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A Symbol of Hope in Victoria

After closing its doors, the former worship building of the Garden City United church in Victoria is renovated and becomes a symbol of hope for the city.


Victoria’s architecture, beautiful gardens, and proximity to nature make it a perfect place for a weekend getaway. But in recent years, the city’s growing tech industry and lower cost of living have turned it into a city for individuals looking for a place to call home.

See how Victoria is adjusting to the influx of new residents and how the city’s growth led to the purchase and renovation of the former worship Garden City United worship building on Carey Road. And learn how the renovated house of worship became a symbol of hope and peace for residents living there.

Nan Zapanta: We just landed in Victoria, Canada, and I got to admit, I’m really excited! Historic harbors, European architecture, gardens, and parks for nature lovers everything I read about this place can be summed up in one word- beautiful. But can a city with a reputation for being a picturesque haven be more than just a destination for newlyweds and retirees? 

I’m Nan Zapanta. As an industrial designer, I spent years admiring the great designs of products, vehicles, and architecture from all over the world. But I found Architecture to be the most captivating. I love learning about each building, discovering the characteristics that make it unique, and understanding the purpose behind its design. Most of all I love hearing the stories behind each structure and seeing God’s plan in putting it all together. Join us as we discover the Blueprint of the buildings and structures inside the Iglesia Ni Cristo.

Nan: For years, mainlanders dismissed the city on Vancouver Island’s south coast.

Woman: It’s a small town. It’s great if you want to see the gardens and the views. 

Woman: I thought it was really nice. It’s definitely more historic than Vancouver- less city-like.

Man: I go to sight-see different places and because it has lots of nice places and people, they want to enjoy it someday.

Woman: I was probably still in elementary school, it was like a family trip with my parents, my grandparents, we kind of were like tourists in the city.

Nan: Definitely not a place many young people would choose to settle down in for the long-term, and that’s what Neil Duazo thought when he first moved to the city in 1996 at the age of 23. 

Neil Duazo: It’s a tourist city, and it was busy, it was always busy, every tourist time. But when it’s September, it was dead. You know, and I wasn’t used to that little amount of traffic. 

Nan: Neil grew up a ferry ride away in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Neil Duazo: Huge city. Very full of excitement, and a lot of opportunities and everything. You come to Victoria in the mid-1990s, it was really slow. 

Nan: We walked around a bit, taking in the sights I remember seeing online, and discussing what it was like in his first year living in a new city. 

Neil: One of the things I noticed right away was like the far slower pace of people, you know like everybody just wanted to take their time in getting somewhere. The way people walked was much slower paced.

Nan: Not like the big cities where everyone is just moving and moving.

Neil: Yea, gotta go! Gotta go, gotta be somewhere right now. 

Nan: And as we talked about his life in Victoria and the changes the city has undergone, it was easy to see that in 20 years of living here, Neil’s views have undergone changes as well. 

Nan: Victoria! This is it.

Neil: I know right!

Nan: This is beautiful! This is a beautiful city. This is your home.

Neil: This is my home!

Nan: In the last decade, Victoria has been a destination for many tech companies to move their operations to. Purchasing old warehouses in the downtown area, giving the city a new nickname- “Tectoria”. 

The transformation led to more jobs coming into the city, which as a result, brought in more people to the region. 

Neil: So there was a huge opportunity there, you know?

Nan: A huge opportunity that directly impacted the whole city of Victoria. From traffic to housing, and even the Church Of Christ congregation in Victoria.

Neil: So right now, we’re just getting a huge influx of new members coming in because job opportunities were so great for caregivers for babies, and for older people. And they came in from different parts of Canada, too. Some moved in from Ottawa, a family just moved here from Calgary, because the opportunity for them was here.

Nan: The once small [Local] congregation of Victoria grew…and grew…and grew right before Neil’s eyes, who had started learning more about the church in 1997 when the [Local] congregation of Victoria was still small. Worshipping using audiotapes and being visited by ministers coming from mainland Canada.

Nan: So when did it feel like it was absolutely vital for the congregation to find a permanent place?

Neil: Oh, when we got so big for the hall. We were actually spilling into the hallway. It was so full! 

Nan: In July of 2012, Pat Daza, a long time resident of Victoria and a member of the Church Of Christ, read an article in the Saanich Times— Victoria’s local paper, about the closing of the 98-year-old Garden City United church

The previous owner had been on the property since 1914, but with their membership down to 37 petitioners, the congregation decided it was time to close. 

The building was built in 1956 and required a lot of renovation, which began soon after it was purchased in 2012.

Transformation of the 50-year-old building began with extensive work on the exterior, including removing the glass design on the front portion of the building and replacing it with a more traditional facade. But before they could start adding the traditional design, a water-resistant exterior installation was added to increase the building’s r-value, or it’s the ability to resist heat flow and prepare it for the traditional moldings that would be added to the exterior. The shape of the building was further enhanced by the transformation of a belltower, which was no longer in use, into a feature— the addition added to the unique silhouette of the Victoria worship building, which unlike many of the houses of worship, did not have steeples or spires. A fresh coat of paint, new doors, and new windows were added throughout the building. 

After that was completed, the seal and the nameplate of the Iglesia Ni Cristo were added to complete the facade.

I met Rodrigo Mandap, one of the individuals hired for the renovation, as well as a pioneer of the congregation

Nan: So I heard you were one of the ones who helped with the renovation of this beautiful… 

Rodrigo Mandap: Yes.

Nan: Was there a particular task that you were given or were you helping all around?

Rodrigo: Yes we actually started working on this by demolishing the interior. The existing building at the time. So we started working from up there to downstairs, inside.

Nan: Having been part of the congregation since it began in 1992, the beginning of the renovation was a significant moment for him.

Rodrigo: You have this big hope that there will be a chapel here, and to be able to hold that tool…it’s like being the first guy to put the nail in.

Nan: Exactly! That first moment where everything is going to begin. 

While the exterior had major changes, the interior underwent an even more dramatic transformation. After removing all the walls and wiring, a new platform was built which would become the base of the multilayer choir loft and podium area. New walls were installed along with the new windows, and of course, a new coat of paint. Traditional moldings were added which were highlighted by the light blue color, the same color used on the exterior of the building. To complete the look, three intricate chandeliers were added featuring chrome metalwork with clear beaded accents. 

Unlike many of the chandeliers featured in houses of worship of the Church Of Christ, these were more flat in design, complimenting the high ceilings in the building. Finally, to complete the lighting of the sanctuary, pairs of LED lights were added alternating with the chandeliers, creating a balanced and brightly lit sanctuary. 

Rodrigo: What’s my most favorite feature of this chapel is the seal. They actually put it so close when you’re actually standing up there, so up close, it’s the closest one I’ve seen. That’s what makes me feel.

Nan: So every time you come to the worship service, right before you enter, you just feel something.

The renovation caught the attention of many neighbors, including Marilyn Pleich, who has lived in the neighborhood for most of her life and even has memories of attending Brownie meetings as a child in the old building.

Marilyn Pleich: I think it’s really beautiful. It definitely made the neighborhood a lot nicer, kind of updated us because this neighborhood was getting very old. The structure definitely changed on the outside, the detailing of it. It used to kind of just be a plain white building, and then when it got taken over, they really took more of the architect of it, more of a design, rather than just a simple building. It’s kind of neat to see. 

Nan: So it’s a positive, having this worship building here in this neighborhood of Marigold or community?

Marilyn: I think so, yea. I personally am not a person who goes to church, but I know this church is very, very popular. There seems to be always people, always people here.

Nan: We really appreciate it.

The renovation and restoration were completed in September of 2013, and on September 7, 2013, it was dedicated in a worship service led by the Executive Minister, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo. Among those in attendance was Irene Lara, who performed in the choir for the worship service

Irene: You can see in all the faces of the brethren, they’re full of joy, they’re full of hopes, and the faith gets stronger. 

Nan: Irene had moved to Victoria in 2007 and experienced the struggle of not having their own place of worship. 

Irene: We were actually renting one of the halls in the Howard Johnson hotel. It’s a very small hall but the congregation that time was just few in numbers. And then after that, the local [congregation] found the Polish hall.

Nan: What were some of the challenges?

Irene: Well sometimes they have a booking for the upstairs hall and most of the time it’s dancing and it’s a wood floor, it’s really noisy when they’re walking, and we’re doing worship service downstairs. We can hear those loud noises from them.

Nan: It was during this time that the search for a permanent place of worship in Victoria began.

Irene: They found this, and then they gave us this beautiful house of worship. And since then, there were so much blessings after that event. 

Nan: Among those blessings was a chance to witness the wedding of Brother Angelo Erano Manalo, the son of the Executive Minister, which took place just hours after the dedication. 

Did you have any idea? Tell us how that all came together.

Irene: We don’t have an idea. We practiced the hymns for the wedding on the day of the wedding itself, a few hours before the wedding. Because days before that, we had no idea that there would be a wedding.

Nan: When Irene looks back on a decade of living in Victoria, she’s reminded of the importance of the choices she made when she first arrived. 

Irene: I came here, I was hoping for the best. I continue performing my duties as a choir, and feel very blessed when years after that, I get a chance to see Brother Eduardo, I get a chance to be a part of the dedication of this house of worship.

Nan: Today, Irene helps lead the choir in Victoria, and while she humbly tries to get out of being interviewed in front of the camera, it was easy to see why she held onto the duty. Even when there wasn’t yet a choir in Victoria. 

Irene: Putting God first in everything you do, everything will follow. So I really believe in that, and that phrase from the Bible, real-life experience really showed me that. 

Nan: Just a few miles away from the sites that welcomed visitors to Victoria from generations, this worship building now stands, welcoming individuals like Jovita, who didn’t know what she was looking for was only a bus stop away.

Jovita Pungongan: Oh, let me just try, but then I don’t know where. I don’t even really know if there’s an INC [Iglesia Ni Cristo] house of worship here.

Nan: She had seen a friend of hers post about the Church Of Christ on social media and was curious to learn what it was all about. 

Jovita: I emailed someone, it’s Brother Neil actually, and he gave me the address so I tried to Google it.

Nan: While the winter months are not cold by Canadian standards, they are still cold, especially when you have to ride the bus. 

Jovita: I stand there for 30 minutes and it’s winter! 

And I said I tried getting up, and I said, oh I’m already dressed up so I have to wait. And then I don’t really know who started the talking, but I said, I was looking for an [Iglesia Ni Cristo] church [building], and here, Brother Albert told me, “Oh you can come with me, I’m going there!”, and that’s it! Voila!

Nan: With the worship building right in front of a bus stop, Jovita immediately saw the building she had been looking for. Jovita continued to attend, signing up to be a bible student with the help of Albert and other members of the local [congregation], never missing a worship service. At the time we met her, Jovita had completed the bible studies in the church and was waiting for baptism.

Did you ever think that a simple bus ride could lead to such an important part of your life?

Jovita: That day I really worried if I could find it or what, so maybe it’s God’s will that Brother Albert is there 

Nan: God had a plan for you

Jovita: Yea, I know. And I feel that. 

Nan: I met up with Neil again, now a head deacon in the Local Congregation of Victoria.

We’re standing here in front of a clear, tangible sign of progress here in Victoria.

Neil: Yea, for sure.

Nan: This house of worship, just like Victoria, the house of worship is beautiful as well. Did you ever think you guys would have a house of worship like this?

Neil: You know, everybody prays for it. Everybody prayed for it and I remember, like many years ago when I first just got here, we were at a hotel, you know? We were at somebody’s house, and we were doing that kind of stuff. And we all just dreamt one day please, you know? We’d have our prayers to have our own house of worship.

Nan: How much of a difference do you see?

Neil: Oh it was massive. It was massive, it was completely gutted. Right? So when we came in, everything was taken right out. All the wood was taken out

Nan: It was basically down to the framing? 

Neil: Down to the framing.

Nan: So it’s essentially a brand new building. I mean, aside from the frame, it’s pretty much a brand new building.

Neil: Yea. Whether you’re coming down from that road, or from that road, you can see the seal and it’s just so cool to see it like that. When I see it in Victoria, I’m like, oh man, I’m home.

Nan: And that’s a popular answer. A lot of people always say no matter how beautiful or large a house of worship is, the seal is what really gets them in the heart. 

Neil: Yea, totally.

Nan: That’s great. Do you mind showing us inside?

Neil: Yea, absolutely, let’s go in.

Nan: I want to see how modern and all the different design cues that were used.

Neil: Yea, for sure

Nan: Whenever I take a tour with one of the members of the congregation, especially someone like Neil who spends a lot of time at the building, I’m always excited about what they’ll point out. 

Oh, this is really nice. 

Neil: Right? Isn’t it? Look at the chandelier

Nan: The chandelier is uh, I’ve never seen a design like that. 

Neil: I know, it’s like leaves. But chrystal like. It’s so cool.

Nan: Do you know…was that custom made?

Neil: No, it was found on the internet 

Nan: Oh really? What is this internet you speak of?

Neil: The most amazing thing ever. Uhm, yea no we just found it there and the designers thought it would be a great idea to do something totally different. It really gets that Garden City vibe, because that’s what Victoria is called, it’s called the Garden City. 

Nan: And then I’m assuming through those doors is the main sanctuary?

Neil: Yea! Let’s go in. 

Nan: Oh that’s really nice. Yea, you were not kidding, those chandeliers!

Neil: If you see it, it looks like tiny leaves and my favorite plant is the jade plant and I noticed that these ones look like the little jade plant leaves- it’s so neat.

Nan: While traditional molding can be found on the walls and the ceiling, additional detailed molding was added to frame each light in the room. 

Neil: Every pot light has it. And that’s what I was actually talking about- that they’re all LED so we’re really focused on environmental standards here so we tried to get as many things, lights and electrical products that are as efficient as possible.

Nan: Right, it helps too because it’s a whiter light it lightens it up even more. That’s really cool. And then I, the whole time I’m looking up and I’m looking down now and I see the tiles are really, really something different too. 

While new carpet was added throughout the interior of the sanctuary, the middle aisle was given a completely different treatment with an elaborate tile flooring complete with intricate details that connected the foyer area all the way to the podium. 

Haven’t seen really this combination, plus the design work in the tile…

Neil: Yea, and I like the centerpieces, quite nice as well, even on the sides. It’s kind of cool because now we have vines here which matches up with the chandelier and the chandelier, so it’s really, really well- done. 

Nan: Everything ties in.

Neil: Yea, totally. And I like the end part right over there where there’s a heart- so when you walk in, there’s love.

Nan: I didn’t even notice the heart! The little things we wouldn’t have noticed if you weren’t with us right now. What else around here kind of sticks out to you, as far as the design?

Neil: I love the podium. The podium is really nice. And what I like about it is it’s curved.

Nan: Now the first head deacon of the congregation, Neil’s first time sitting on the podium was the day of the building’s dedication. 

Neil: To be able to sit there in the podium right beside my minister at the time and seeing the Executive Minister right there in the middle, you know…it was, it was awesome. I have no other words.

Nan: What does it mean to you knowing that you have this beautiful podium to be at, and you can perform your duty there however many times during the week, what does that mean to you?

Neil: Oh, it means a lot. It means a lot. For me, being a head deacon means I can help people. 

Nan: Having the house of worship here in this beautiful place, what does that mean to your duty as a head deacon? 

Neil: I always encourage everybody to come because it’s great. You need it, and this is really where peace belongs. This is where love is. 

Nan: As we stood there talking, I could see how the presence of this worship building had finally completed the home Neil had begun to build in Victoria over 20 years ago.

Neil: I was baptized in Burnaby, where the house of worship is, but my whole time was here. So we were renting. The only thing I knew was renting. A lot of the brethren that I know who moved here from the Philippines, they didn’t know anything else except growing up in a chapel. For me, it was the other way. I didn’t know anything except for a rented space. But once the chapel was dedicated, I knew exactly what they were talking about because every time that I’m struggling or going through some stuff, but every time I come here, I feel rejuvenated again so I can go back out there and go do my thing. 

Nan: In its years of existence, Victoria has taken on many identities- the City of Gardens, the most romantic city in the world, Tectoria- but no matter what identity the city takes on next, for those that have found this place, this city, Victoria will be a place where hope can always be found.

Thanks for joining us on this episode of Blueprint, where in the end, everything is part of God’s plan.

[Show closing]

Available downloads

A Symbol of Hope in Victoria