Margaret Fulton


Margaret A. Fulton, B.A.
Surname as Student: Fulton
Education: United Church Training School
Graduation Year: 1948
Designated: 1956
Where: British Columbia Conference
Denomination: United Church of Canada
  • 1918 - Born, January 12
  • 2000 - Died, March 27

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Margaret Fulton was a no nonsense person who upon first meeting, could “scare the heck out of you but she had a heart of gold.”[1] She was “a strong, capable woman very faithful to the church which was an advocate for the fragile in the community.”[2]  Whether as a missionary, social justice worker, Deaconess, or later a Diaconal Minister, Margaret fought for recognition of the rights of the vulnerable.  In 1986, three years into her retirement, she wrote these words of reflection on her life:

What moves me to service in the Church? My love of Church began when I was a child.  My commitment to God and Jesus Christ have grown through the years, strengthened by God’s answers to prayer, by the love of teachers and friends, by the joys of sharing my faith in Christ with friends with whom I work or whom I lead.[3]

Her friends echo the sentiment: she was a good friend.[4]  Former Deaconess, Elaine Peacock, spoke of the network of Deaconesses and Women Workers in Vancouver and how the apartment Margaret shared with her long time companion Jean Myrick, and at the time also with Deaconess Bessie Lane, was a gathering place.[5] (see photo)  Linda Ervin, another close friend of Margaret’s described the friendship with Jean: “they travelled together, enjoyed each other’s company and supported each other as good friends would do.”[6]  

Margaret was born January 12, 1918 in Armstrong, BC.[7]  Young women were being vigorously sought to fulfill the expanding need in the period immediately following the war.  Perhaps Margaret was attracted by recruitment literature, painting an attractive picture to bright young women looking for a fulfilling career and a way to put faith into action. Margaret undertook study to be a Church Worker and graduated from the United Church Training School, in Toronto, from a two year joint diploma-degree program with Emmanuel College, in 1948. (Graduation photo to the left)  In her first year at the school she was awarded The Fowler Memorial Scholarship, given to the student with the highest standing in the studies of Old and New Testament[8]. (Graduation bulletins can be found here.)

Margaret was commissioned as a missionary by the Woman’s Missionary Society and sent as a home missionary to MacLean Mission, later MacLean United Church, in Winnipeg’s famous north end.[9] In her annual report of 1954 she described her focus on children, youth and women. A highlight was the mission study of the Canadian Girls in Training (CGIT). They had learned about the work in Angola and had sent three boxes of food to Korea and two large boxes of clothing to the Relief Depot in Toronto.  These efforts to support those in need are significant knowing that MacLean was in a low income neighbourhood, where people struggled to meet their own needs.  Perhaps Margaret’s passion for addressing social injustice inspired people to reach out.  She also mentioned the group leading worship and the formation of a children’s choir. “As MacLean celebrates its 60th anniversary I mark the end of my first term of service, and they have been six happy years”[10], Margaret declared.  

The next year she reports that the choirs were active, the anniversary celebrations undertaken and much-needed redecorating.  She also writes of a farewell party, held in her honour.  “I received very tangible evidence of the love of the folk there. It was hard to say goodbye to MacLean and to Winnipeg where I had enjoyed many happy associations, especially in Christian Education work.”[11]  This focus on Christian Education was important to building up the strength of the community at a time when MacLean made a transition from being a mission to a congregation.  The multi-faceted work of the United Church in the north end was being reorganized as the eastern European immigrant population was giving was to Aboriginal people moving into the city.  A history of the ministry (now called Northend Stella Community Ministry) states:

Consistently the efforts of the ministry have attempted to address the poor social and economic conditions prevalent in the Northend. Activities have been on both sides of the divide between charity and justice, but always there has been an articulated goal of social equality.[12]

In the fall of 1955 Margaret began what would be a five year ministry at Columbia Street United Church[13] in Vancouver, in the role of “Community Worker”.  Again, her appointment was that of a home missionary under the WMS, who invested significantly in community work and Christian Education in urban areas.[14]  A year later, in 1956, for reasons unknown, Margaret decided to be designated a Deaconess by British Columbia Conference.

Columbia Street United Church evolved from the Fairview Mission, begun in 1921. It was the second of two Japanese Methodist missions in Vancouver. A church was built following church union in 1925. Congregational life and mission flourished until Japanese Canadians were evacuated from the coast in 1942. Other congregations occupied the building, then it was used for storage.  The other Japanese congregation’s building, Powell Street was also used for storage, but then sold, without the consent of the congregation’s members.  As the Japanese congregants began to return to the coast after the war there was no suitable place for them to worship and meet so in 1949 the Fairview building was renovated and renamed Columbia Street United. The year before Margaret arrived, the congregation began holding dual services, with the Rev. William Van Druten serving in the morning and the Rev. Gordon Imai in the evening for English-speaking Japanese referred to as Nisei. By 1958, both Nisei and Issei (Japanese speaking) were worshipping in the Columbia Street church.[15]  In 2009, the General Council received representatives of the Japanese United Church members and amidst storytelling and reflection, apologized for the way the selling of their building while they were forced away from their home. (General Council article)  The British Columbia Conference archives has assembled a pictorial history of the Japanese United Church in Vancouver

In the era of baby boom and church expansion Columbia was changing rapidly, growing from a Home Mission at its inception toward an independent congregation in just 5 years.  From Margaret’s 1956 report you can grasp the excitement she felt about her first year of work helping people to “grow spiritually and in temporal affairs.”[16]  The Woman’s Missionary Society (WMS) had established a kindergarten in the area in 1946, in a time before kindergarten was provided by the school system and when there were very few childcare options for families.  The WMS kindergartens provided children in low income areas with some enrichment prior to entering grade one, and gave women an important break away from their children. Margaret worked with this kindergarten, offered 3 days a week by 1956.   It is interesting to note her expressed disappointment that the kindergarten did not result in bringing the families in the church.  This comment is illustrative of the overwhelming interest at the time in church growth.  In later years, Margaret likely would not have made the same expression of disappointment. In her outreach work later at First United, she harbours no expectations that service rendered would be reciprocated with church attendance.

Her 1956 report also mentioned she was working with two Nisei (Japanese) Sunday school teachers.[17]  Today this declaration seems simple, but just 10 years from the end of the Second World War, anti-Japanese sentiment in Canada was still very strong.  Even though in Margaret’s reports there is little to suggest interaction between the Anglo and Japanese congregations, Columbia United was a significant witness to acceptance and forgiveness and Margaret’s five years of leadership there was important in fostering that witness.

The area around the church, one of low-cost housing and people living in poverty meant lots of need for Christian education and fellowship as well as social service and counseling, but by 1958 Margaret reports that the Anglo congregation is not attracting local community members, although the Japanese congregation expands that year.  A change in zoning to industrial/commercial, signals that the potential for growth is not going to be realized.  While the congregation reports an increase of baptisms and weddings and on-going programming, it isn’t sufficient to sustain the Outreach effort.[18]  Margaret’s hours were decreased at Columbia Street and increased at Sanford Memorial United Church, a 6 year old church development project in an area of veteran’s housing with lots of children.[19]   It was the first church development of the Metropolitan Council for Church Extension formed to develop ministry in urban areas of the Board of Home Missions.[20]

Not untypical of the times, Margaret struggled trying to find sufficient room and enough teachers to handle the large number of children at Sanford’s Sunday school.  She reports that because of a lack of leaders she is teaching 4 sessions of Sunday school each week, “beginning at 8:45 am and carrying through until 2 o’clock.”[21]  She is grateful when the WMS provided her with a car: “Sometimes when I look at the load of materials I have accumulated to transport from one church to the other, I wonder how I ever managed before I had the car!”[22] In both congregations her work is focused on Christian Education with children, including summer programs – with the Japanese Church, with Sanford Memorial and with British Columbia’s famous, Camp Fircom.  

In 1959 we had about sixty girls in the Junior camp, four of whom were from Columbia St. and three from the Explorers at Sanford Memorial, … because of the shortage of leaders I served as a cabin leader [for 11 girls] at the Intermediate girls’ camp. … We had the camp president in our group but she spent half of the camp time as an invalid, having fallen from her upper bunk one night and sprained her ankle. … We devised a chariot for the invalid – the camp wheelbarrow.  Guess who supplied the horse power![23]

This story is a testament to the kind of woman that Margaret’s friends recall.  She was strong, of spirit and body, and she had a sense of humour.  Reading through her WMS reports several aspects of her personality are obvious.  First, her pragmatism: her reports are mostly factual, recounting statistics, describing programs.  The Camp Fircom narrative is the exception rather than the rule for Margaret, while many of the other WMS workers leaned much more to the side of story telling and reflection on their work in their reports.  Second, her high expectations: in several of her reports Margaret expresses disappointment that expectations for the work have not been met.  This is striking because of how rarely this is true in the WMS reports, particularly in the early years.[24]  These reports had a primary purpose to raise financial and moral support for the WMS and the directive to the women was to write a positive story.

In 1960, Margaret reported that the Women’s Auxiliary at Sanford Memorial had heavy responsibilities locally and was less able to support mission[25], including their contribution to her salary.  The WMS decided to end the work and Esther Highfield, the WMS Home Mission Executive Secretary, tried to attract Margaret back to MacLean Mission in Winnipeg.[26]  Margaret wanted to continue in urban ministry, but she wasn’t prepared to leave Vancouver.  After a year of travel in early 1962 she took her place on the staff of First United, in Vancouver’s notorious downtown east side.   

First United had a large staff working with both a congregation and engaged in social service work.  Margaret was responsible for Christian Education programs on Sundays and mid-week, as well as counselling with women and families.  She arrived just as construction on a new facility was to begin. (Photo building 1963)

The current building was inadequate to the demands of this multi-faceted ministry and under the leadership of Russell Ross, plans were developed and $500,000 was raised for a new building.  In Bob Burrow’s history of First United, Hope Lives Here, he quotes Margaret:

For us on staff in the early sixties, the building of the new Church was an exciting project to be involved with … There were many meetings with the architect, and staff had some opportunity to give their ideas.

In April 1964 when the 1892 building was finally demolished it “apparently happened just in time, because, Fulton recalled, ‘one Sunday during the last days in the old building, the ceiling of the narthex fell down – a sure omen something new was needed.’ ”[27]

Many exciting, cutting edge programs were created in the years that Margaret was on the team at First United in the creative and energetic days of the 1960s. Increasingly the work was to the vulnerable community that lived around the church, and just as Margaret had experienced at Columbia Street, the local community wanted a connection with the church, but not as members of a congregation.  In 1968, as First United became the largest of the United Church’s institutional missions, there were many changes in the team, with a new Superintendent and retirements of Marion Rollins and Deaconess Muriel Richardson.  Margaret, eligible for a year of furlough, decided after her year of study and travel not to return, but to make a significant change in her ministry.

There were a number of Deaconesses and Women Workers, employed by the Woman’s Missionary Society and by congregations in Vancouver in the 1950s and 1960s  and Margaret was active as a leader in the community, often present when they met. Elaine Peacock fondly was able to name several of them – Bessie Lane, Jean Angus, Pearl Willows, Jean Myrick, as well as Margaret – who would come together regularly.  The Anglican and United Deaconesses also met together, under the umbrella of the Professional Church Workers Association (See photo of gathering in 1964).[29]

When Margaret returned from her furlough year, her focus of ministry changed to senior adults. She saw a fragile area of society in which she could make a difference.[30] Her title was “Senior Citizens’ Worker of North Vancouver”. In the mid-seventies she took another furlough year to study hospital chaplaincy and in 1977 she was appointed “Nursing Home Visitation Coordinator in Vancouver” and she remained in this position until her retirement in 1983. Her office was at Chalmers United.[31]

Her responsibilities were to recruit and train volunteers willing to be more than casual visitors. Volunteers made weekly one-on-one visits with seniors in long-term care hospitals in the Vancouver area. Many of the seniors had lost their friends, their families lived away and they had little connection with the community.[32]

It is quite probable her work with seniors is where Margaret found her strongest calling. It was certainly this focus of ministry where her conviction to serve those on the margins had a great impact and a ministry for which she received considerable recognition. Her paid position ended but not her passion.

My contribution to the life of seniors is especially seen in the programme of Adult Day Care in the province of British Columbia. The Centre at St. Andrew’s Church, North Vancouver, was named the Margaret Fulton Centre on its tenth anniversary in 1982. (See photo) From that first centre begun with a local initiatives programme grant and limited church money, have developed more than fifty centres throughout the province, now part of the continuum of care offered by the Long Term Care programme of the Ministry of Health. I am still involved in adult day care because of chairing the Board of Strathcona Adult Day Care Centre, which serves both Chinese and Caucasian senior adults.[33]

Margaret was very dedicated to her work with seniors and would go to bat for them in any way she could. Beth Jennings had been on the board of Strathcona Adult Day Care Centre with Margaret, when financial help was needed. Margaret helped them get the necessary funds. She was a woman of many talents.[34]

Perhaps it was her passion for seniors and her hands on approach that resulted in a painful parting with Chambers United.  Margaret continued to be very active with the congregation following her retirement. The congregation was going through a transition as to what should become of the building and there came a point where she was thought to be meddling.[35] Some perceived her as wanting to control everything. She was asked by Session to leave.[36] It was a fragile time for Margaret. She decided to attend St. Andrews Wesley, but not before investigating whether there was support for her and her passion – working with seniors.[37] (Article on St. Andrew’s Church)

Margaret died March 27, 2000 at the age of 82.

Memories of Margaret were shared with me, primarily from her time working with seniors. As memories can be, they are not anchored to specific dates. Talking with people who knew her helped me appreciate her as a person and the path of ministry we share.

Linda Ervin spoke with great respect for Margaret, a woman she considered her mentor. Linda recalled meeting Margaret at a gathering in Alberta in the early 70’s and her memory was of a very strong, capable woman.  At Linda’s 1976 covenanting service at First United in Vancouver, Margaret was one of the Deaconesses who provided tea.

Faithful to the church, Margaret was truly diaconal in her ministry and valued the diaconate in lives, in community and in the world.[38] Both Linda and Beth Jennings commented on her commitment to, and involvement with, the broader diaconal community. She encouraged others to be involved. With only a half-time salary, Linda was interested but unable to attend a meeting of “DUCC”, Diakonia of the United Church of Canada. Margaret was able to find funds to allow her to go. Margaret herself was involved as a member of DUCC, and attended DOTA: Diakonia of The Americas (later DOTAC when the Caribbean joined) and World DIAKONIA conferences.[39] Linda regrets Margaret did not live to see her become president of DOTAC and Vice President of World DIAKONIA. (To learn more about these international associations) [40]

Margaret did not entertain the idea of Diaconal Ministers being ordained and could site numerous examples of where the diaconate made a huge difference in people’s lives.[41] She was a strong advocate for the equality of diaconal and ordained ministry within the United Church. Linda Ervin commented:

Margaret fought very hard to have Diaconal Ministers be part of the Ordered Ministry salary and Pension system. I recall her strong forceful speech on behalf of Deaconesses and Certified churchman as we were known in 1977. It was the General Council meeting at Calgary where she made an impassioned speech for inclusion of the Diaconate of the UCC in the salary and pension grids. It changed and we were included after that General Council.”[42]

Margaret was one for always thinking ahead and always being very hands on. At a service at South Granville Park Lodge, a rather stern woman told Margaret to sit down. Harry Stothers was the organist. He turned to the woman and said “Margaret Fulton does not sit down!” He considered it a joy to work with her.[43]

A summer project Margaret organized through Chalmers United Church was called “Country Holidays” at Paradise Valley. Seniors were brought together for a camping program of 4-5 days from various places, including Vancouver Island, Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.[44] Beth was invited to come along, supposedly for a bit of a holiday, but quickly found herself making beds and involved in other tasks. It was a camp for seniors with crafts, swimming and other gentle activities. For those who went, it was the “closest thing to heaven”.[45]

Beth said, “I credit her with the founding of Adult Day Care in BC – a very needed and significant program for seniors.”[46]  Her passion lives on. 

This biography was written by Barbara Hansen in 2014 for an assignment at The Centre for Christian Studies.  Additional material was added by Caryn Douglas.

For a high resolution printable version of this profile contact


[1] Beth Jennings and Harry Stothers. Phone conversation 1/29/14.

[2] Linda Ervin. Phone conversation 1/28/14.

[3] Dulcie Ventham, Editor, The Newsletter: Historical Issue, Spring 1988, Association of Professional Church Workers Anglican Church of Canada and United Church of Canada, 1988, p38.

[4] Elaine Peacock. Phone conversation. 1/30/14.

[5] E. Peacock. Phone conversation.  Elaine was a Deaconess in Vancouver in the early 1960s. 1/30/14.

[6] Linda Ervin email 1/13/14

[7] This is assumed because she entered UCTS from Armstrong, and some internet sources indicate Fulton families settled there. More research into her early years would be good!

[8] United Church Training School Annual Convocation and Graduation Service 1946-1947.

[9] Ventham, The Newsletter: Historical Issue, Spring 1988, p38.

[10] Missionaries Reporting 1953-1954, The Annual Report of the Woman’s Missionary Society, The United Church of Canada Missionaries Reporting: Woman’s Missionary Society, p.152.

[11] Missionaries Reporting 1954-1955, The Annual Report of the Woman’s Missionary Society, The United Church of Canada Missionaries Reporting: Woman’s Missionary Society, p.52-53.

[13] Missionaries Reporting 1956, The Annual Report of the Woman’s Missionary Society, The United Church of Canada, p 197.

[14] Ventham, The Newsletter: Historical Issue, p 38. 

[16]  Missionaries Reporting 1956, p 198.

[17] Missionaries Reporting 1956, p 197.

[18] Missionaries Reporting 1958, The Annual Report of the Woman’s Missionary Society, The United Church of Canada, p 210.

[19] Missionaries Reporting 1959, The Annual Report of the Woman’s Missionary Society, The United Church of Canada, p 79.

[20];rad accessed 1/31/14. Dedicated in November 1952, the church closed 15 years later. 

[21] Missionaries Reporting 1960, The Annual Report of the Woman’s Missionary Society, The United Church of Canada, p 83.

[22] Missionaries Reporting 1959, p 81.

[23] Missionaries Reporting 1960, p 83.

[24] By 1960 there is more often a note of critique or concern as the attitudes toward mission work are taking new directions.

[25] Missionaries Reporting 1960, p

[26] Letter to Rev. C. H. Forsyth, Chair Home Missions for Manitoba from Esther M. Highfield, Home Mission Executive Secretary, Woman’s Missionary Society, Toronto; May 24, 1960.  Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario/All Native Circle Conference Archives, United Church of Canada.

[27] Bob Burrows, Hope Lives Here, A History of Vancouver’s First United Church, Harbour Publishing, 2010, p 89.

[28] Hope Lives Here, pg 98.

[29] E. Peacock. Phone conversation. 1/31/14.

[30] L. Ervin. Phone conversation. 1/28/14.

[31] Ventham, The Newsletter: Historical Issue, p 38. 

[32] Stewardship Magazine, The United Church of Canada, December 1980.

[33] Ventham, The Newsletter: Historical Issue, p 38. 

[34] B. Jennings. Phone conversation 1/29/14.

[35] L. Ervin. Phone Conversation. 1/28/14.

[36] Louise Arnott. Phone Conversation. 1/31/14

[37] L. Ervin. Phone Conversation 1/28/14.

[38] L. Ervin. Phone conversation 1/28/14.

[39] L. 2/6/14.

[40] L. Ervin. Phone Conversation 1/28/14.

[41] L. Ervin. Phone Conversation 1/28/14.

[42] L. Ervin. Email 2/05/14

[43] Harry Stothers and B. Jennings. Phone conversation 1/29/14.

[44] B. Jennings. Email. 2/7/14

[45] B. Jennings. Phone conversation 1/29/14.

[46] B.Jennings. Email and phone conversation 2/7/14.