The faithful flying Gaglardis
by Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
On this 150th Celebration of Canada, we remember a remarkably dynamic couple, Phil and Jennie (nee Sandin) Gaglardi, who helped shape Canadian Christian history in British Columbia.
Jennie, with her co-worker Laurene Schneider (Drury) started the 80-year old Christian Life Assembly (CLA) church in 1937 with street meetings in front of Fullers Meat Market in Langley. Jennie played guitar while Laurene led the singing with her accordion. Jennie’s favourite scripture, which she quoted at every street meeting was “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found. Call upon Him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6) They invited onlookers to evening meetings at a rented Sunday school hall. Initially no one turned up. Finally one or two would join them. Eventually many more would follow. Their first convert, Eleanor Mark, said: “The Lord honours small beginnings that have been watered with tears, much hard work, and faithfulness.” Claude Adams, who played his accordion at the street meetings, said, “You couldn’t say no to Jennie.”
Someone else who couldn’t say “no” to the Swedish Canadian Jennie was Phil Gaglardi, who later became known as ‘King of the Road’ as BC Highways Minister under Premier WAC Bennett. Of Italian Roman Catholic background, Phil had been a hard-drinking logger and construction worker who would fight at the drop of a hat. He came to personal faith in Christ through Jennie’s earlier ministry in Mission BC. Jennie particularly appreciated Phil’s ability to both preach and fix their Model ‘A’ Ford. She agreed to marry Phil on the condition that he became an ordained minister as well. “My mother was the drive behind my father,” son Bob Gaglardi remembered in a Light Magazine article, “Bob Gaglardi: then and now” (June 2016). “It’s hard to understand that considering how strong a personality my Dad was. She was the boss at the end of the day, but she allowed my father to be at the forefront.”
Phil and Jennie were both passionate about missions, prayer, and revival: “Are we calling for fasting and prayer? We know that we need a revival more than all others know. Come! Let us break up the fallow ground. This is a clarion call to prayer and consecration. Let us move forward on our knees. Pray as you have never prayed before for revival! Revival! Revival!”
A major breakthrough for CLA occurred in 1942 when the Gaglardis brought in Dr. Charles Price for a series of meetings, described by Dr. Price as “the most outstanding he had ever seen in all of his ministry throughout the world.” Phil and Jennie went on in 1943 to pastor a booming congregation in Kamloops. Jennie’s cofounder Laurene and her husband Bill Drury became the second-generation Pastoral Couple at CLA. Phil Gaglardi was elected as a Kamloops MLA in 1962, serving for 20 years as the Minister of Highways. He miraculously spent five days a week at the Legislature while still leading a thriving congregation two days a week. Phil established the BC Ferry Service, the Deas Island Tunnel, and the Rogers Pass. Gaglardi Way, a major thoroughfare in Burnaby, connecting the Trans-Canada Highway to Simon Fraser University, is named for him. In his rushing back between Victoria and Kamloops by car and plane, he became known as ‘Flying Phil’, perhaps because of a number of speeding tickets! Jennie had an amazing gift of ministering to children, birthing burgeoning Sunday schools in both Langley and Kamloops, with a fleet of 11 buses to pick up 9,000 children, the largest in Canada at the time. Phil, while laying more blacktop than any other politician in the world, also managed to help plant new churches throughout the province. He ironically said: “If there are two things I hate in life, it is a minister of the gospel and a politician, and I ended up being both.” Whatever Phil did in church life or politics, he did it fast and got the job done. Phil and Jennie never let the naysayers stop them. Phil saw his duty to keep the highways “in such shape that motorists will avoid the language which would deny them access to the highway to heaven.” What an amazing team that Phil and Jennie were! May they inspire us to fly to the altar of revival.
Rev. Dr. Ed Hird is Rector at St. Simon’s Church in North Vancouver, of the Anglican Mission in Canada. He is author of Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit.