Canadian Genealogy · Chinese Genealogy · Japanese Genealogy

A trip to the United Church of Canada Archives, Vancouver

I’m back from a whirlwind trip through British Columbia. Despite visiting for the longest time in memory – two and a half weeks – it wasn’t nearly enough time to see and do all that I hoped. Still, I managed to visit two of the three archives on my list and today I’ll tell you about one of them.

The UCC Archives

The United Church of Canada Archives, which I’ll be calling the UCC Archives in this post, are also known as the Pacific Mountain Regional Council Archives and the Bob Stewart Archives. Bob was a well respected church archivist. For more on his life, see the links below.

Parking and Logistics

The UCC Archives are located at 312 Main Street, Vancouver, BC. If you would like to visit, you will need to book an appointment and request the fonds you’d like to see. The hours are generally 0900-1200 / 1300-1700 but the archivist, Blair Galston, will confirm actual hours when you book.

There is cheap street parking available on Main Street. If you have a smartphone, I recommend getting the PaybyPhone app to manage your parking and save you both from feeding meters and too obviously handling cash. The immediate vicinity is the downtown east side of Vancouver where there are people living on the streets. For this reason, dress appropriately, avoid visible signs of prosperity, and observe all safety precautions.

312 Main Street is the site of the former police headquarters at Main and East Cordova. It’s a large building. The entryway is not on the Main Street side but around the corner on the Cordova side.

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312 Main Street, which contains the United Church of Canada Archives, corner of Main and E. Cordova. The entryway is on the Cordova side. 24 May 2022, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo by author.

Use the buzzer to be admitted and once inside, ask at the front desk for the United Church archives. The archivist will come down to meet you. Once inside, you will see large meeting and common areas on every floor. The archives are on the third floor.

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312 Main Street, which contains the United Church of Canada Archives, main floor entryway, 24 May 2022, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo by author.

Lunch in Chinatown

The archives close at lunchtime. You can bring a lunch and eat at the nearby tables inside the complex or you can do what I did and stroll over to Chinatown. In the map below are both the archives at top right and Pender Street lower left.

I always eat at the New Town Bakery, 148 East Pender Street. Try their apple tarts, barbecue pork buns, coconut buns, or egg tarts. If you’d like something sit down, go through to the back of the bakery to access the table service. I did and scored a doong (sticky rice filled with an assortment of savoury items that might include peanuts, pork, and salted egg), egg tart, and endless refills of complimentary tea for under $10.

Lunch at the New Town Bakery: tea, egg tarts, and a doong (sticky rice with savoury filling) and soy sauce. 24 May 2022, Vancouver, BC. Photo by the author.

If you leave the building, you’ll need to follow the same process to return to the third floor. The elevators are pass-accessed only, and the stairwells are locked between floors. In other words, there is no public access.

Accessing the archival fonds

The UCC archives are divided into two: reading room and storage room. Visitors may only access the fonds they have requested, which for me were thoughtfully collected on a rolling cart. As well, researchers may only make notes – no photos are allowed. You may use a notebook or a computer but no pens.

Get ready for your trip with a look at the finding aids at MemoryBC for the “United Church of Canada Pacific Mountain Regional Council Archives fonds.” (MemoryBC is a database lookup of finding aids for British Columbia museums and archives.) Not all the fonds have finding aids but there’s enough here to give you a sense of what’s available. (Click on the image to see them larger.)

United Church of Canada fonds, MemoryBC.

Use the finding aid list at left or the search box at the top to look within the archive holdings. For example, there are twenty-seven results for the word “Chinese” ranging from “Chinese United Church (Vancouver, B.C.) fonds (1925-1993)” to the “Fong Dickman fonds” (1898-1946).

Results for search term “Chinese” at United Church of Canada fonds, MemoryBC.

The Chinese Methodist Missions

After census records and vital statistics (birth, marriage, and death records), church records are some of the most important fonds in a genealogist’s toolkit. For the Chinese, however, it was a circuitous path to worship and so it appears relatively few Catholic or Protestant records exist. I am working on understanding better how the Methodist Church ministered to the Chinese populations in Canada. My research shows they established missions for non-white congregants and it was the Vancouver and Victoria mission fonds I wanted to explore.

To date, the UCC archives are the single greatest concentration of primary source, Chinese-Canadian vital statistic information I have yet found. There are many places to find Canadian vital records, but it is rare to find an archive with all Chinese (and a few Japanese) records. It’s therefore worth the time to get to know these fonds. (Arguably the registers of Chinese immigration also contain vital statistic information but are themselves registers of what people said about their places of origin, as opposed to collections of primary sources.)

One last fact you’ll need to know: the Canadian Methodist Church was amalgamated into the United Church in 1925.

Oriental Home and School fonds, 1886-1947

I looked at the Vancouver “Oriental Home and School fonds” which begin in 1886 (the same year the city was incorporated). The home initially sheltered Chinese and Japanese sex workers and later women escaping abusive relationships. The registers are a collection of handwritten volumes, like a diary of the workings of the Oriental Home from the perspective of the staff. The registers cover every aspect, from the monies spent to the people ministered. One striking aspect of these fonds is the insight into the lives of the Chinese and Japanese women who lived at the home. There are folders of photographs and it would be possible to cross reference the registers with the photos to get a clearer picture of the lives of individual women. Some pages are detailed biographies with photos. I counted 475 Chinese and Japanese women and children in these registers.

Another interesting way to look at the missions is to consider who thought them important enough to support, aka following the money. The missions made money by charging room and board. Donations came from the community: individual Chinese, Japanese weddings, and minister’s families. (Japanese weddings? I need to know more.) Total gross income 1905-1910 ranged from $2819-2569 ($92,581 – 78,182). It would be intriguing to do a deep dive into the donors and their connections to the Oriental Home.

Baptism and Marriage books

The UCC archives also hold baptism and marriage books for the Chinese United Church. The forms for marriage will be familiar to anyone who has used the BC archives but there is one key difference. The UCC archives’ copies of the marriage registers were performed by Chinese for Chinese couples and often have the full Chinese names of both bride and groom. Access to these records is restricted to the current privacy legislation. If you go, please carefully review and follow the terms and conditions of archive access.

Postscript

Thanks to long-running conversations during covid, Blair was familiar with my research inquiries and what I’d most want to see. Our first visit was like a meeting of old friends and we spent time sharing stories. By the end of the day, I knew I didn’t have time to see all that I wanted and planned a second visit. Unfortunately, the second visit was brief – just under two hours – but all archive time is worth the effort. I was unable to review all that Blair had located and instead concentrated my time on the Vancouver-related fonds. Next trip I’ll consider the Victoria-related fonds.

Also consider that because no photos are allowed, all work involves writing detailed citations and notes on site. I wrote my notes longhand in pencil. Next time I’ll skip the pencils and use Zotero and my laptop to speed up the citation-and-note-taking process.

Next week: the Vancouver Archives

Thank yous

Thank yous for this post go out to Blair Galston, the oh-so-friendly and helpful archivist at the UCC archives, and to my friend Kimiko for introducing us.

References

312 Main – a centre for social and economic innovation, 2022, [website], 312Main.ca.

About the archives – Pacific Mountain Region, Remembering Bob Stewart, 2022, [website], Pacific Mountain Regional Council of the United Church of Canada.

[contact page], [website], United Church of Canada Pacific Mountain Regional Council Archives, 2022. You may contact the archives by email or by phone. Blair Galston is the current archivist and he is both friendly and knowledgable.

Blair Galston, United Church of Canada archivist, [conversations Sep 2021-present day], author’s private collection.

History of the United Church of Canada, 2022, [website], the United Church of Canada. The United Church was formed in 1925 with the amalgamation of the Congregational Union, the Methodist church, and most of the Presbyterian churches.

Kimiko Karpoff, United Church minister [retired], [ongoing conversations to present day].

MemoryBC – gateway to British Columbia’s past, [no date], [database], MemoryBC.ca. MemoryBC is a database lookup of finding aids for British Columbia museums and archives.

8 thoughts on “A trip to the United Church of Canada Archives, Vancouver

  1. Thanks for the tip with all the very practical details of how to access the archives. This post brought back many memories of growing up in Renfrew Heights (a CM&H rental housing project for returning vets), going to the very new local United Church off Dieppe, where a WWII vet was the minister. Now I want to go see what records will be there during the time I remember 1955 to approximately1965. Mixed memories, part of my teen years into university.

    1. You’re very welcome, Celia. I’m delighted you found it helpful! Truthfully, I also write up these posts for myself as a readily-accessible way to refresh my memory on the how, who, what, when, where, and why of archival research.

  2. Great advice! And good to know the whole procedure for access. One question re photos – I understand why they don’t want US taking photos, but do they have a service where one can buy images from the archive?

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