No matter what your religious leanings are, there’s something fascinating about old churches. Especially churches from the late 1800s that remain untouched (except by time) over a century later.
Murray United Church is located in the Nicola Valley, in the hot, dry climate just north-east of Merritt, BC. We stopped in on our way home from a weekend of camping at Monck Provincial Park (which is just 20 minutes up the road). There are no guides or fees at this historical site – you just park in the adjacent parking lot and walk onto the small fenced lot.
The information on the church’s sign told us that it was once the hub of Nicola Valley, a bustling gold rush community. It was unique in that it welcomed people of all faiths, colours and creeds. When the gold rush died out, the community shrunk as well. But those first settlers laid the foundations for the farmers that call the Nicola Valley home today.
The church itself is locked, but if you’re tall enough you can peek in the windows to see inside. The scene is that of a 19th century church ready for service – pulpit at the front, pews waiting to be filled, paintings on the walls. There is some lovely stained glass in the windows at the back. It’s a shame we weren’t able to go inside, but that’s probably the reason it’s been preserved so well, so it’s understandable.The most interesting thing about Murray United wasn’t actually the building itself – it was the cemetery surrounding it. There were several dozen gravestones, some crumbled and worn, but mostly still legible. These told the story of a harder period in history, when many didn’t make it past the age of 50. One headstone marked the grave of a young mother who died just 19 days before her infant daughter. There was also a number of unmarked graves, distinguished only by small piles of rocks or wooden fences (which hadn’t rotted away thanks to the extremely dry climate). Walking amongst these graves, some marked with ornate marble headstones and some just with a pile of stones, was a somber but fascinating experience.
If you’re heading up the Coquihala Highway and are interested in experiencing a little piece of history, consider taking a 10-minute detour to visit Murray United Church. It’s just off exit 290, on the Princeton-Kamloops Highway (Hwy 5a). It’s worth the visit!
Culture & History in the Thompson Okanagan