Monday, April 14, 2014

Hobo Preacher

This photo, from the City of Vancouver archives, is of Reverend Andrew Roddan talking with an unemployed man at the city dump.

Here's the reverend standing in front of men lined up to get food at the First United Church.
Here the reverend is distributing food to the homeless men at the dump.

Roddan again with the men residing in the jungles at the city dump. All four photos are from the same source.

Last week I told you about 'jungles' that had appeared in the spring and summer of 1931 and a bit about the men who had lived there. The 'jungles' were closed in September of that same year - officials used a death involving typhoid as the reason - and many of the men were shipped off to government run labour camps. And I am sure that some felt that was the best thing to happen to these men but there was someone who admired the spirit of these men and worked hard to try to help them. That man was Reverend Andrew Roddan.

Born in Hawick, Scotland on July 6, 1882, Andrew Roddan first served as a lay minister for the Royal Navy at Gibraltar. He came to Canada in 1910, training at the University of Manitoba. Roddan served at Winnipeg's Home Street Presbyterian Church for nine years and St. Paul's United Church in Port Arthur. He lived briefly in Saskatchewan - home of Tommy Douglas, the politician who brought our current health care system to Canada.

In 1929, Roddan came to Vancouver and began his 19-year tenure at the First United Church at the corner of Gore and Hastings. There the reverend transferred his Christian sympathies into practical acts to help others.

These are photos I took of glass covered photos on the side of the Vancouver Flea Market building on Terminal.

Roddan practised what he preached in his thick Scottish accent. With the help of volunteers, Roddan fed the hungry. In fact, the First United Church soup kitchen served 1,252 patrons in a single seating in November of 1930. It is estimated that the church supplied 50,000 meals to those in need during the winter of 1930-31.

But he did more than just supply physical and spiritual nourishment. Roddan lobbied for better social welfare programs, often locking horns with Mayor Gerry McGeer. The reverend was one of the first advocates for low rent housing projects in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. As he ministered at his 'Church to the Open Door', Roddan faced opposition from the Communists, who felt he was delaying the inevitable uprising, and government officials who felt his charity was drawing more hobos to Vancouver. (Personally, I feel that our climate is the reason that many drifters and such arrive in Vancouver. Spending a winter on the streets of Toronto or Calgary is a lot worse than a winter here.)

To fight back against the Communists, Roddan would point out that people couldn't eat the literature then hold a loaf of bread. He wasn't totally against communism though. He once wrote "I only wish the Christian Church could catch something of the missionary zeal which is burning so strong in the heart of the Communist." Nor was he totally against politics. He provided help to the families of picketing longshoremen in the labour unrest of 1935 and supported the candidate who ran against Gerald Grattan McGeer in the federal riding of Vancouver-Burrard and publicly supported the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion volunteers who fought for the leftist Republican cause in Spain against Franco.

Reverend Andrew Roddan was also a painter who held an exhibit of his work in 1942. Roddan was a charter member of the Vancouver Art Gallery. He was also a writer, penning the book God in the Jungles: The Story of a Man without a Home in 1931 which has been republished in 2005 under the title Vancouver's Hoboes as well as two other works in 1932.

Wednesday I want to tell you more about this Apostle to the Poor and his son, Sam. Today's information was gathered from a listing in the ABC Book World site.

I hope you find the beauty around you.


  1. Well done Karen. I enjoyed knowing that a man of God was such a help to the hobo's as everyone needs a cheering section. Desperation in a time after a war draws many to join together. As we make friends we are drawn to those who are like ourselves and have similar backgrounds.

    1. People do tend to stay with what is known and familiar - its human nature. Maybe that is why we admire those who go out of their comfort zone - because we are afraid to?