LITERARY LANDMARK: Christ Church Cathedral, 930 Burdett Avenue, Victoria.

Tall, grave and dignified Bishop George Hills, the first Bishop of British Columbia, was once described as "the very model of an Anglican prelate." He was also a literate man who became one of the first authors of B.C., publishing an account of his travels in his new diocese in 1861. Hills compiled statistics on Aboriginals of British Columbia, their gender and languages, and examined 100 catechists at William Duncan's mission at Metlakahtla. Having travelled around the province in the spring and summer of 1860, he published his 74-page account in England. Hills served in Victoria, from 1859 until his retirement in 1892, primarily at Christ Church Cathedral.

Born at Agthorne, near Dover, on June 26, 1816, Hills was ordained in 1840 and served as a Vicar of Greater Yarmouth for eleven years before being offered a position as Bishop of British Columbia. Hills was initially hesitant about accepting the appointment. It was certainly a risky career move, as Colonial bishops were barred from serving in the United Kingdom after having served overseas. Despite his apprehensions, Hills accepted the appointment and, in 1859, was consecrated at Westminster Abbey as the first Bishop of British Columbia, responsible for the Church of England in both colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia.

Arriving in Esquimalt in 1860, Hills' new diocese, which was handsomely endowed with 15,000 pounds from the wealthy Miss Angela Burdett-Coutts, covered an area larger than France and Spain combined, yet the town of Victoria, which he visited shortly after disembarking from his ship, had no sidewalks and all its houses were built of wood. Hills laid the cornerstone for Holy Trinity Church in New Westminster on May 22, 1860, then commenced his provincial tour with Rev. John Sheepshanks. One of his other recruits, Rev. A.C. Garrett, operated a Church of England school for Aboriginal children in Victoria.

One of the earliest challenges met by Hills concerned the segregation of Blacks in church. Hills was critical of segregation and wrote a letter to the British newspapers on the subject, railing against Reverend Matthew Macfie, a minister who opened his own chapel to accommodate a pro-segregationist crowd of white American immigrants.

In the summer of 1862 Hills visited the Cariboo and was later placed in charge of the Victoria Diocese that included all of B.C. until 1879, after which the dioceses of New Westminster and Caledonia were formed. The B.C. Archives contain several of his sermons and letters in which he was particularly disparaging of Roman Catholicism.

Hills' volatile doctrinal dispute with the former Hudson's Bay Company chaplain Edward Cridge, who refused Hills entry to his cathedral in Victoria, led to a court case between the two men in 1874. Chief Justice Sir Matthew Begbie granted an injunction to forbid Cridge from continuing as a Church of England clergyman, whereupon Cridge joined the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1875, built a new cathedral and presided as Bishop Cridge. Hills returned to England in 1892 and died at Parham vicarage in Suffolk on December 10, 1895.

With an MA in historical geography from Simon Fraser University, Pennsylvania-born Roberta L. Bagshaw edited No Better Land: The 1860 Diaries of the Anglican Colonial Bishop George Hills (Sono Nis Press, 1996). Bagshaw's graduate work and published articles chiefly relate to Bishop Hills and the influence of the Church of England on white settlement in British Columbia. The book covers concentrates on the year 1860 when Hills left Oregon on January 4 and arrived at Esquimalt on January 6. He had travelled 8,750 miles from Southampton in 50 days. The book has been sold at the Synod and Parish offices of Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria as a fundraising initiative. Hills was consecrated as a Bishop at Westminster Abbey before he set sail for Victoria. In 1929, the wrought iron Chancel rail from Westminster Abbey was presented to Christ Church Church Cathedral in Victoria by the Dean and Chapter of the Abbey. It is now situated behind the high Alter of the Victoria Cathedral. In commemoration of the Cathedral's 150th anniversary, the diocese sold copies of Glory in Glass, with sixty pages of colour photos and descriptions of every window in the Cathedral. It was privately published as a gift to the Cathedral.


Hills, George. A Tour in British Columbia (London: Clay Printers, 1861)

Bagshaw, Roberta L. No Better Land: The 1860 Diaries of the Anglican Colonial Bishop George Hills (Sono Nis Press, 1996).

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2015]