912 Vancouver Street, Victoria, BC

Christ Church Cathedral & School

The Anglican church was once a wooden structure that soon become inadequate for the size of its congregation. In 1981, the Anglican Diocese held an international design competition for a larger and more impressive structure. The famous architect J.C.M. Keith answered the call and won the contest. He decided to design a 13th century gothic style church which was inspired by Durham Cathedral in England.

Unfortunately, Keith didn’t have a chance to see his design come to reality until 1923 when enough money could be raised to start building. The first cornerstone was laid on October 1, 1923, and a service for breaking ground on the new Cathedral took place on May 20, 1926 with Keith in attendance.

It wasn’t until 1957 that the western towers and the arch over the rose window were completed in concrete with stone facing. Skilled stone cutters were in short supply, so the ranks were filled with workers from Europe.

“There was then, and there still is now,” laughs Gavin Chamberlain, owner of Heritage Masonry. “Not many kids say, ‘I want to be a stone mason when I grow up’, and I struggle to find good staff.”

The Project:

Our most recent assignment was to work on the cathedral extension built in the 80s. It was surfaced with a sprayed stucco called Exterior Insulation Finishing System (E.I.F.S.) which is not an appropriate material for a Cathedral.

The Work:

We took out the E.I.F.S. stucco around one of the windows and replaced it with a composite product. The extension is full of holes pecked through this thin façade by birds. At present, there are about 200 birds living in the door and window surrounds.

“As a matter of historical interest, construction of one of the original towers was actually delayed due to a robin’s nest,” says Gavin. “The robin regularly had lunch with the master mason who would throw it bread crumbs. He obviously became quite fond of the robin because he left the nest on the top of one of the columns for as long as possible, and when they finally had to move it elsewhere, they carved a robin to commemorate it.”

After the extension was completed, Gavin and his team tackled the school.

The Project – Phase 2

In the school’s main courtyard, there was a window taken out and a door put in, but the structure wasn’t reinforced properly, so a crack formed.

The Work

In liaison with the structural engineers we carefully took down a gable section between the two windows.  We removed the cracked, original sill and lintel and replaced with new pieces from the same quarry.  In the rubble in fill you will also see we built in a relief arch to help spread the load further.

What’s the next Project for Christ Church Cathedral?

Christ Church Cathedral has some beautiful sandstone features. When masons work with sandstone, the bedding planes – essentially the compressed layers making up the stone - allow them to split it along its lines. If the stone is laid against the plane, it can start to delaminate. That’s possibly the next challenge that will need to be addressed.

“We’re not working on the main cathedral itself right now,” said Gavin, “but when they are ready for us, we’re looking forward to restoring and protecting the remainder of the building.”