Probably the most romantic tale of love and crime in the days of the Columbia Valley pioneers is that of the Stolen Church in Windermere BC.
St. Peter’s Anglican Church was built in 1887 in the railway town of Donald, not far south of Golden, BC. In 1897, when the CPR decided to change their railway divisional point from Donald to Revelstoke, it was agreed that several important buildings would be moved to the new location. The company announced that it would move, free of charge, any buildings to any location along its line.
One of Donald’s leading citizens, Rufus Kimpton, realizing that the town would soon be a ghost town, moved his family 115 miles south to Windermere. When his beloved wife, Celina, missed her church in Donald, Rufus literally stole it from under the noses of town officials who had already dismantled the building in preparation for its move to Revelstoke. He had it shipped, piece by piece, by wagon and barge, and rebuilt in its present location at the corner of Victoria Avenue and Kootenay Street in Windermere. While the church was en route to its new home, however, its bell was mysteriously stolen and taken to Golden by some unknown person.
When the theft of the church building was discovered, a group from Revelstoke wrote letters to Windermere, demanding its return, but received no response. Windermere had no better luck getting its bell back than Revelstoke had getting the church back. As a result, Windermere had St. Peter’s, the ‘stolen church’ and Golden had St. Paul’s, the church of the ‘stolen bell’!
Resentment was harbored between Golden and Windermere for over half a century until, in 1957, a group from Windermere stole the bell back from Golden. Their victory was short-lived, however, because Windermere officials who didn’t believe that two wrongs made a right, returned the bell to Golden.
Today the picturesque red-roofed Stolen Church is administered by the Windermere Valley Shared Ministry and the Diocese of Kootenay. Residents of Windermere lovingly tend its lawns, plant its window boxes and maintain the upkeep of the building. Church services are held monthly during the summer months and on Christmas Eve. It is also a popular venue for weddings, having a capacity of 90 to 100 people.
In the church yard is a marker to the memory of Reverend Henry Irwin, affectionately known as ‘Father Pat’.
For information about services or using the Stolen Church for a wedding, please contact the Windermere Valley Shared Ministry office in Invermere at 250-342-6644, or email to ac.ms1511355150vw@ec1511355150iffo1511355150