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  • The Cridge Centre for the Family

    By Danda Humphreys

    A history of generosity lies behind BC’s first orphanage, now the Cridge Centre for the Family.



    Mary and Edward Cridge


    What’s the connection between a hill-top family centre, the little church at the foot of Blanshard Street? A remarkable English couple by the name of Cridge.

    Edward Cridge was a Devonshire man, ordained as a minister and working in Essex when he saw the London newspaper advertisement that was to change his life. The Hudson’s Bay Company, it said, was looking for a chaplain for its Pacific northwestern headquarters. Cridge didn’t hesitate. Gathering up his new bride, Mary, he set sail for Vancouver Island. Almost six months later, on April 1, 1855, the Marquis of Bute anchored off Macaulay Point.

    The new chaplain and his wife were welcomed warmly by Governor James Douglas. Many of the community’s 200-odd inhabitants lived and worked on one or other of the company’s large farms. Houses on each of the settlement’s four streets—Government, Fort, Yates and Johnson—could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

    The Cridges lived and worked at the fort until the Victoria District Church—Cridge renamed it Christ Church—and parsonage were completed in the summer of 1856. All seemed well in Cridge’s new parish, but its calm surface was soon whipped by the winds of change.

    Gold was discovered on the mainland! One spring Sunday in 1858, the first wave of Fraser River-bound prospectors sailed into our harbour…thousands more followed…and Victoria was never the same again.

    The Cridges’ efforts to improve the lot of the unfortunate, legendary since their arrival, moved into even higher gear. Cridge invited blacks among the shiploads from California to attend services at Christ Church. He lobbied for better prison conditions. When a sick man was left on his doorstep one night, he rented a cottage at the corner of Yates and Broad streets and appointed a physician-in-charge, thus laying the foundation for the establishment of Victoria’s first hospital.

    Throughout this time, there were other problems to deal with. Cridge’s recently appointed superior, Bishop George Hills, favoured the inclusion of more ritual in church services, which greatly strained their relationship and divided the congregation.

    There had been cruel devastation on the home front, too. In the winter of 1864-65, the Cridges lost four of their six young children to scarlet fever. Yet as the years went by, they continued to add to their list of good deeds.

    Mary Cridge, who bore three more children of her own after that terrible winter, found herself becoming involved with the plight of little ones who were less fortunate. During the gold rush years, many men passing through Victoria had abandoned families or left illegitimate children behind in their headlong rush toward riches. Mary Cridge took these children off the street and into her own home, placing them with families where possible, or caring for them in a rented house downtown.

    The Sisters of St Ann had also struggled valiantly to cope, but clearly more organized help was needed. It came in the form of an earnest afternoon conversation between Dean Cridge, Reverend William Pollard of the Methodist Church and Reverend Macgregor of the Presbyterian Church, which resulted in the official opening, on November 8, 1873 of the British Columbia Protestant Orphans Home at the downtown site.

    Many Victoria citizens supported “the Home,” as it was called, with personal donations or through various fund-raising events, but 20 years after its inception, one donor topped them all. In 1891, John George Taylor, retired policeman and long-time resident of Victoria, died and left his entire estate to the Home. His generous bequest—$32,500—enabled the organization to buy property and build a new, 100-bed orphanage on the hillside at the corner of Cook Street and Hillside Avenue.

    The new building opened on November 18, 1893 with Lady Directress Mary Cridge in attendance. A blessing was given by her husband who, as Bishop Cridge, now ministered at the Reformed Episcopal Church—The Church of Our Lord—built in 1876 at the foot of Blanshard Street.

    Over the ensuing decades, as society’s concept of social welfare changed, child welfare reformers worked vigourously to upgrade and streamline child care in Canada. The Home’s managers retained its independence throughout by operating entirely on public donations and subscriptions.

    Then in the 1960s, the Home underwent a radical transformation, with a new name—the Cridge Centre for the Family—and a new philosophy: offering support for families. Its services now include child care for children from all walks of life, housing for families in economic or relationship crisis, services for women and children who have been impacted by relationship violence, a residence and other services for survivors of brain injury, as well as seniors housing.

    High on the hill, laughter echoes from the playground area, just as it did all those years ago. If they were alive today, the Cridges would be proud to see what has happened to this place that generations of children once called Home.

    Danda Humphreys is the author of On the Street Where You Live (Vols 1-3) and Building Victoria: Men, Myths and Mortar (all from Heritage House). www.dandahumphreys.com.

    This story was published in the January 2008 edition of Focus Magazine.

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