Small Churches of Canada
David Mattison is a librarian with the B.C. Provincial Archives and
Records Services Library.
Churches always make for appealing picture books. It is difficult if not impossible to take exception to the subject matter without offending a great many people. Happily, in this case, there is little to object to. The concept of a photographic book on British Columbia churches has been well captured in previous works, the most recent example being Barry Downs’s Sacred Places (Douglas & McIntyre, 1980).
Kim Ondaatje’s photographs bear some similarity to those by Downs, but then there are only so many ways to photograph a church. Ondaatje is careful not to narrowly define “small church” in order to leave room for the inevitable exceptions.
She notes in her foreword that for her purposes “little churches were usually built in a matter of months out of simple materials by a few men. Because the builders brought from their homelands definite ideas about how a place of worship should look and what it should contain, these churches and chapels reflect a great diversity of religious and ethnic background.” Which is a long way of saying that they don’t all look the same. Some of the churches, however, do seem rather largish so the title shouldn’t be taken literally.
As a photographic book Small Churches of Canada has much to recommend it. The photographs, some of which were taken in less than ideal conditions, evoke the solemnity and charm of these structures. Unlike Downs’s book, which was indexed, there is no list of church names and locations. The order of presentation does not relate to any discernible pattern: geographical, denominational or architectural. The emphasis in the photos is also upon exteriors.
Much of the information about the churches concerns the photographer’s reactions to local conditions. The captions are more in the form of anecdotal histories with very few references to published sources of information. Ondaatje appears to have gathered much of her information on site over the five years she devoted to this project. There are a couple of minor errors pertaining to B.C. churches: the “Stollen” [sic] church at Windermere, and the date of St. Stephen’s Anglican outside Victoria which Ondaatje has predating the founding of Fort Victoria by 30 years.