A Little Town and a Little Girl


Christ Church Cathedral sat on the top of Church Hill. The Hill sloped gently to the town on its north side and sharply down to James’ Bay on the south, with shelves and sheer drops where rock had been blasted out for roadmaking.

A French family by the name of Jourand built Roccabella, a large boarding-house on the south side of Church Hill just below the Cathedral. It had a beautiful garden and was a quietly superior place in which to stay, holding its own even after modern conveniences in other boarding-houses overtook its level, clinging to its little open fireplaces and defying central heating. English guests particularly favoured Roccabella. They liked the sound of the Cathedral bells that came quavering in through their windows. They liked to sit by their own particular fire and to look across James’ Bay to the snowy Olympics.

The first Cathedral was burned down. The one I remember was built of wood and had a square tower with a cross on top. As Victoria grew they kept adding wings and more wings to the Cathedral till it looked squat and mother-hennish. Brick and stone churches sprang up in other parts of the city but the national significance of the old wooden Cathedral, sitting on the top of its hill, made it, in comparison with the others, like the star on top of a Christmas tree. The tree’s other ornaments seemed mere baubles. Christ Church Cathedral was the emblem of our National Faith. It meant something to every Briton, whether he realized it or not, whether he were Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, no matter what he worshipped, even if he professed no religion at all. There was something particularly British, something secure about it.

Our family did not attend Christ Church Cathedral. Mother went to the Reformed Episcopal Church on Humboldt Street. Church Hill was too steep for her to climb and anyway she liked the evangelical service.

Bishop Cridge of the Reformed Episcopal Church had once been Dean of the Cathedral, but, long before I can remember, he and Bishop Hills had had a bitter clash of conscience—“High” and “Low”, that same old controversy that never will be settled while people are people. Spiteful folks spoke of this church split as “the Big Church kicking the Little Church down the hill.” The little church smiled up from the mud flats, the Cathedral frowned down, austere and national, and Victorians chose High or Low, whichever comforted them most.


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This work (The Book of Small by Emily Carr) is free of known copyright restrictions.