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Thursday, July 7, 2016

5 Fascinating Facts About Bishop A.H. Sovereign: A Builder of Vernon, BC and Silver Star Provincial Park

"Let us never forget or speak scornfully of the past. It is to the present, what roots are to a tree. Remember, all the way the Lord Thy God hath led thee .” 
Bishop A.H. Sovereign (OHSR 32:190)

#1 Origins & Education 

Arthur Henry Sovereign, the man whom most in the North Okanagan will associate with our world class Nordic centre, was born in Woodstock, Ontario in 1881.  The descendant of United Empire Loyalists he was a brilliant student earning the John Hopkins Oratorical Medal at Woodstock Collegiate and then the John MacDonald Scholarship in Philosophy from the University of Toronto. 

He did not stop there, pursuing his Master of Arts (with Honours) and then a post-graduate degree in Philosophy and Theology at Oxford. During the course of his career he would receive many other degrees including Doctorates of Divinity from Wycliffe College (Toronto) and Emmanuel College (Saskatoon). He was also a well accomplished athlete competing in college baseball, football and hockey. 

Bishop Sovereign PC: Yukon Archives

#2 Life, Family & Ellen Ellison

Although he first considered studying medicine, he was persuaded by the Bishop of Montreal, Canon Farthing, to pursue the ministry. After his education he began his ministry as an assistant at Christ Church in Vancouver and was later ordained in the Church of England in 1906. In 1909 he became the first rector of St. Mark’s Kitsilano and went on to found a youth camp on Howe Sound where he influenced many of Vancouver’s future leaders. He stayed at St. Mark’s for 22 years until he was appointed as the Bishop of the Yukon. He spent just a year there before being elected to be Bishop of Athabasca – a region covering some 600,000 square miles of Northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories. 

Being much interested in the outdoors and mountaineering, Arthur Sovereign attended the annual summer camp of the Alpine Club of Canada. It was there, in 1912, that he met his future wife, Ellen Ellison, daughter of Price Ellison who was the Minister of Finance and Agriculture for the B.C. government and a well-known man in the history of Vernon, BC (Ellison Provincial Park is named after him). They were married in Vernon in 1913 and went on to have one son and three daughters. 

#3 “Retirement” in Vernon, BC

After doctor’s orders to retire from his 18 years of strenuous ministry and labour in the Athabasca territory, Bishop Sovereign and his wife Ellen decided to retire to her hometown of Vernon in the Okanagan Valley. The term “retirement” is used loosely as both Bishop and Mrs. Sovereign went on to contribute heavily to the history, development and growth of Vernon. In fact, Arthur began his retirement by serving as Rector at Vernon’s All Saint’s Parish while they awaited the arrival of their official Rector. He would go on to write a book on the history of All Saint’s as well entitled “A Tree Grows in Vernon”.  He is quoted as saying, “May this day be a spring-board to greater adventure, deeper devotion, a dynamic loyalty to Christ and His Church, ever increasing in generosity and sacrificial service... We pay our debt to the past by making posterity indebted to us.” (OHSR 32:191) 

As an avid outdoorsman, Arthur Sovereign was instrumental in the founding of both Garibaldi Provincial Park and Vernon’s own Silver Star Provincial Park serving as the chairman of the Government Board of Commissioners for Silver Star. Another crowning achievement was his key leadership in the founding of the John Howard Society and of bringing branches to the Okanagan and Kamloops. He was also chairman of the library program in Vernon and was integral in its growth. In 1958 he was named Vernon’s “Good Citizen of the Year”(his wife would later be given the same honour).  

#4 Sovereign Lake 

As was mentioned, Bishop Sovereign was very involved in the founding and growth of Silver Star Provincial Park. So much so that Vernon Lake atop Silver Star Mountain was later named in his honour. The lake was dammed by the city in 1920 and “…channels were constructed connecting directly to BX Creek.” It contributed to the water supply for Vernon. 

The Silver Star Ski Club was started in 1938 and the North Okanagan Cross Country Ski Club was established in the ‘60’s - it has become what we know today as the Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre where many locals and travellers go to ski, snowshoe and even toboggan.  Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre has hosted a 2005 World Cup event and the Sparkling Hills Masters World Cup in 2011. Prior to that many athletes from around the globe used the Nordic Centre to train for the Vancouver Olympics. 

#5 His Legacy 

In Vernon, BC at the northeast corner of Highway 97 and 32nd Avenue (just across from the Staples) you can see a large mural painted on the side of a building. It celebrates the history of cross country skiing in our city and among other things, you will see a large portrait of a friendly  Art Sovereign. Though he moved here for his so called retirement, he left Vernon a much better place to live and raise a family. His son, a pediatrician, would later help to establish N.O.N.A. (The North Okanagan Neurological Society). Among the many accomplishments already listed in this article Bishop Arthur Sovereign’s legacy also includes being a chaplain to several units during the Great War and preaching at both St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in England. 

Yet for us of the North Okanagan, it is his work as an ordinary citizen and humble minister for which we are most grateful. Sovereign Park and Beach on Kalamalka Lake is also named in the family's honour. The Canadian Churchman said this of Arthur, “He is a statesman of the church in Canada…one of the most gracious and splendid illustrations… of devotion to Christ, and to those who are forgotten by their fellow men.” Bishop Sovereign passed into glory in 1966 and left for us a rich legacy and a better community. 

Sources & Further Reading:

Okanagan Historical Society Reports 29:60-64 and 32:160, 190-191 

History of Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre:

"...our Lord Jesus Christ...who is the blessed and only Sovereign,
 the King of kings and Lord of lords.." 1 Timothy 6:15

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