Dunbar Lutheran was established by several Norwegian fishermen and their families who left Prince Rupert during World War 2 and settled in the Dunbar area. The main impetus was to have a Sunday school close to home for their children. In December, 1942, classes began in the Richter Iverson home at 3578 West 30th Avenue. In response to interest from the adults, Pastor Anders Aasen of First Lutheran offered to undertake the task of organizing church services as a personal home mission project. He rented a store at 5640 Dunbar Street for $30 per month. This was transformed into a chapel. (Later, this site became an eatery known as the Cathay café). To start with there was no organized congregation with only about a dozen families attending. The nucleus of these had been former members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Prince Rupert. The pastors were volunteers. In October of 1943, a special meeting was held and a motion was passed to form a Lutheran congregation and that its name should be Dunbar Evangelical Lutheran Congregation. The church was registered as a legal entity in Victoria, B.C. in April 1944.
The church’s first pastor, Arnold F. Anderson, arrived in July 1944. It soon became apparent that if the congregation was to grow it needed to build a church of its own. Pastor Aasen offered to assist once again, and made the needs of the young congregation known to a widow who owned four lots at 31st and Collingwood. After a third request she decided to sell all four lots to the congregation. George Diffner, a Swedish general contractor was given the building contract. Construction could not begin until after severe building restrictions were lifted after the War in 1945. By February 1947 the building was ready for services and functions. It had cost almost $30,000. The congregation declared itself as self-supporting and set out to pay off its building loan as soon as possible.
The congregation experienced a boost in attendance, financial growth and an increase in activities and programs. By 1951 the membership was 134 and by 1959 it was 381. On a Sunday in 1955, a record 60 people became pledged members.
During this time of growth, the church never forgot its origins. It held its first Fisherman’s Festival in April 1953. Sometimes only a handful of men would be available to act as ushers at church services. The rest were out fishing! Tragically, several church members drowned when their fishing boats were lost at sea. Perhaps it is a tribute to them that even after 25 years, Dunbar Lutheran was known by many as “The Fisherman’s Church”.
In June 1966, Dunbar Lutheran celebrated full payment of its building. Then Labour and Education Minister L. Peterson, a one-time president of the congregation, took part in the bond redemption services and Pastor A.O. Aasen, paid a special visit. He was now 93 (and went on to fulfill his dream of living to 100!)
In the early years, people who attended Dunbar Lutheran were not just Norwegian but also of Danish, German, Latvian or Estonian descent. Many others were from the Prairies. This was a special cultural mix of people which is not as representative of Dunbar’s residents anymore. Dunbar Lutheran actually began to see a decline in numbers by the late 1970s. As young people in the congregation grew up, they married and moved out of town where they could afford to buy a home. Many of the older members passed away. Social values were being challenged and people didn’t feel the same need or desire to attend church. With fewer members, it became more challenging to keep the church building in repair and to employ a full-time pastor. Due to financial constraints, one of the four lots, upon which the parsonage stood, has been sold.After the most easterly lot was sold in 2002 and the parsonage was replaced in 2004 by a new home, the area between the new residence and the church became a barren, flat landscape dotted by rocks and weeds. Nature gradually added more and more weeds and would have undoubtedly reclaimed the space over time. After three years of unsightliness, however, plans were underway to transform the empty lot into something with heart and soul.
A number of congregants proposed that the space be turned into a garden that could be enjoyed by neighbours as well as church members. So the design was completed, the planting plan finalized and the hard work began. A member with a landscape business transported soil, gravel and plants and volunteers laboured to weed, shovel and dig. Together they created a garden that provides a pathway for neighbours to walk through, a bench to rest on and a variety of plants to delight the senses. Planting will continue until all the available spaces are filled. This new chapter in the life of humble piece of earth, however, is hopefully already providing some joy to all who walk through or visit it. May the love it was created with, be felt and shared by all and remind us of what is truly important in life. We are blessed with this unique and peaceful space and house of worship. In the words of a long time member: “Dunbar has always been blessed with people who have been faithful to keep a neat house. It is truly a pretty church set on a hill”.