Holy Rosary Cathedral

441 Dunsmuir St Vancouver

VAMONDE Vancouver
Written By VAMONDE Vancouver

Holy Rosary Cathedral

The Holy Rosary Cathedral is a late 19th-century French Gothic revival church that serves as the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. It is located in the downtown area of the city at the intersection of Richards and Dunsmuir streets.

The construction of the cathedral began in 1899 on the site of an earlier church by the same name. It opened on December 8, 1900, was blessed the day after, and was consecrated in 1953. The style has been described as resembling the medieval Chartres Cathedral in France. It is listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register and is a legally protected building.

History - The Original Structure (1887-1899)

The parish was established in June 1885 and Father Patrick Fay, the chaplain to Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) workers, was chosen as pastor. He officiated the first mass of the parish on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary in the same year at an unknown location. Although masses were held in Blair’s Hall and Keefer’s Hall, it became apparent that a new and permanent church was necessary to cope with the growing number of parishioners, which consisted of 69 families. In order to pick a site for the new church, legend has it that Father Fay went to the Coal Harbour waterfront, looked south towards the forested land (present-day Downtown Vancouver) and chose the area that contained the tallest tree. Construction began in 1886 and the wooden church was completed. Two years later, the church was enlarged and a bell tower was added.

Present-day cathedral

With the rapid growth of Vancouver at the time, plans were made for a greater expansion of the church. Because Fay was transferred in 1892 and died shortly after, Father Eumellin succeeded him in overseeing the plan for construction from 1893 to 1897. Then, the new pastor of the church, Father James McGuckin, took over the project. By that time, the number of parishioners had outgrown the size of the church building. In order to fund the construction of the new church, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) – the religious order McGuckin belonged to – mortgaged their headquarters in France, and before his death, Fay worked as a CPR foreman for a construction crew. Initially, parishioners and the OMI were skeptical of the project; the parish was already heavily in debt when McGuckin became pastor, the Catholic community in Vancouver – though "rapidly growing" – was still "relatively small" in number, and a friend of McGuckin who was a contractor was unable to provide the funds he had initially pledged.

Despite these doubts, the cornerstone of the new church was laid on July 16, 1899, by Archbishop Adélard Langevin of Saint Boniface. Thomas Ennor Julian and H.J. Williams were hired to be the architects, and in just 491 days, the construction was completed. At the time it was finished, the building was praised as "the finest piece of architecture west of Toronto and north of San Francisco." The new Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary opened on December 8, 1900 – the Feast of the Immaculate Conception – and was blessed one day later by Archbishop Alexander Christie of Portland, Oregon. The church was elevated to the status of cathedral in 1916. Since a Catholic church can only be consecrated once it has become free from debt, the cathedral did not have its rite of consecration held until October 3, 1953, fifty-three years after it first opened. The ceremony – which commenced just after daybreak – was officiated by the Archbishop of Vancouver William M. Duke, with the subsequent solemn pontifical Mass celebrated by Michael Harrington, the Bishop of Kamloops. Approximately thirty-five bishops from across Canada and the United States attended the event, which coincided with Duke's golden and silver jubilees of his priestly ordination and consecration as a bishop, respectively. Many significant events have taken place at the cathedral. In 1936, it hosted an archdiocesan-level Eucharistic Congress, the first congress ever to be celebrated in Western Canada. Forty-eight years later, in 1984, Pope John Paul II visited the church as part of his pastoral visit to Canada. In late September 2001, the cathedral became the first place in Canada to host the relics of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux during her reliquary's three-month-long tour of the country.


The cathedral, built in a French Gothic style, is cruciform in the shape of the Latin cross. The exterior walls of the church were built from sandstone originating from Gabriola Island, while its foundations were made of granite. The two bell towers – which are asymmetric – have been labeled as the cathedral's "most prominent visual feature".


When the cathedral was first built, seven bells – representing the sacraments – were cast at the Fonderie Paccard in Annecy-le-Vieux, Savoy, France and were blessed on October 21, 1900. However, they were soon found to be out of tune and were sent back to Europe, this time to a foundry near Bristol. This time, eight bells were made to complete an entire octave when rung. They were reinstalled in the cathedral in 1906 and operate on change ringing. They are one of the few peals of bells hung in the English style found in North America, and one of three in British Columbia – the others are located at Westminster Abbey in Mission and Victoria's Christ Church Cathedral The bells were notably rung on Dominion Day in 1911 – the first peal ever to be rung in Canada – and on February 12, 2010, in honour of the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Stained glass windows

There are currently 21 stained glass windows at the cathedral. The most renowned ones are the five windows made by Canadian artist Guido Nincheri. They depict Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, the Baptism of Our Lord, Jesus Healing the Sick, Jesus with the Children and the Assumption. The window showing Our Lady of the Holy Rosary featured on Canada Post's annual Christmas stamp in 1997.

Information courtesy of Wikipedia

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