, 1923, was held in this new addition to the building. During the same year, the Ladies Aid ordered a pipe organ and paid for it in part with funds from various activities including teas. In 1935, the church purchased the property next to the church, known as the Gay property, for the sum of $1,000.00 to be used as a location for a parsonage. This was completed in 1936 & the new minister and his wife, Mr & Mrs Samuel Cooper, moved in.
Extensive interior renovations were made to the church building in 1974 & the membership of Central faced a serious decision. One possibility was to divide the congregation and begin a new church at a different location, as had been accomplished in 1967 when the Sherwood Church of Christ was established. The majority felt that their outreach would be greater with the talents of the existing body united in a single major effort. It was decided, in spirit of the difficult architectural problems involved, it was best to open up the adjoining wing or Annex of the church and make it an integral part of the auditorium. In Oct 1974, the work was successfully completed. The congregation once again had “Room to Grow”. At that time the congregation also decided, for the first time in history, to engage the services of an Associated Minister.
A new auditorium was constructed in 2007 and was dedicated to the Lord’s work on Sunday, September 23, 2007.
In the early 1800’s, George Coles, A Father of Confederation, opened a brewery in the middle of the block where our building now stands. Later a carriage builder, a tombstone cutter, & a furniture maker operated shops here.
The first known furniture maker to occupy the site was George Douglas, who worked from a wooden building in the 1850s. Mark Butcher, the well-known Island cabinetmaker still used the building when he purchased the land in 1869. After Butcher passed away in 1883, his nephew, Mark Wright took over the factory and worked from the building until it was destroyed by fire in 1887. Wright promptly built the current structure in brick as a replacement and continued his business until imported, machine made furniture replaced Islanders’ desire for the hand carved variety. He ceased manufacturing furniture and moved his furniture retail business to Grafton Street. The chairs across the street at the park are replicas of the chairs that were made. His former factory at 221-223 Kent Street was to become a pork packing and cold storage facility, first run by Wright himself and later by the Sims Packing Company.
A new brick building was quickly constructed after a fire in 1887 destroyed the existing facility. Our present church building was dedicated (Sept 22, 1900).
The large imposing style of the brick building emphasizes its original manufacturing role. As a utiliatarian structure, there is little decoration except for the corbelled cornice at the roofline. The array of six over six windows would have provided lots of light for those working meticulously inside.
In it’s early years, the new brick building was used as a meat-packing plant and also became the home of the National Candy Company. In 1931, it housed patients from the Falconwood Fire. By 1936, the building had become the headquarters for the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve and was owned by the Dominion Government. The “Queen Charlotte”, as it is now called, became a training center for men entering the navy. During the war years some 3,000 men received their initial training.
In 1954, the navy moved out and in 1958 Central Christian Church purchased the building from the Provincial Government for $10,000 to be used as an education building for the congregation. Two years later Maritime Christian College opened, making use of our building for its classrooms, offices etc. Renovations in 1972 resulted in space for a Christian Bookstore. 1993 brought major changes once again as Maritime Christian College vacated and relocated to 503 University Avenue.
Recently the building has been used by various AA organizations in the basement. The building also provides space for Sunday School Classes, a prayer room, youth activities in the gymnasium. Maritime Christian Bookstore closed its doors on June 23, 2018. The Sisters of Saint Martha are currently renting the old bookstore location as a drop in for recovering addicts beginning Mid October/November 2018.
This building has surely had a very checkered career and is truly named a heritage building.