Roadside Chapel in Northern B.C. Damaged by Fire

Roadside Chapel in Northern B.C. Damaged by Fire

Posted 05/06/2022

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Author: Jenny deGroot

After an early morning fire in April caused damage to a small white clapboard chapel in Usk, B.C., volunteers from Terrace Christian Reformed Church, about 20 km (just over 12 miles) west of the village, have begun to clean up, secure, and work to repair the damage to the roadside chapel. The congregation erected the structure in 1967. 

Usk is a hamlet along Highway 16, also known as the Highway of Tears for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The original Usk church and many of the town’s buildings were damaged by a flood in 1936. This small memorial chapel, a replica of the original church, was a gift from the Terrace CRC congregation, commemorating Canada’s Centennial year and completion of their own church building project.

Related: Tiny Churches, Big Hearts: Wayside chapels in the CRC (October 2010)

Len Vanderkwaak, the original builder, constructed the church on wooden blocks in his driveway. It was then transported on a flatbed truck to the prepared site. The steeple was attached after the church was positioned in place. The land was donated by a local community member. Over the years, members of Terrace CRC have looked after the building, making it available for anyone who wished to use it. Some Usk residents contribute by helping with lawn maintenance and removing fallen trees.

Rolf Vandevelde, chairperson of Terrace CRC’s building and grounds committee, heard about the recent fire from a fellow church member driving out of town on vacation. The local fire and police departments responded to the 911 call and were able to save the building from more extensive damage. A report by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation quoted emergency coordinator Rick Boehm as saying “it appeared that something had ignited the wooden cross” and “there are no utilities in this heritage building—therefore it is suspicious at this time."  While the investigation is ongoing, repairs have started. On April 23 some volunteers from Terrace CRC led by Vandevelde removed damaged materials, cleared away soot and ash, and covered holes with plastic. Because of the location, fire insurance is not available for the structure, so Terrace CRC is receiving donations through the church’s website as well as an online fundraiser to complete the work. A local couple’s July wedding in the chapel is an incentive to have the building fully repaired by then. 

At the chapel’s dedication in 1967 the congregation offered the chapel as “a retreat for finding God: as a reminder back to God.” Vandevelde said it has been enjoyed by many locals and traveling visitors from around the world. “We have multiple guest books that have page after page of names and far-flung locations. filled with doodles and comments, many of which will warm your heart.” 

In 2017 the church celebrated the chapel’s 50th anniversary with a community gathering sharing cake and memories. Vanderkwaak was able to attend the celebration with two of his children. He died in 2021, the last of those involved in building the chapel.

Joel Ringma, pastor of Terrace CRC, posted a video from the site of the Usk chapel May 5, 2022, reflecting on the stories of connection in the community and recalling God's provision in "second chances."