The Smallest Church on Vancouver Island in 1929

In 1929 this spot was the site of the smallest church on Vancouver Island. The tiny church was moved down the hill, where it served as a library, a gift shop and a teen gathering place, until it was finally demolished in the late 1960s.

Exterior of Little St Aidan on the Hill Church (photo credit: A. Branscombe)
Interior of Little St Aidan on the Hill Church (photo credit: M. Callaway)

This font with its distinctive daffodil design was built by early settler William Karn in 1937; in September of that year three of his grandchildren were the first to be baptised in it.

In the late 1940s, the townspeople of Ucluelet recognized the need for a larger church. Rev. Art Holmes, the minister at the time, was a driving force behind the project. In 1949 the Sutton Lumber Company donated a building from the former WW II Seaplane Base. Local volunteers dismantled the building for lumber. Even the nails were saved and straightened for use on the new church.

Ucluelet townspeople devoted many long hours on fundraising and construction. The Anglican Women’s group was revived and showed movies to packed houses in Ucluelet and Tofino, adding to the profits with popcorn sales. Popular stars at the time included Lassie, June Allyson and Van Johnson. Impromptu intermissions happened whenever the film broke.

Daffodil Design Font by William Karn at St Aidan on the Hill Church (photo credit: A. Branscombe)
St Aidan on the Hill Church in 1952 with Rev Holmes speaking with Ted Welland (photo credit: M Callaway)

Laying the Cornerstone in 1952

An added blessing occurred during the drilling and blasting of rock to ready the site for concrete footings. A spring was found; later a well would be drilled through the church basement.

The cornerstone for the church came from the most eastern part of Newfoundland and arrived cracked from the shipping process. The Archbishop of the Diocese of B.C. laid the cornerstone August 3, 1952. Once the building was completed, all the beeswax that could be found in Port Alberni and area was used to treat the wooden floor with hot wax.

The official opening service of St. Aidan On-the-Hill was held December 7, 1952, with many distinguished clergy present, including the Venerable Archdeacon G. H. Holmes, father of Rev. Art Holmes. Another special guest was Padre John Leighton, a former clergy of the tiny church who would return to the west coast as incumbent in 1955.

Modernising the Church Interior in the ’70’s

In 1971 Rev. Eric Blackstock, the incumbent at the time, was given permission to modernize the church interior, giving a whole new look for traditionalists to adjust to.

This picture also depicts the lovely stained-glass east window installed in 1972. It was given by the Tugwell family in memory of their mother and father. The brass cross below the window was donated by the Griffin family in memory of their daughter Sherry. In 1980 the Brash family had a similar stained- glass window installed in the west end of the church, in memory of their son Ronald.

St Aidan on the Hill Church with Modernised Interior in 1972 (photo credit: M Callaway)

Through dedicated fundraising and volunteerism, all debts for construction were paid off by April of 1974, and St. Aidan On-­the-Hill was consecrated.

Maintenance Issues

Over the years, continued maintenance was needed. Manual labour was often done by the incumbents, with volunteer backup from the locals. Pastor Merv Bowden and a band of helpers rebuilt the east end of the church in 1981.

Water leaking into the church from the bell tower was a frequent problem in rainy Ucluelet. This was resolved in 1987 when a new steeple, designed by Rev. John McKay, was installed.

St Aidan on the Hill New Steeple Lifted into Place (photo credit: Ucluelet and Area Historical Society)
St Aidan on the Hill New Steeple Lifted into Place (photo credit: Ucluelet and Area Historical Society)

For many years, the church was a buzzing hive of activities with Sunday School classes and youth group meetings. Much fun and excitement ensued during plays and concerts.

8-St Aidan on the Hill Sunday School Play (photo credit: Ucluelet and Area Historical Society)

Built as an Anglican church, for many years St. Aidan was also used for United Church services. In 1977 an Anglican/United Shared Ministry was formed, administered by the Long Beach Pastoral Charge.

13-St Aidan on the Hill Services Sign (photo credit: Ucluelet and Area Historical Society)

In 1998 a service was held in memory of Rev. Arthur Hedley Holmes, the first minister of St. Aidan On-the-Hill.

7-Memorial Service for Rev Holmes at St Aidan on the Hill Church (photo credit: M Callaway)
14-Rev Holmes by the Daffodil Font at St Aidan on the Hill Church (photo credit: M Callaway)

Beloved Landmark Saved

As has happened with so many churches, attendance declined over the years. Despite valiant fundraising efforts, there were no longer sufficient funds to keep St. Aidan afloat.

The church was deconsecrated in 2010. A local builder named Leif Hagar purchased the structure and made major skilful and innovative renovations, repurposing the building but retaining the historic character of this beloved landmark.

11-St Aidan on the Hill Exterior Refurbishment (photo credit: Leif Hagar)
12-St Aidan on the Hill Interior Refurbishment (photo credit: Leif Hagar)

Mrs. Vonda Tugwell, who selflessly devoted time and energy to St. Aidan On‐the-Hill, had this to say of her beloved church: “…as you walk up Main Street or along Helen Road, especially on a wet murky day, and look up at that tall white building, it seems to send out the message, I am the light of the world; whosoever follows me will never walk in darkness.”

10-Looking up at St Aidan on the Hill (photo credit: M. Callaway)

Photo Credits: A. Branscombe | M. Callaway | Ucluelet and Area Historical Society | Leif Hagar