Proto Cathedral of Saint James the Greater

  • Location: 218 W. 12th Street
  • Use: Church
  • Year: 1885
  • Type: Unreinforced Masonry
  • NRHP: 1984
Proto Cathedral of St. James the Greater, September 9th, 2022

This is one of the most spectacular structures in Vancouver. It was built in 1885 as the Cathedral for the Archdiocese of Nisqually in the Catholic Church. Back in those days that covered the entire modern day Pacific Northwest. This structure served as the Cathedral until 1909 when the Archdiocese was moved to Seattle and opened a new Cathedral there. As the area grew the Archdiocese was split and this church became a regular local parish Catholic Church for which it remains to this day. In 2013 it was properly recognized as a Proto Cathedral which simply means “former cathedral” in Latin.

Although I have found no official recorded stats on the structure height, I measured it with a laser finder and some solid trigonometry at ±132 feet including its metal spire. That makes this the tallest building in Vancouver from 1885 to 1966 near as I can tell of course I am excluding the very tall grain processing and storage silos with elevator towers at the Terminal 2 of the Port of Vancouver. I did some research and found that this building may have been among the ten tallest buildings on the West Coast when it first completed. Although that status would have fallen quickly as larger cities were beginning the great American tradition of high-rises and skyscrapers in the late 19th Century. Of course today the building is dwarfed by other taller structures but its hill top location still allows it to peek out above the skyline from several vantage points.

Proto Cathedral of Saint James the Greater, January, 2017 looking north from Riverview Tower © Rod Sager

This Neo Gothic or Gothic Revival structure was built using locally famous Hidden bricks and its position at the ‘top of the hill’ near Midtown Vancouver gave it the proverbial birds eye view all over the region. The grounds have been impeccably kept and this gorgeous classic has been protected with a spot on the National Register of Historic Places since 1986.

The architecture is softer than typical for Gothic styles but still features a great deal of detail work in the trim and the red brick facade. The interior was remodeled several years back and looks amazing.