|Contextual Notes||Father Peter Rondeault was a 33-year-old Quebecois who arrived in Fort Victoria in June 1858 and later set out for Cowichan with just a sack of flour, a gun and his breviary. After hiking to Brentwood Bay he paddled a canoe to Comiaken where, in the words of Father Joseph J. Cyr, nothing awaited him: "no house, no furniture, no church, and often no food." |
After shaking hands with 800 of the "murderous" Cowichans, the young priest said his first Mass in Chief Jean Baptiste's large house. Upon construction of a small log church, Rondeault built himself a one-room, dirt-floored log cabin, the Cowichans donating hand-split planks for its interior walls; furnishings consisted of just a bed, table and chair.
Seen so often in his workday uniform of tattered straw hat, open shirt and dungarees, his true calling seems to have been forgotten by some. The 1882-3 B.C. Directory lists him as "Rondeault, Peter, farmer." As, in fact, he was; it was his churning and selling untold pounds of butter that helped to finance construction of a larger, sandstone church on the brow of Comiaken Hill. Large slabs of sandstone were pried loose, then broken up with a cannonball once fired at Mount Tzuhalem to impress the villagers.
Ironically, and to Father Rondeault's dismay, his church, built of stone to last, saw little service, as Bishop Demers ordered that a third, larger St. Ann's be built on land owned by the diocese. St. Ann's III was erected a mile or so to the north, consecrated in 1880, burned down 20 years later, and rebuilt. Today's St. Ann's in its wildwood setting is almost as much an area landmark as its predecessor, the Butter Church.
In 1883 Rondeault celebrated his 25th year at Cowichan. Among those who attended a dinner given in honour of "The Father of the Cowichan District" was Premier William Smithe. That same year, his beloved Butter Church was stripped of its doors, windows and fittings for use in St. Paul's, Saltspring Island. (There was no recycling of its pews, parishioners having sat on their own mats on the floor. This was as much a matter of traditional comfort as economy.)
Rundown by 1922, it was reshingled. As part of B.C.'s Centennial, new rafters and a shake roof were installed in 1958. Restored by the Cowichans as a cultural centre in the ‘80s, it's since been abandoned and vandalized.
The church gained a reputation as "haunted" when, in 1931, the ‘Believe It Or Not' syndicated newspaper column termed it "The church of no services...in which no congregation has ever gathered." According to Ripley, "the Indians will not go near (it) because all those who actually built it died mysteriously." This story was untrue.