Golden Miles of History

St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church

Following the completion of the Douglas Trail between Harrison Lake and Lillooet, St. Mary the Virgin was one of three Anglican Churches built under the supervision of the Royal Engineers for the new Colony of British Columbia. They cut and numbered the lumber piece by piece and packed it in for assembly on this site.

Lady Angela Burdett-Coutts, a wealthy English philanthropist, sent a silver liturgical service, a bell and a melodeon around Cape Horn for the new church. For a colonial outpost these were lavish appointments but during its one hundred year history, St. Mary's was never locked. Miners and travellers slept on its floor and cooked meals on the Church's wood stove when there weren't any other facilities for them.

By 1945, St. Mary's had deteriorated to the point that supports were needed to shore up its corners and fifteen years later the resident priest proposed a new building. Most of the congregation, sentimental in their attachment to the historic building, were in opposition but in 1961, the old church was taken apart piece by piece and a beautiful new St. Mary's rose in its place.

The original chancel and rafters were incorporated into the new church but it was never popular with the congregation. In 1969, the Diocese closed it down and St. Andrew's United Church further down Main Street has served a combined congregation ever since.

In the 1960s, some residents recognized the need to preserve the town's history, formed the Lillooet District Historical Society and Mayor Glen Bryson proposed they establish a museum that opened in a former government agent's house on Main Street. After three years in this location, the Village of Lillooet purchased the Anglican Church building. In the summer of 1972, the Lillooet Museum opened to the public and since 1986 it has also served as Lillooet's official Visitor Information Centre.

Along with the original service, bell and melodeon from St. Mary the Virgin, the museum houses a collection of artifacts donated by local historian Austin Greenway, First Nations artifacts and gold mining relics displayed side by side with ingenious machinery and fascinating objects from Lillooet's pioneer days.

Downstairs, the old newspaper office of fiery Bridge River Lillooet News editor Margaret “Ma” Murray was recreated. After an article about her appeared in Chatelaine magazine, Ma's fame spread across the country and she was quoted in Time and Maclean's magazines. In 1971, her outspoken journalism earned her induction into the Order of Canada and, despite her poor spelling and grammar, an honorary doctorate from Simon Fraser University.

Want to learn more of the epic history of British Columbia? Pick up a map of Lillooet's Golden Miles of History Tour at the Lillooet Museum & Visitor Centre or at participating merchants.