Early Years (1881–1882)
In 1881, Brandon consisted of approximately 100 buildings and a few hundred residents. Among those residents were a handful of worshipers who were led in prayer by a manufacturer’s agent, L.M. Fortier, a lay reader of the Church of England. Their first gathering in July 1881, at the elegant dining room of the Royal Hotel between 12th and 13th Street on Rosser Avenue, was the early beginning of the parish of St. Matthew. Their services, under the license of Archbishop Robert Machray of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land, became a mission of Holy Trinity, Winnipeg. During the last half of 1881, the services moved three times from the original location. In 1882, the Reverend J. Boydell was appointed as St. Matthew’s first full-time Anglican priest. At Easter in 1882, the first vestry was formed and Mr. Fortier was named as the Rector’s Warden and Brandon’s first Mayor, T. Mayne Daly, the People’s Warden. Their first order of business was to build a church. Land was purchased at the corner of 11th Street and Princess Avenue and the new church was dedicated on the October 1, 1882, at a cost of $7,000 for both land and building. The new church, with its Gothic design of high gables and bell tower, had a commanding view over Brandon. The interior of the church was appointed very attractively with stained pine. The east window had a scene of the ‘crucifixion’ in ornamental glass and at the back of the altar was a reredos, a gift of the first organizer Mr. L. M. Fortier. The Reverend E.P. Flewelling became rector in 1884 and was succeeded by the Reverend George Rogers in 1892, who remained for only one year. Little has been recorded about the tenure of these two rectors.
The Church and the City Grow (1883–1912)
The arrival of the Reverend M.T. McAdam Harding (1893–1904) as rector of St. Matthew’s heralded major changes. Both the city and the congregation grew. During Harding’s ten-year tenure, the church was enlarged twice: a chapel and a choir were added and in 1903 and a parish hall was built. Harding’s address changed five times until a more permanent site for the rectory was found. The church achieved debt-free status in 1900 and immediately plans were made to erect a Sunday school building and acquire the Hopper residence on 12th Street for the rectory. At the same time, a pipe organ was purchased at a cost of $2,300. The Reverend Adam Urias de Pencier (1904–1908) was a vigorous administrator. His vision was to make St. Matthew’s a centre of Anglican Christianity. He encouraged St. Mary’s to become a parish and established missions at Chater, Poplar Hill, Alexander and St. George’s in Brandon. However, it was during the tenure of the Reverend William Porteous Reeve’s (1908–1912) that the site for the future Cathedral was selected and in late 1912, the cornerstone was laid.
Depression, War & Pro-Cathedral (1913–1947)
At great expense ($3,000), the Reverend Cecil Samuel Quainton (1914–1917), a renowned orator became the rector. In the summer of 1914, at the Diocesan Synod, the Archbishop laid the seed to establish a Diocesan See at Brandon. It would be three decades before this would become a reality. The First World War saw a decline in Brandon’s population from 17,177 in 1914 to 14,012 in 1918. There was little growth or activity during this period, aside from the customary services. In 1918, the Reverend E. A. Anderson (1918–1932) became rector and his 14 year tenure established a record. The church became debt free three years into Reverend Anderson’s term in 1921 and the first Father and Son banquet was held in the crypt in February of the same year. In 1924, the first Synod of the Diocese of Brandon was held on June 24. The Reverend Percy Heywood (1932–1947) became rector in 1932.
The Great Depression and World War II had a major impact on St. Matthew’s. Although financially depleted, the church became a centre for comfort and social activity. During the war, the Sunday evening church service was followed by a social hour and a sing-song, a popular home-like surrounding for British, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian troops. More importantly, the church and the priest played a major role as the first line of comfort for the families of those who were killed in the war. Although money was tight, quite miraculously the church paid off its remaining debt on the building in 1945. Finally on Ascension Day, May 10, 1945, St. Matthew’s was declared Pro-Cathedral.
Growth — Cathedral At Last (1947–1969)
The Reverend Fred Ongley (1947–1953), a war-time padre, became rector of St Matthew’s in 1947. His arrival coincided with a major expansion in the country and the church. In 1948, a five-year plan for major repairs and renovations commenced. The parish kitchen, the domain of Miss Bobier, became the centre of activity and camaraderie. A (noisy) new blower heating unit was installed and the old crypt stage was transformed into a reception room. The church continued to be the Pro-Cathedral for the diocese even though more and more diocesan events were held at St. Matthew’s. The Bishop took up residence and many of the laity of the parish were involved in diocesan affairs and yet no word on a change in status from Pro-Cathedral to Cathedral. With the resignation of Bishop Wilfred Thomas, and the consecration of Brandon’s second Bishop, The Rt. Reverend I. A. Norris, in 1950, the congregation demanded action. It took two years of negotiations and finally on October 5, 1952, St. Matthew’s was constituted as the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Brandon. Unfortunately St Matthew’s rector, The Rev. Ongley, was not to be the Dean. Bishop Norris held this position himself until 1957. Nor was he able to occupy the new rectory built on 15th Street. The day it was ready, Rev. Ongley was appointed Archdeacon of the Diocese of Toronto. One major accomplishment initiated by The Rev. Ongley during his tenure was the Memorial Church Camp at Clear Lake. At a special congregational meeting in 1954, the Reverend B.O. Whitfield (1954–1960) of St George’s, Brandon, was appointed rector and became the first Dean of Brandon in 1957.
A New Parish Hall
The need for a Parish Hall had been known for many years. It wasn’t until the Reverend M.L. Goodman (1960–1965) arrived that a planning and financial campaign was launched. A parish meeting was called late in the summer of 1962, with an attendance of only 18 parishioners. Undaunted by the poor turnout, the Dean and the wardens declared a quorum and the meeting approved the financing plan. The main fundraiser for the campaign was a dinner at the Prince Edward Hotel. The day of the event turned out to be the worst snowfall of the season. To the amazement of all the dining room was packed in spite of the snow and the project was well on its way. The Rev. Goodman was well known for his CBC radio program “With You in the Morning”, a series of five-minute meditations. The Dedication and Opening Ceremony was held at the Hall on September 11, 1963. Bishop Norris officiated and The Honorary Erick F. Willis, the Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba, cut the ribbon, officially opening the Hall.
Silence And Stability (1965–1982)
In 1965, the Reverend T.W. Wilkinson (1965–69) became Dean. A combined service with the Salvation Army in celebration of their Centenary was held one month after his arrival. In 1966, the Cathedral proudly acquired a Maas-Rowe Carillon with one hundred and eleven electronic bells. This joy, however, was not shared by all in the neighbourhood. The Cathedral was the scene of a major community ecumenical event marking Canada’s centenary. Representatives from all major Christian denominations attended a packed service. The popular Christmas Gift Mart also began in 1967 and continued until 1979. The Reverend John Conlin (1969–1975) arrived as Dean of the Cathedral in 1969. This auspicious occasion was met with silence instead of the normal musical praises. The choir master, choir and organist had organized a protest to recruit volunteers for the choir. Three weeks later things returned to normal. While few joined the choir, Professor Mayoh gained a small concession as he was allowed to give chant-singing instruction to the congregation. In 1973, the mortgage was paid off and in 1974, a major ecumenical music event occurred as part of a Provincial Synod and the 50th anniversary celebrations of the diocese. It was also in 1975 that the first female warden, Phyllis Elliott, was elected and the Reverend Harry Hobbs (1975–79) was selected as Dean. Sadly, Dean Hobbs was killed in a tragic automobile accident in 1979. For a six-month period, Fred Ongley returned and filled in with the help of assistant curate, the Reverend Tom McQuiston. The late 1970s was also a time of major fundraising at the Cathedral. In 1980, the Reverend Noel Goater (1980–1987) became Dean.
Challenges And Improvements (1983–present)
The last 30 years have seen major changes in Brandon, at St. Matthew’s and in society in general. The change in regular Church going has had a major impact on the Cathedral. With the drop in church attendance, so too did the Cathedral finances decline requiring innovative ways to balance the budget. Fortunately the rectors continued to maintain a period of stability in church activities both ecumenically and socially. In 1987, the Rev. Thomas Crawford (1987–1992) became Dean. In 1992, the Reverend James Njegovan (1992–2002) began his ten-year tenure as Dean and Rector. With his selection as Bishop of the Diocese of Brandon, the Right Reverend, James Njegovan handed over the reigns to the Very Reverend Robin Walker in 2003.
Members have worked very hard to keep the condition of the cathedral at the high standard of past years. In 1982, as a centennial project, needle work kneelers were crafted for placement at the altar rail. With a design created by Mrs. Joyce Holland, parish volunteers completed the work. They were dedicated on Easter Sunday in 1984. Three years later, the kneelers in the chapel were also completed. They were dedicated on September 19, 1989. In 1999, Dean Njegovan’s wish for the Cathedral to have a columbarium became a reality when a committee under the chairmanship of Lou Brown undertook the project. The columbarium was built on the wall of the south transept using wood from the pews that had been removed in each of the transepts. It was dedicated on January 22, 2002. In early 2000, the red carpeting was removed and the floors refinished in the nave and chancel areas, greatly improving the acoustics. At this time, a Labyrinth was designed and painted on the floor in the north transept. To celebrate the millennium, a Flower Festival was held at the Cathedral on July 27 and 28, 2000. This project, supported by local merchants was headed by Marjorie Adams and raised $9,000. It included a tea room, antiques and art as well as garden tours and musical entertainment. In 2006, a nine foot Baldwin concert piano was purchased, greatly adding to the Cathedral’s musical program. On the fellowship side, the annual turkey dinner continued bringing the congregation together, as well our many friends in the community.
St. Matthew’s Cathedral continues to have a bright future as a place where Anglicans can gather to worship and share the Gospel story in both word and deed. Those who have come before have left us with a beautiful Church building and an inspiring legacy of service to God and neighbour and we thank God for them and their witness to the Christian life.