WINDEMERE, B.C. — It’s perhaps the most romantic tale of love and crime from the early days of B.C.’s Columbia Valley.
St. Peter’s Church in Windermere, B.C., is known locally as the stolen church. In 1900, Rufus Kimpton, as a gesture of love for his wife, Celina, moved it via rail, wagon and riverboat from another community and reassembled it in Windermere.
Windermere sits on the shores of Lake Windermere in the Columbia Valley. Gilbert Malcolm Sproat established the community in 1883 and named Lake Windermere, formerly known as Lower Columbia Lake, after a lake in Cumberland, England. The first hotel was built the same year.
St. Peter’s was built in 1887 in the railway town of Donald, just south of Golden, B.C. In 1897, the CPR decided to change their railway divisional point to Revelstoke from from Donald and offered to move any buildings to any location along its line free of charge.
Rufus, realizing that his Donald would soon be a ghost town, moved his family 185 kilometres south to Windermere. Celine missed her church in Donald so much that Rufus, with the help of his brother-in-law, J.C. Pitts, stole it from under the noses of town officials.
Some believe the pair dismantled the church, while other reports say that the church was already dismantled and ready for shipment to Revelstoke.
Regardless, they managed to ship the church by train to Golden and then by steamship to Windermere where they reassembled it at its current location.
En route, someone else stole the 272 kilogram church bell, which ended up in St. Paul’s Church in Golden.
Resentment over the stolen bell continued between Windermere and Golden for more than half a century until one night in 1957 when a group from Windermere stole the bell. They later held a parade in honour of their achievement.
Their victory was short lived when church officials at Windermere said two wrongs don’t make a right and returned the bell to Golden.
Today, Windermere houses the stolen church and Golden has the stolen bell.
St. Peter’s Church is maintained by the residents of Windermere and is often used for weddings. Windermere Valley Shared Ministry and the Diocese of Kootenay hold monthly church services there during the summer months and on Christmas Eve.