The Capernwray Harbour Bible Centre Main Building, an impressive white Tudor style building, with contrasting red roof, dormer windows and jutting tower, stands in sharp relief against the expansive sweep of green lawns, proudly accepting the salute of the colourful flags representing the various countries from which its guests have come! The building, the predominant feature visible on one’s approach to Thetis Island by ferry from Chemainus, is located on the site known as “Capernwray Harbour Bible Centre.”
Beginnings: Henry Severn
In 1886, Henry Severn arrived on Thetis Island and purchased several parcels of land in the Stuart Channel that included lots on Thetis, and a trio of islands called Hudson, Dayman, and Scott. Before he drowned in a rowing accident on a return trip home from Chemainus, Severn built a log cabin on Thetis and partially completed a frame house.
Two years after Severn’s death, Mr. and Mrs. Burchell arrived at Thetis Island from England in an old, flat-bottomed boat with camping blankets as their sail. They purchased the property from Severn’s estate and promptly joined the two existing structures together.
Over the years, the Burchells built many additions to the structure. Eventually, the building evolved into one of the largest, finest structures in the Gulf Islands, and came to be known as Preedy Hall, taking its name from its proximity to Preedy Harbour. In addition to regular living quarters for the family, Preedy Hall also contained a ballroom, and a spartan but functional chapel.
The Fire of 1926
The Burchells developed the property into a self-sustaining farm, with cows, pigs, sheep, an orchard and a sawmill. The sawmill cut most of the lumber used to construct many of the buildings on the island. The Burchells also operated a poultry plant, sponsoring students from England to learn the business. Although the poultry farm flourished for a while, marketing difficulties and eventually World War 1 put a stop to this plan. Mrs. Burchell also ran a small general store. Her main customers were the Indigenous residents on the island.
Preedy Hall became a venue for local events, including the Preedy Harbour Regatta, picnics, swimming parties and formal dances. In 1926, following Mrs. Burchell’s death in 1924, the property sold to Hans Hunter, a world traveller of partial Japanese descent, who hired caretakers Mr. and Mrs. Gaitskill. In the year of their possession, tragedy struck. A poorly-designed chimney caught fire, and although the Gaitskills quenched the flames initially, unseen embers smouldered into a fire that consumed the whole building.
A New Beginning: Construction of the Main Building
In 1926, Hunter constructed the building we now refer to as The Main Hall, which houses the dining rooms, kitchen & guest suites. Hans Hunter sold the property to the Storey family, who subdivided the property before transferring ownership to the Albertis, an American couple with plans to establish a cattle ranch. The plan never materialized, and the Albertis sold the land to the Marine Medical Mission in 1953. By 1972, the organization became The North American Indian Mission, offering technical training to local Indigenous people. Eventually, this organization instituted strategic changes that led to the closure of its facilities.
Capernwray Harbour Bible Centre Founders Arrive
In the winter of 1979, through a series of unique events, God led Charlie and Marlene Fordham to Thetis Island. Former students of the original Capernwray Bible School in England, Charlie and Marlene arrived on the property with their two children, Christopher and Jessica. They soon formed a Board of Directors and signed a lease to purchase the 97 acres.
Less than $100 in pocket and absolutely no promise of support from anyone they determined not to go out “begging” for support for something that God was going to do! If God would do it, then “why would any man have to beg for human support?” was the Fordham’s question! God has always supplied all that is needed including God-anointed staff, students and guests who came from around the globe to learn from God’s Word during both the Bible School year and the Conference season.
Over the past 40 years, Capernwray Harbour Bible Centre has provided Bible training to students from around the world. Steadily, both the outdoor and indoor facilities have been upgraded and beautified, providing a variety of classroom venues to teach and train young and old in “full time Christian service…REGARDLESS of occupation!”
Today, the Centre operates as a Bible School that runs from September to May. From June to August, we host over 4000 guests for various retreats and conferences. Events at Capernwray range from small groups to Outdoor Education programs, Church retreats, family reunions and more. Our Summer Holiday Bible Weeks are Bible teaching programs held as getaways for the whole family.
Our purpose, and that of Torchbearers International, is to proclaim our risen, and indwelling Lord Jesus Christ as the only Saviour, Lord and Life, eternally!