Our Lady of Grace Parish History:     


Our Lady of Grace Parish on Salt Spring Island began as a mission of the Cowichan church with Fr. Gustav Donkele SMM visiting the island and celebrating the Eucharist in private homes about once a month. In 1885, St. Paul’s Church was consecrated and has served the Catholic community of the island ever since. The church was built with some of the building materials brought over to the island from the Butter Church in Cowichan Bay, including a “rose window” that was restored in 2005 for the church’s 125th anniversary. Members of a Hawaiian settlement helped build the church and the cemetery has the grave of William Naukana, the first Hawaiian to settle in the area. The graves of the Hawaiians are adorned with shell beads—a sight that attracts many visitors.

With the population on the island growing and the centre of activity shifting from the south to Ganges, in 1940 Fr. E. M. Scheelan SMM purchased the Ganges Harbour School from the newly amalgamated school district. The school was converted into a West Coast “mission” style church, commonly seen in BC. Shortly thereafter the building was raised and a parish hall was added. There was no rectory for a priest, so a lean-to was set up adjoining the sacristy.  In 2004, major renovations of the church took place, updating the insulation and windows, and constructing an addition. Two stained glass windows designed by Valla Eirkisson were added.

Salt Spring Island attracts many visitors, including to St. Paul’s and Our Lady of Grace Churches. We welcome them to share in the faith experience that has been built on the faith of our Parish’s ancestors.

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. 

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: Salt Spring 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 Salt Spring 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:

List of Priests Serving Salt Spring Island

  • Fr. Gustave Donckele (began to visit the Fulford Harbour area in 1878 and stayed until 1890)
  • Frs. Van Goethem, Kremers, Dorval, Marmouget, and Cortenraad (and a few others until the late 1930s/early 1940s)
  • Fr. E.M. Scheelen SMM (1922 – 1942)
  • Fr. Maurice Lariviere SMM (1943 – 1956)
  • Fr. Demers (1956  – 1957)
  • Fr. Hanley and Fr. William Mudge (1960)
  • Fr. M. Costello (1960 – 1965)
  • Fr. Michael O’Connell (1966 –  1967)
  • Fr. Frances Sutherland OMI (unrecorded except 1975)
  • Fr. Augustine Bergin OMI  (1976 – 1988)
  • Fr. Donald Douglas MacDonald OMI (1990 – 1994)
  • Fr. Leo Boyd OMI (1995)
  • Fr. Brendan McGennety OMI (1996)
  • Fr. Jules Goulet OMI (1996 – 2006)
  • Fr. Sean Flynn (2006 – 2007)
  • Fr. Anthony Divinagracia  (2007 – 2008)
  • Fr. William MacDonald OMI (2009 – 2010)
  • Fr. Larry Soberano (2010 – 2012)
  • Fr. Frank Franz (2012 – 2014)
  • Fr. Ian Stuart (2014 – 2015)
  • Fr. Scott Whittemore (2015  –       )

St. Mary's Lake - was named after Our Lady by Estalon Jose Bittancourt, a devoutly Catholic Salt Spring pioneer from the Azores, who settled here in the 19th Century.