September 25, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 39
Looking Back - John Kinnear
A Church, a Bell and a Steam Train
Looking Back
courtesy Vic Bergman
Post card of original location of Wayside Chapel at Passburg with bible museum in back
Last week Vic Bergman, who runs the Crowsnest Angler Fly Shop and Guide Service, tipped me off about the renovations going on at the Wayside Chapel at the Bellevue Community Campground. Specifically he shared with me that he had photographed the bell at that quaint little church and wondered about the stamped number on its top.

I wound up eventually dropping by the church a few days later after Vic gave me the heads up that the crew was back working there. What I found going on at the chapel last Thursday was both heartwarming and fascinating. I was immediately drawn into the whole story of the church origins itself. So let’s look at it and then get back to the bell story later.

Working there that day were three members of the Christian Reform Church (CRC), two from Granum and one from Fort Macleod. One of the Granumites by the name of Klaas Eindhoven was busy cutting curved sections of Hardie board to be fitted into the four gothic arches that made up the bell tower enclosure. The bell tower had been taken down along with the spire for refurbishing. Hardie board incidentally is a fibre cement siding that needs a special saw blade to cut it. Unlike the vinyl siding they had stripped off it is extremely hardy. Excuse the pun.

An interesting sidelight in this repair story that workman John Williamson shared with me was when they stripped off the vinyl from the back of the church they found about a dozen signatures. This was not graffiti but in fact volunteers who had worked to clad the church with vinyl on August 21, 1999 and had signed their names and the date. Four of the twelve signatures had the last name Konynenbelt, about as Dutch as you can get I guess. An internet search of that name revealed no less than 13 Konynenbelt’s living in Nobleford!
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Granum and Nobleford both have strong Christian Reform churches and evidently a prominent Dutch element to their populations. A little history is in order here. The CRC has its roots in the Reformation of the sixteenth century and principally comes from the Netherlands. It basically embraces the key teachings of John Calvin. It was brought to North America in 1867 and in 1905 the first Canadian congregation was established in the Granum/Nobleford area.

So what’s that got to do with the Wayside Chapel in Bellevue? Well it goes something like this. After the Second World War many Dutch immigrants came to this country because of a bilateral immigration agreement between the Canadian and Dutch governments. Their agricultural economy had been devastated by the deliberate destruction of their dykes. Canada was looking to populate and Holland was looking to place their agriculturalists here. Between 1947 and 1954 94,000 Dutch immigrants landed at Pier 21 in Halifax, principally to farms in southern Ontario and southern Alberta.

Both governments relied heavily on religious organizations to help place them. In our area the Molema family was the first to land here in 1948 and through them or through the owner of the Burmis Lumber Company- Mr. Van Wyck, several more families were sponsored. Many sponsored families started their new lives at the old Burmis Camp. That’s a dandy story I’ll share some day.
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By 1954 there were no less than 35 families here whose “social and spiritual lives centered around the church (CRC) and youth activities”. Their congregation initially shared the sanctuary in the Bellevue United Church for services and in 1958 purchased the early (1908) Methodist Church to the right and south of the Bellevue Main Street where they worshipped until their numbers dwindled in 1985. They also acquired some land on the Passburg flats for future expansion.

One of those sponsored families was the Timmermans, Arie and Don. Remember Timmermans Bakery? It was Don’s idea to set up a small “Wayside Chapel” at the Passburg property “as a tourist attraction for relaxation and meditation”. He had seen something similar in a magazine where it had been done in Germany right beside a main highway. Sounds about right. So in 1960 with the help of MLA Bill Kovach Sr. and the highways department an exit road and site were prepared and that July 2nd the Wayside Chapel officially opened.

It had an old house right behind it at one time that was restored and used as a Bible Museum but vandalism forced its closure 5 years later. The church attracted thousands and eventually a generator was installed to supply power to a sound system so that visitors could listen to a mini-sermon complete with sacred music. Visitation in those years was reported to be between 15,000 and 16,000 visitors a year and 1500 copies of the New Testament were given out over a period of three years.
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In 1975 vandals using a stolen truck ripped the back off of the chapel to get at a donation box. It was repaired and in 1978 about a dozen volunteers with the help of Casey Van der Linden’s tractor moved it back about 100 feet to make way for the Highway 3 re-alignment. In 1984 the chapel was moved next to the Tourist Information Center in Bellevue where it has sat ever since.

The CRC group became smaller and smaller as many of the immigrant families moved away from the Pass and in 1985 the church group officially disbanded. The Granum/Nobleford congregation underwrote the original cost for the chapel in 1960 and has remained committed to maintaining it. That’s where Klass Eindhoven, Alvin Sinnema and John Williamson came in. As dedicated church members they had come to once more refurbish this iconic little chapel.

It has hosted all kinds of ceremonies like weddings and continues to catch the eye of travelers who can’t resist a quick visit. Boy, talk about taking control of your wedding attendance. The church pews can hold 14 people but that’s if you like snuggling up real close!

So let’s get back to the bell part of this story. Vic noticed it was stamped in capitals on its front: “DONATED BY CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY JUNE 1960”. He had also noticed the stamped number 5779 on the top of the bell. Of course I just had to see this for myself and Williamson kindly set up a ladder for me to get a closer look. The number 5779 was there on the left side but I also found a fainter 5121 stamped on the right side.
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It seems that CPR used to number their steam engine bells to match the number of the train it was on. In this case I am guessing it originally was on 5121 which was a 2-8-2 Mikado style steam locomotive. CPR had about 250 of these freight/passenger haulers in service at one time. 5121 was converted to an oil burner and worked on the Kettle Valley Railway in BC. Converting to oil starting surprisingly as far back as 1911 and in the beginning was specific to BC to help eliminate the threat of fires started by sparks and hot ashes.

It was also not that unusual for bells to be moved to another train, in this case 5779. The fate of 5121 has yet to be determined by me but I’ll keep digging. 5779 on the other hand was a decapod style with a 2-10-0 configuration. If you are wondering what these numbers mean it is simply this. The train has two wheels under the cow catcher, 10 driving wheels (5 per side) and no wheels under the cab.

This decapod was built in 1918 and saw service until the late 1950’s. They were wonderful working trains and a marvel to behold. I wonder if as a small boy I saw one pass through here while sitting on our house fence that overlooked the rail line from Blairmore through Coleman. To see a steam train roll through here up the grade chuffing steam high into the air on a -30 centigrade day was a sight to behold.

I found a story on 5779 in my myriad of searches. In January of 1929 it was slowly passing over the Surprise Creek Bridge in the Rogers Pass when the middle arch of this just completed steel bridge collapsed. 5779 had a “pusher” engine # 5767 attached to it as it crossed the bridge. The 5779 engineer felt a hard tug as he crossed to the other side and found later in the -40c ice fog that 5767 had plunged into the ravine 157 feet below killing Bertram Woodland aged 45 and Jeffrey Griffiths aged 20. They are buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Revelstoke. Woodland had seven children by 1928! 5767 was eventually hauled out of the ravine in three sections, rebuilt and remained in service until 1957.

Author’s Note: Sometimes a story takes me in a dozen different directions and in this case I visited more than 115 web sites searching for clarification and expansion of this story. My head hurts. But I felt it was important for you the reader to get the whole story on the one and only Wayside Chapel! Be sure to check out the on-line story for many more pictures!
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September 25, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 39
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