A history of the Nanaimo Salvation Army, 125 years

The Salvation Army in Nanaimo came into being on May 15, 1888 and has done a lot for the community the past 125 years.

Despite little in the way of recorded history for its first 50 years, it’s clear the focus of the Salvation Army in Nanaimo has always been to assist those in need, said Dawne Anderson, fundraising and promotions co-ordinator.

The local corps celebrated its 125th anniversary on May 15, 1888. The first church was built on Nicol Street in 1893 and is still in use today – Anderson said the building has played a significant role in the expansion of programs and services offered through the decades.

During (the Second World War), the Nanaimo corps ran a Red Shield Centre across from the former city hall – it could sleep up to 100 people. When the soldiers first arrived at the base near Vancouver Island University, there were not enough huts ready to house them. Tents were pitched but proved inadequate so the soldiers were housed at the Red Shield Centre until more huts were built.”

She said that an annex was built beside the church on Nicol Street in 1943 to handle the overflow from Wallace Street, which provided an additional 75 beds. The annex was closed in July 1945 and the Red Shield Centre closed the following March.

The Nicol Street church was renovated in 1953, which allowed for an increase in the number of ways the building could be used and it was the infancy of the local Salvation Army’s meal program, which now provides 75,000 meals a year.

The upgrades in 1953 enabled the Salvation Army to operate a very small soup kitchen. Daily, (there was) a large vat of soup bubbling away on a two burner stove,” Anderson said, adding that grant in 1993 from the City of Nanaimo allowed the kitchen to be upgraded to an industrial kitchen.

Each day, the kitchen distributes baked items to clients. These items are collected daily from bakeries and grocery stores. Kitchen staff also prepare traditional Christmas dinners delivered by volunteers on Dec. 24 to over 100 seniors who are alone at Christmas,” she said.

The Salvation Army Thrift Shops have seemingly been around for just as long as the Salvation Army itself but Anderson said it has only been 50 years, with the anniversary taking place this year.

In March 1963, the former telephone building at 76 Bastion was purchased to house a small shelter for men, sleeping quarters for sailors on shore leave, a thrift store and a tiny apartment for a family who was responsible for the operation,” Anderson said.

The operation has expanded and currently there are three thrift stores in Nanaimo. Anderson said the proceeds pay for the Salvation Army’s support programs and services and it also provides customers good, quality, affordable items.

She said the Nanaimo Corps has assisted in times of disaster throughout the past 125 years as well.

When the 1960 fire blazed through the remaining two blocks of Chinatown, the corps provided temporary accommodations and meals to those who were left homeless until other accommodations could be found,” she said. “In 1964, when the tidal waves from an Alaskan earthquake hit Port Alberni, the Nanaimo corps was there helping out as well as serving coffee to the rescue workers.”

The Nanaimo Corps was also able to purchase an emergency response vehicle, a Ford E350, due to an anonymous donation 15 years ago and the Nanaimo Crisis Unit was formed, according to Anderson. Nanaimo is now part of the Salvation Army Disaster Division and responds to emergencies across B.C.

The vehicle is a kitchen on wheels, Anderson said, and in the 2009 Duncan floods, provided meals and coffee to workers and families that were affected.