When people first think of a chapel they believe it to be a small building, possibly attached or in close proximity to a larger church. Our chapel is quite different. To begin with, it is large, even larger than many churches in our valley. It can comfortably accommodate at least 300 people in 34 rows the pews with another forty or so in the choir area. The Fairbridge Chapel is almost 100 feet (30.5 meters) long with the nave and chancel measuring over 43 feet (13 meters) wide while the clock tower rises 40 feet (12 meters) above the main entrance to the narthex.
However, the Chapel is far more interesting than only its size.
Should you look at the pews; can you find a knot in the long tight grain Douglas fir wood and what about the plywood on the walls, or the beams? Maybe if one looks closely there could be a couple but certainly not very many.
The Colonel John Stoughton Dennis Memorial Window in the narthex is considered by many as one of the finest stained glass windows within any religious building in the Cowichan Valley. The Chapel Society along with the Canadian Pacific Railway has provided information on Col. Dennis’ involvement with the establishment of the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School as well as the development of much of western Canada from the mid-1870’s until his retirement in 1930.
The center stained glass window above the altar is another memorial window, honoring a young Fairbridge boy who passed away at the age of 12. Information about John Taylor is in a frame located in the narthex.
But the interesting features don’t just end here. What about the tower? When you approach the Chapel you will notice that unlike almost all other churches in western Canada there is a clock; a clock that has now been keeping time and chiming out the appropriate hour well into a third century.
Its historic importance in itself is a national treasure. It was the first public clock in British Columbia; it is the only clock in a chapel within our province. And, even better, it still functions perfectly to this day. The clock and bell were made by the Gillette & Bland Company of Corydon England in 1875 and 1876 respectively and then shipped to jeweler Charles E. Redfern of Victoria. Located above the entrance to his Government Street business the clock’s bell could be heard throughout the business district. In 1939 another Victoria jeweler, James Rose, donated it to the farm school for their new chapel.
In 1988 the clock was totally disassembled and refurbished. The work took over six months to complete. Then in September 2016, the bell was turned 180 degrees. This ‘turning of the bell’ is recommended about every 150 years since after the hammer strikes the same location thousands of times a small dent occurs and can change the tone of the bell or worse, crack the bell.
Throughout the chapel, there are other memorial plaques, paintings, and photographs.