One of the Fort St. John area's pioneers most famed for endurance was not a farmer or trapper, but a woman born to a cultured English family.
Monica Storrs was born on February 12, 1888 at St. Peter's Vicarage, Grosvenor Gardens, England. She received most of her schooling at the
Frances Holland School for Girls, which prepared her for London drawing rooms, not the Canadian wilderness.
As the daughter of a minister, she became involved in the service of the Cathedral Church and of the diocese. She helped with the pastoral work, and became particularly involved in Sunday school, and Boy Scout and Girl Guide training.
After graduating, she entered St. Christopher's College in Blackheath, where she met a woman who told her about the spiritual and physical needs of settlers in Canada's newly-opened Peace River country. She agreed to go to the region for
a year, to perform church services, start Sunday schools and to meet with women who might go for months without talking to another female.
Miss Storrs arrived in Fort St. John in October 1929, as both the Great Depression and winter began. She was the first missionary who came to teach Sunday school as well as perform regular services, and the first person who could teach the
traditions of Scouting and Guiding. For her work, she was to receive $75 per month from the Fellowship of the Maple Leaf.
Land was purchased from Alwin Holland, and an 18x24-foot log house was built as her headquarters. It became both a home for her and a dormitory for students from remote farms. One room was used as a community chapel.
By 1934 the house had become too crowded despite several additions, and the tiny Holy Cross Chapel was built nearby, on "The Breaks", high above the Peace River. Her home became known as "The Abbey".
Her intended year of service in the district stretched to 21 years. She was given the nickname 'God's Galloping Girl' due to her marathon rides in the most severe of weather, visiting remote farm families, performing church services and
Sunday school, and setting up Boy Scout and Girl Guide units.
Monica Storr finally left the Peace country in 1950. Upon her return to England, she named her home "Peacewood". She remained active in church work until her death on December 14, 1967.
B.C. Hydro bought the land that The Abbey and Holy Cross Chapel sat on, and the buildings became derelict. The Abbey finally burned, and the community was spurred to action to save the chapel. It was first moved to Peace Island Park in Taylor,
and then to the grounds of the
Fort St. John - North Peace Museum, where it has been restored.
The Holy Cross Chapel in December 1999
References & Further Reading:
Companions of the Peace: Diaries & Letters of Monica Storrs, 1931-1939 - Vera K. Fast, editor (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999).
God's Galloping Girl: the Peace River Diaries of Monica Storrs, 1929-1931 edited by W. L. Morton and Vera K. Fast (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1979)