From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
Elim Pentecostal Tabernacle has been located on McNabb Street for many years. The origin of the denomination in North America dates back to the early 1900s but the church in Sault Ste. Marie has its roots in Scotland.
John Speirs was an orphan who grew up in Scotland and was attracted to the welcoming atmosphere of the church. When his friends, Robert Burns and Willie Abercrombie moved to Sault Ste. Marie, Speirs decided to join them, arriving in the city on July 13, 1920.
Upon their arrival, they began trying to establish a church that was similar to what they were familiar with back in Scotland.
They started out by meeting in homes or other locations during those early years and referred to their church as the Independent Holiness Mission. As they grew in size, a lot was purchased in September 1928 for $115 and a church was built on the corner of Spruce Street and Wilcox Avenue. They were able to move into their new church on November 28, 1928.
The new church was furnished with seats that had been purchased from the Princess Theatre. The church members were able to pay off their debt on the lot and building within seven years, an amazing feat to be accomplished during the Great Depression. In 1936 the church officially became a member of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and the name was changed to Elim Pentecostal Tabernacle.
The first pastors were Arnold and Ruth O’Brien and under their leadership the church continued to grow so that once again they needed to find a larger building for their services. Elim Pentecostal Tabernacle was able to purchase a building on the corner of Wellington Street East and Blucher Streets. Over the next few years, additions were added on to the church to increase capacity.
In 1965, the congregation once again began a search for a larger property and they purchased land on McNabb Street. At this point, this land was considered to be on the northern edge of the city and was actually located in Tarentorous Township. Members of the congregation worked together to build their new church, completing it within a few months!
The design of the church was unique, featuring large arches made of British Columbia fir that were laminated and formed into curving arches and the ceiling extended to a height of 35 feet at its peak. Even the choice of flooring was unusual since it was pre-cast and was believed to be the first of its type in Northern Ontario at that time. A massive chimney, measuring 45 feet was installed at the front of the church and actually required a police escort in order to be delivered to the church site.
Rev. Michael Horban was the pastor of the church during this period of construction and the new church provided opportunities for new programs to be developed including the expansion of their musical ministry. For many years they were known for their “Singing Christmas Tree” presentations that were held each December.
A balcony was added in later years and more recently the church underwent a major addition to its original building to improve accessibility in its entrance.
According to local author Heather Ingram when John Speirs established this local church in the late 1920s, his vision was for a church that would be a “place of hope and refuge within the community.” It is interesting to speculate on whether he realized just what type of impact it would have on the community right up to this current day. John Speirs lived to be 102 years of age and his picture hangs in the sanctuary.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.