In 1876, the land on the west bank of the Courtenay River was heavily timbered. The only dwelling on that side of the river was the cabin of Reginald Pidcock who operated a sawmill run by water power. The settlers, depending for a livelihood on the products of the soil, made their farms farther up the valley.
Most families of the district attended a small, log, Anglican Church situated on the land opposite the present St. Andrews’ Church. At a Sunday service Rev. J. X Willemar, rector, announced that at the close of the service there would be a meeting to consider plans for the building of a new Anglican Church. When the meeting was called, one staunch Presbyterian arose to his feet stating, “I have never done business on Sunday yet and I do not intend to start now,” and strode out followed by the Presbyterians of the congregation.
Shortly, this small but determined group of Presbyterian farmers, “men of courage and purpose desiring to worship after the manner of their fathers,” to quote Mr. Eric Duncan, met at the home of Mr. Mathew Piercy to discuss the need for a Presbyterian Church. Prominent among these were Mr. Matthew Piercy, Mr. Samuel Crawford and Mr. George Grieve.
That year hammers rang and saws bussed at both ends of the Mission Hill as two churches were being built, one an Anglican, near the foot of the hill, and the other a Presbyterian, in the midst of the farming country, near the top of the same hill. Both of these churches were completed the next year and both were given the name of St. Andrews.
Comox Presbyterian Church Built
In 1902 Rev. Thomas Menzies supervised the erection of the Comox Presbyterian Church built by volunteer labor on a lot of land donated by Mr. William Robb. Mr. Menzies preached there every Sunday morning, at Sandwick in the afternoon, and at Courtenay in the evening. Often on his way home from Comox he held a short service on the First Nations reserve in one of their Long Houses, at the foot of Siwash Hill (now Comox Hill).
This arrangement of one pastor ministering to three charges continued until about 1950 when the mother church was closed and its congregation joined with that of the Comox Church. Courtenay and Comox continued to be one charge until 1963 when Rev. R. Fenn was minister. Then the Courtenay-Comox charge was divided because of increased church population.
Church Built In Courtenay
In 1912 the proposal to build a church was advanced. Mr. Joseph McPhee, a Nova Scotian by birth, was the pioneer citizen of the town and came to be known as the Father of Courtenay. While his interests were chiefly in the material progress of the town he showed his concern for the church by donating the three lots on 5th Street as a site for the church.
With the work of the building in the very capable hands of James Ledgerwood and under the supervision of Mr. Menzies the project took rapid shape and by December 28, 1913, the church was opened for worship. It was an unusually creditable building, especially considering the fact that it was erected while the town was comparatively small. Well constructed, nicely furnished with pews, having a gallery and choir loft, accommodating 250 people. It was said to be the nicest church outside of Victoria of which the presbytery could boast.
The bell for the new church was a gift from Mr. And Mrs. Menzies bought with funds from a life insurance and erected, Mr. Menzies stipulated that it was for the free use of the town as an alarm in case of fire. For years it was used for that purpose and also as a curfew.
Mr., Menzies was elected as an Independent Member of the Legislature in 1921. When his four year term was up he did not run again but was appointed Superintendent of Neglected Children under the late provincial secretary, Hon. Wm. Sloan.
A plaque dedicated to the memory of Rev. Thomas Menzies was unveiled in St. George’s United Church by his son, Wilson, of Victoria, on the last day of October, 1954.
Negotiations to Move Church
The church, situated as it was on the main street of the town, was gradually becoming surrounded by distinctively business premises. An offer to buy the property on which the church stood was made by the Shell Oil Company, if the building could be moved to another site. This transaction and its accomplishment, which began during the latter part of Mr. Henderson’s pastorate, was not completed until 1947 under the pastorate of Rev. J.S. Clark. The delay was occasioned by the intervention of the war.
Chairman of the Stewards for much of Mr. Henderson’s pastorate, Dr. P. L. Straith, had much to do with the negotiations concerning the moving of the church, and it was he who chose the new site.
St George’s Church Moved
If the church was to expand it was necessary to move it to a more suitable situation or to sell and build. It was decided to move it. In 1941 negotiations to sell the three lots of Fifth St. And to buy property on Fitzgerald Ave. Had been started and a basement had been dug and cement poured on the new site, but that summer all building was halted because the war intervened. It was not until the end of the war in 1946 that arrangements to move were finally completed.
On September 22, 1946, the last Sunday worship was held on the old site. The next day Gosse Brothers of Vancouver began to jack up the building. The moving was done so carefully that there was no damage to the church, not even a crack in the plaster and no sound from the bell in the tower. After about a week it was settled on that the new and present site and was hardly a fraction of an inch out when lumber and cement touched. The first service was a Christmas service on December 22nd which was 33 years almost to the day after the first opening in 1913.
In the meantime, from September to December of that year, regular church services had been held in the Piercy Funeral Chapel. It was during this time that Mr. Dave Arnett came as the new organist. And it was also during this time that Dr. Peter Straith, who had much to do with the negotiations for moving the church and who had picked the site for it, passed away suddenly.