Heritage Register
North Park

1701 Quadra Street/932 Balmoral Road
First Presbyterian, then First United Church

Built 1912-15
Heritage-Designated 1979

Architect: John Charles Malcolm Keith
Contractors: Stevens Brothers

1701 Quadra


This late Gothic Revival church is less flamboyant than St. John’s at 1611 Quadra St. It is a front-gabled, brick building with parapeted gables and parapets on the rooflines of the side walls. Two square towers on either side of the front gable are of different heights. Both have shallow, shouldered, buttresses on their corners. The tall tower on the right is the bell tower; it has louvered vents under quatrafoil windows, with stone parapets that are crenellated, and shingled pinnacles at the corners. A grand entrance stairway leads to three pairs of doors below an impressive seven-panelled, stained-glass window. On the right side the upper windows are Gothic-arched; the lower windows have shallow arches. The casings on the south are of stone, on the north they are of brick. The foundation is of rusticated ashlar.


The early colonial era in Victoria was staunchly Anglican, since this was the unofficial religion of the Hudson’s Bay Company. However, many company men were Scottish Presbyterian and by the end of the 1850s requested a minister of their own. The Irish branch of the Presbyterian church sent the Rev. John Hall in 1861. Unfortunately, no one knew that he was coming and he had to search for other Presbyterians.

He and Alexander Wilson organized a service to be held in Moore’s Music Hall, at the corner of Langley and Yates Streets. Thirty people turned up and thus was formed the first Presbyterian church west of Winnipeg. Hall was paid $200 per annum and Wilson was a pillar of the church community until his death in 1918. The founding congregation also included Chief Justice David Cameron; other local notables were architect John Wright, Robert Carter, John Bastedo, Charles Cochrane, Simon Anderson and Alexander Loury. The congregation built its first church on the corner of Blanshard and Pandora streets.

John Hall left Victoria in 1864 to continue his missionary work in New Zealand and was replaced by Rev Thomas Somerville. Difficulties between Somerville and some of the congregation resulted in him leaving to establish another church, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian on Douglas St, taking two-thirds of the congregation with him. First Presbyterian managed with supply pastors for a time but eventually had to close. The Anglican community used it temporarily after Christ Church Cathedral burned down in 1869. Dean Cridge used First Presbyterian for a time, after he and his followers left the Anglican cathedral in 1874. The ecclesiastical trial of Dean Cridge was also held at First Presbyterian.

Finally, in 1876, Rev John Reid was sent to re-open the church and revive the congregation. Many former members came back but Reid also attracted new and younger people and the church quickly gained a reputation for its basketball team as well as its prize-winning choir. The congregation joined the Presbyterian Church in Canada in 1882. A major fire the following year destroyed part of the church. From 1892 until 1912, the congregation was led by the Rev. Dr. John Campbell (1177 Fort St, Rockland). Eventually the Blanshard and Pandora property was sold. In 1911 a lot was purchased for $26,750 at the corner of Quadra and Balmoral streets and J.C.M. Keith was commissioned to design a church complex. The Sunday School building and hall were constructed first. West Coast Construction were the original contractors for the hall but that business failed and the church took over the uncompleted building and hired Luney Bros to excavate the main structure and Stevens Bros to build the church for $130,000. Berlin Interior Hardwood of Ontario made the furnishings; unfortunately, the side pews were found to be one foot too short, and they remain so to this day.

First Presbyterian was dedicated in May 1915. The church entered the United Church of Canada in 1925 and became First United Church. The church celebrated its centenary in 1962 and a plaque was placed at the Blanshard St site of the original church. Over 100 pioneer members were present at the celebrations.

A fire in November 1962 gutted the Sunday School section of the church. This was the second fire in the same section within two years, in spite of re-wiring after the first fire. The total damage estimate was $100,000, including the electronic carillon. However the church carried $400,000 in insurance and a firewall between the church and the extension limited the damage.

By 1969, in its 107th year, First United was believed to have the largest United Church membership in Western Canada. Attendance had dwindled by the mid-1990s and this led to a decision to merge the two congregations, Metropolitan United (1411 Quadra St, Harris Green) and First United, just three blocks apart. Metropolitan was sold to become the Victoria Conservatory of Music and First United was re-named First Metropolitan United Church. Renovations in 1998-9 involved a re-arrangment of the sanctuary seating, enlargement of the chancel and re-design of the choir stalls.


• Map of Victoria Heritage Register Properties

• North Park History

• North Park Heritage Register

• This Old House, Victoria's Heritage Neighbourhoods,
Volume Three: Rockland, Burnside, Harris Green,
Hillside-Quadra, North Park & Oaklands

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