Our Lady of Grace History:     


Our church, located in the town of Ganges on Drake Road, was originally a school. The building was purchased because of a demographic shift which saw the bulk of the island’s population moving from the south of the island to the centre of Salt Spring. The school was converted into a West Coast “mission” style church, commonly seen in BC. There was no rectory for a priest so a lean-to was set up adjoining the sacristy.  From 1947 through 1960 there were only temporary buildings and trailers for the priests to live in.  Our Lady of Grace became the actual parish church for the Island and administers to St. Paul’s and the missions of Pender and Mayne.


In 2004 an upgrading of the existing church as well as an extension were added to Our Lady of Grace. This enables the parish to better celebrate Mass in line with the new format brought in during the Second Vatican Council. As well, the expansion accommodates both the larger parish population and our many visitors who come to us in the summer months.


Some anecdotal history from a long-time parishioner:

  How Saltspring Island Catholics Got a Church in Ganges

(as told by Dorothy Dodds, April 14, 2005)


From what I can remember from my conversation with SSI pastor, Father Scheelen who

lived in St. Paul’s priest’s residence next to St. Paul’s Church in Fulford Harbour.

Father Scheelen was looking for property for a Catholic Church in Ganges. He foresaw that

there would come a time when the church population would become too much for St. Paul’s

and a church would be needed in Ganges.


He contacted Gavin Mouat, the school board representative and asked him how much he

wanted for the old Ganges Elementary School house and surrounding grounds. Gavin Mouat

answered, “ $500. But I must have the cash by 5p.m. today.” Father Scheelen hurried to his

old Ford and headed to Fulford Harbour to catch the launch transporting Salt Spring islanders

to Sidney.. He barely caught it.


After arriving at the Sidney dock he caught the bus to Victoria. On his arrival he contacted

the secretary of the Knights of Columbus. After explaining his mission he asked if he could

borrow the $500 to purchase the former school. The secretary explained that he did not

have the authority to grant father’s request. “But”, he said, “I will tell you what I can do. I

personally will loan you the $500.” Father accepted and began his return journey to Salt

Spring. He arrived at the meeting place with Gavin Mouat a few minutes before the deadline. Much

to Gavin’s surprise, Father Scheelen handed him the required $500. Gavin hadn’t expected

him to raise the money in so short a time. He had to keep his word. God was on Father

Sheelen’s side!


Salt Spring Islanders were very grateful to Father for his all out effort to acquire Ganges

Elementary School. They named the building St Edward’s Church. Later St. Edward’s

church’s name was changed to Our Lady of Grace. Father Lariviere did much of the

carpentry work to change the old school house into a church. He converted the classrooms

on the main floor into the church and divided two smaller rooms into a dressing room and a

small sitting room. St. Ann’s Academy passed on their stations of the cross and some of the

pews from St. Ann’s chapel.



St. Paul's: Saltspring Island's First Church:

St. Paul’s was founded in 1878. Father Gustave Donckele, the first Catholic priest to the Gulf Island, used to row to Salt Spring from the mission at Cowichan to say mass in parishioners’ homes. Under his direction, St. Paul’s Church was built between 1880 and 1885 on land donated by Horace John Shepherd, a non-Catholic. The Hawaiian Catholic community did most of the construction along with assistance from the Cowichan people and a number of Fulford valley residents: Joseph and Ted Akerman, John Maxwell, John King, Dick Purser and Michael Gyves. E. J. Bittancourt who had the first store in Vesuvius also helped. Father Donckele oversaw the transport of lumber, the original doors, the bell and a stained glass window from Cowichan by dugout canoe to Burgoyne Bay and then ox-drawn stone-boat through the valley. St. Paul’s was consecrated by Bishop J. B. Brondel on May 10 in1885. Throughout these many years St. Paul’s Church has stood near the head of Fulford Harbour as a symbol of God’s presence and a tribute to the faith of the early settlers and the dedication of Father Donckele. 

For historical images of St. Paul's, follow this link to the Saltspring Archives:
YouTube Video of Restoration of St. Paul's Cupola:
Another gem from the Saltspring Archives: a Gulf Islands Driftwood article recounting our parish's first turn (of many) at hosting the World Day of Prayer:                         http://saltspringarchives.com/driftwood/1967/February16-1967.pdf

Pastors at Our Lady of Grace:

 The Pastor's List is coming soon!
St. Mary Lake - named after Our Lady by Estalon Jose Bittancourt, a devoutly Catholic Saltspring pioneer from the Azores, who settled here in the 19th Century.