The first Spiritualist group in Victoria, First Spiritualists,
was established in the late 1800s and was incorporated as a society in
1886. The movement grew in Victoria in leaps and bounds - against much
opposition from the religious groups of the day. It attracted people from all stations in
life and brought prominent international lecturers to town. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for example, lectured
at Victoria's Royal Theatre to a standing-room-only crowd.
By the early 1930s, there were three active Spiritualist
groups in the City, along with other groups of a similar bent. At this time, a senior minister of the
First Spiritualists, Dr. W. L. Holder, believed it was time to bring the
different groups together in a place of their own. Reverend Holder and a few other like-minded
and dedicated people united with the aim of creating such a place for
the purposes of:
Promoting, teaching and studying
Teaching, study and worship based on the Seven Principles of Spiritualism, the advancement and demonstration of phenomena as well as training and education,
The practice of and instruction in spiritual healing, the
promotion of self-healing and the exploration of the wider areas of human
The gathering and meeting of fellow believers
In 1937, Canada's
first teaching centre, led by Reverend Holder, was established.
He hoped its name would continue to be
First Spiritualists, but the consensus among the other involved groups
determined that Reverend Holder’s choice was not to be. In its place, the name for the teaching
centre was taken from the First Spiritualists’ educational classes,
the Open Door, which had been established in 1933.
The first meetings of the Open Door were held under
the direction of Reverend Holder in members’ homes. They emphasised meditation and all forms of
mediumship - from healing to physical phenomena. As well, there were discussions
involving such varied topics as social welfare, equality, women’s
rights, Spiritualist philosophy and the role of Spiritualism in the modern
The meetings soon outgrew the home setting and the Open
Door eventually settled at 714 Cormorant Street
The members, however, did not lose sight of their goal;
they continued to work towards their dream of opening a permanent centre
of their own.
The Open Door’s members worked tirelessly to raise
funds for their centre. Many dedicated 10 percent of their wages toward
the cause, carrying on through the latter part of the Depression and the
war years - and their donations weren’t even tax deductible! As
a further testament to their determination and perseverance, they maintained
their efforts amidst opposition that seems unbelievable when recalled
today: threats of job loss, ostracism by the larger community and having
their homes and vehicles vandalised.
Throughout this busy period, the Open Door members actively
raised funds and awareness for different social causes, such as pension
reform and the repeal of the Vagrancy Act; as well, they backed William
Lyon McKenzie King’s social reforms. It was also during this time
that the Open Door became the Canadian forerunner in performing for Spiritualist
marriages. Newspaper reports from February
15th, 1940 indicate that the first Spiritualist
wedding ever performed in a Spiritualist Sanctuary in Canada was solemnised at the Open
The members eventually purchased land on Cook Street in Victoria and, as they worked and tithed towards their goal of having their own
building, a Spiritualist camp was opened on Salt Spring Island. The camp was used as a retreat and for conducting courses in self-development, spiritual healing and mediumship.
The Open Door on Cook Street officially opened its long sought-after
sanctuary on September 7th, 1947. People attended the event from all over Vancouver Island and the lower mainland of British Columbia, as well
as from Winnipeg, Manitoba and from the states of Washington and California. In addition,
the Open Door received many congratulatory cards and telegrams from around
Fund-raising for the second phase of the Sanctuary,
the upper hall, began shortly after the opening of the first phase. The
fund-raising included a broad selection of activities: theme teas (such
as silver teas and harvest teas), bingo and card nights, musical evenings,
plays, raffles, rummage sales and bazaars.
The dedication of the completed upper or lecture hall was held on June
24th, 1951, with three opening services. Once again, many people attended,
travelling from as far east as Ontario and from as far south as California.
There were 18 speakers and demonstrators participating in the various
services on opening day.
The Open Door attracted the top speakers and mediums of the day. These
included the co-founder of the Open Door from Nanaimo, Winifred Bentham
(deep trance medium), Reverend B. Gaulton-Bishop (clairvoyant), Earl H.
Williams (medium) and Dr. Hal Styles (speaker, author, spiritual healer),
to name but a few.
By 1951 the Open Door was a going concern. It became an active member
in the BC Council of the National Spiritualists Association of Canada.
At the time, the NSAC had eighteen branches. (Reverend Holder served as
president of the BC Council of the NSAC for a time, but in October of
1951 he left, having accepted a position in the United States.) The Open
Door hosted conventions that brought NSAC delegates from across Canada
and was at the centre of the NSAC’s campaign to have legally recognised
Spiritualist weddings performed across Canada.
While maintaining its active involvement in the NSAC, the Open Door
continued to operate as a Spiritualist sanctuary and to run its own retreat
centre and programmes. In addition, the Open Door helped and advised other
Spiritualist centres around the world. Correspondence with the United
Kingdom, including letters from the likes of Maurice Barbanell and Ivy
Northage, not only kept the membership of the Open Door abreast of the
latest developments in all areas connected to Spiritualism, it forged
and maintained great friendships throughout the years. Visitors to the
Open Door, including mediums such as Coral Polge and Mary Duffy, also
aided in supporting the Open Door’s high standards for the work
of the spirit. Fostering these kinds of friendships and connections with
speakers and mediums from other parts of the world is a tradition that
carries on and benefits the Open Door to this day.
After Reverend Holder left in 1951, Reverend Harold Moore and his wife,
Reverend Elsie (Ralph), headed the Open Door. Reverend Elsie gave the
gift of music to the Sanctuary, hosting many different talents from within
the community, for many different causes, until retiring in 1986.
One hundred and thirty years after its original conception as the First
Spiritualists, the doors of the Sanctuary remain open, still providing
a service for all who enter. As the Open Door Sanctuary continues to change
and unfold, embracing new concepts that are reflected in its community,
it continues to help and advise other centres all around the world. The
concepts and services developed at the Open Door are reproduced and respected
from here to Australia.
The legacy continues.... ©