Project Canterbury

Leaders of the Canadian Church
Edited by Canon Bertal Heeney

Toronto: Ryerson, 1943. 191 pp.



TUCKER was born on the level stretches by the Richelieu in the Province of Quebec. That was enough to give him scope of outlook, but there was more to the same purpose, for in his boyhood days his eyes were familiar with Sorel where the Richelieu adds its waters to the St. Lawrence. No one who ever heard him speak the word "Sorel," and noted the light that kindled in his eye, could doubt the warmth of his affection for that scattered village where the great rivers meet, or question the effect of its simple ways upon his imagination in after years. There was a strength of flow in his life and a large confidence in his vision which may well have come unwittingly from his early surroundings. Few men can escape the atmosphere of youth. Tucker never did and never wanted to. It lingered about him through life and was made luminous by later experiences.

Nor was it only the rich natural environment of his youth that coloured his mental life. There was another element at work. The Richelieu had been the highway of the Loyalists and Sorel one of their resting places. Tucker's parents were of this noble breed of men and women who made Canada and the Church of England possible in our land. Hence in him there burned the fire of patriotism which was one with the love of Church. The nation must have a soul. The religion of Christ is the soul of the people of God.

Another feature in that early dwelling place was of real influence in making Tucker a great Canadian. Many of his early playmates were French and he lisped in that language as early as in his mother tongue. He told me once that he could not remember when French had not been as familiar to him as English. Through life he turned in speech from one to the other with the ease of a master of both. And his was the language of the educated of old France and the new. He quoted with easy fluency from mighty preachers of French Protestantism. On one occasion when visiting old France he astonished those who heard him by his speeches in well nigh classic French.

To these early years among Roman Catholics may be traced, at least to some extent, his zealous Protestantism. His father was a rigid Protestant, it is true, but the early years in a Catholic community also had their effect. To a mind that was above all things free to think, to question, and to range through the works of God--the Church of his French-speaking neighbours appeared as a limiting, curtailing power. And ritual made little appeal to him. His was a religion of the intellect. It was of the type which stands on guard, if indeed it was not even disputatious. Much as I loved and admired him I always felt a parting of the ways in church-manship, though one remained silent in the presence of so incisive a mind and a tongue so expressive of shades of meaning.

These formative influences of youth's environment are, however, no full accounting for the man, L. Norman Tucker. He was gifted as few men have been in our Canadian Church, with a rich and creative mind. It penetrated. It was retentive. It was imaginative. It pressed itself forth in a stream of rippling and resounding eloquence which few men of his time in Canada could equal.


While Tucker was himself being made ready, so also was the stage on which he was to play his most important rĂ´le. The far scattered parts of the Church of England in Canada were being drawn together. There was a spirit at work--the Spirit of Christ, always the Spirit of unity. Men of the Church who had never seen each other's faces were yet longing for fellowship one with another in the cause of their Beloved Master. The promptings of the inner life found utterance, in letters, in the columns of the Church press, in resolutions of Synods and in many a fervent and hopeful address when Churchmen came together.

The Eastern Bishops, meeting for consultation on Church affairs at Quebec, in 1851, had seen the vision of a united Church of England for British North America and have left on record their convictions. The old Provincial Synod of Canada had more than once in strong language set down its resolves to the same effect. Instructions were given to the Metropolitan to correspond with the great Archbishop of the Prairies with the object of co-ordinating Church life and effort between East and West. So encouraging was the response, that in 1890 leaders of the Dioceses by the St. Lawrence went west and met in St. John's College, Winnipeg, with patriarch Machray and a goodly band of clergy and laymen from the Province of Rupert's Land. In fact so taken were the leaders of the prairie Church with the proposal for unity that the Provincial Synod resolved to attend the Conference in a body. Out of this conference sprang the movement for one Anglican Church in the newly formed political unit, the Dominion of Canada.

We need not follow here the steps by which unity of organization was achieved. We need only observe a fact of great and enduring significance which bears directly on our subject-- the urge behind the whole movement was missionary. Good men everywhere over this far stretching land were prompted to seek unity of organization and of effort that they might take the land in possession for their common Lord and Master. It was the vitality of missionary desire that gave birth and growth to unity of organization and of effort. Nothing could be more truly apostolic and significant.

It is into this movement of the Spirit of God for one Church from sea to sea that Tucker fitted with such capacity and driving power. One need only read the Primate's address at the opening of the third session to satisfy himself that "the most important question before the General Synod was the establishment of a Missionary Society for the whole Dominion." Such was the utterance of Archbishop Machray. And he added, "I believe there will be no worthy result unless an able general secretary is secured."

When the great Society composed of every member of the Church in every part of the Dominion had been formed and set in motion, its Executive Committee at its first session fixed unanimously on the one man marked out by God for the task--The Rev. L. Norman Tucker, M.A., rector of Christ Church, Vancouver. So strongly was Tucker impressed with the call that, as he said, "one who felt his shortcomings much more deeply than any of his detractors was chosen as by common impulse." Nothing but the unanimous voice of the Church, which he interpreted as the call of God, could have induced him to leave "his important post in the West to become a wanderer and a mendicant on the face of the earth" for the Cause of Christ.


It was a creative period in Canadian life, when Tucker came into office. What was going on in the Church was going on in the nation. The Spirit of God was moving "upon the face of the waters." The Canadian west was coming to life. There was something stirring in men's hearts. They would venture forth into the unknown. They would go in and possess. Something like the dawn fell upon the vast stretches of the prairies and touched with glory the mountains beyond. Once more God offered men the lure of a land of promise, and the Spirit of God urged them whither they knew not nor cared.

The Holy Spirit in history is the greatest fact in history. The story of man's doings has long been written as man's doings only--but there is more in history than man controls. It was so now. Nothing like it had occurred in Canadian history since the Loyalists swarmed over the boundaries of the unknown to inhabit the forests of old Canada. Tucker was not a man born out of due time. On the contrary the spirit of the Loyalists was in his blood and the sight of the west fired his splendid imagination. He was the man of the hour, at least so far as the Church aspect of the movement was concerned.


It will profit us to glance at the Western land over which this new church movement was about to spread. We have a prayer "that Thy grace may always prevent and follow us." It expresses a fact of experience so far as the individual goes, and it is a fact of Church life. God is always going before His people with "His pillar of cloud and of fire."

The preparatory steps in the opening of the West were what we wrongly call secular. The hunter first tramped the plains and followed the streams. The traders made forts where waters met and red men assembled. To them both, hunter and trader, and red native as well, the missionary came with the story of another world than this and brought great joy to women in loneliness and men in courageous toil. The rivers were the first highways to the West. Then a movement too strong for canoes and paddles arose in the national and commercial life of both East and West. It was bound to find expression in railways and in political unity.

It would be difficult to say who first dreamt of one nation from sea to sea. Probably the idea came at the same time into many minds, now here, now there. At Kingston one man saw the vision and was destined to give it reality. He and his associates talked of men, now far scattered, coming together for the common good, and of long steel rails gleaming in the prairie sun.

What we do not always see is that the man of affairs has often more faith than the man of the Church and of the pulpit. The railway builders of Canada were primarily men of faith. Faith in men of business is dynamic, in men of the Church often static. The Hills, the Smiths and the Stephens, inflamed it may be by the visionary Macdonalds, put all they had into the venture. They laid steel rails through the wilderness and sent great locomotives to haul down grain yet to be produced by the prairie and the handiwork of man.

The glimmer of things vast had early been seen by Churchmen too in eastern Canada, as we have already noted. The Bishops talked about it in Quebec in 1851. They had heard of the West from the returning fur traders to Beaver Hall Hill. They knew of the little bands of missionaries, far remote on prairie and sea coast. In more recent times the giant vigour of Machray had attracted attention, and they set themselves to plot and plan a Church for all "British North America."

Long delayed action came at last. Hopes and visions were seized upon one day by a great layman in the Synod of Huron. Charles Jenkins had thought and prayed and planned the reality of what others only idly dreamt of--one Church of our Fathers, over all that is now Canada.

Tucker came in due time to give the vision shape. The sight of the blacksmith is always picturesque--his bellows, the glowing fire, the reddening steel, the resounding strokes of the anvil where his vision takes shape and his purposes are fulfilled. Tucker was the master smith at the forge when the Canadian Church was formed and the power of working out the destiny of the people of God was imparted by the Spirit of God.


It was with one consent that he was chosen. No one envied him. Some said, "Tucker must go hat in hand from door to door and beg the money." Many saw the rocks on which the ship might founder. Tucker went aloft in the rigging and saw the channels and the open sea.

It was a time of party feeling in the Church, and Tucker was a party man. He was definitely "low" Church. This in certain quarters of great influence made him suspect. Furthermore, his brand of mind and education did not quite render him persona grata with many who were of his own school of thought. It is difficult for a man of wide literary and human sympathies to keep his balance on a theological tight-rope. And Tucker was not a good acrobat. But, he kept his vision clear, and, be it said, men of both sides of the Anglican house were sportsmen enough to see that they must work together if the Church were to give her great life of mind and spirit to the nation.

There were great men in the Church of that day. One proof of this is the magnitude of the task undertaken and the manner in which strong personal convictions were subdued to the advancing of the common resolve.

The old country missionary societies had their champions. They were not at one in churchmanship, in policy or in objective. There were large vested interests. Old Canada was largely S.P.G. in background and in tone of Church life. The west, with one or two important exceptions, was C.M.S.--the Red River exclusively so. Much of the foreign work was controlled by C.C.M.S., a Canadian branch of the great English Society for Foreign Missions. It was an act of extreme generosity and of faith to commit to the management of the M.S.C.C. funds and fields so zealously built up and cultivated by these parent organizations.

The same diversity of views prevailed in the teaching of the young. A Sunday School put up its party flag when it selected its teachers, helpers and children's leaflets. What compliments were paid each other in Church papers; what battles-royal fought at conferences, over the episcopate and the validity of the ornaments rubric. These were indeed the days when "knights were bold."


It would not be just to say that Tucker was the man to reconcile these diversities. It would be nearer the truth to credit him with so rivetting men's attention on the battle of the Lord in the great West that unity of action was secured in spite of diversity of opinion.

There arose at this time a state of mind helpful to the movement. It was not the work of Tucker nor of any other man. "The wind bloweth where it listeth," and men with honest diversities of view were caught up in the free movement of the Spirit of Christ.

Heretofore our Church in Canada had been but a mission of the Church in the old land. Now there came upon it a spirit of nationality; and there arose also what might be called an "international" policy. All its far scattered missions would become one Canadian Church as a primary sphere of action. This one Church would henceforth act as a unit, too, in sending her new-found energy of mind and spirit into the non-Christian life of peoples beyond the seas. As a result, all independent efforts here at home were merged in one, with the most telling consequences on missions abroad and on the life of our Church people in this wide Dominion.

At this time, too, the women of the Church began developing the nation-wide sense of responsibility and privilege. Tucker was inspired as well as inspiring. It is only a true utterance to say, that our Church in Canada would have all but failed in its great task had it not been for the wise, noble and persistent working of the Women's Auxiliary. Gradually the women caught the vision of present duty to a promising young nation, and they joined their prayers and efforts with those of the men in the new and larger undertaking.

In all ranks there arose something like an enthusiasm for Missions, particularly to the West. Men and women began to believe in the Church of England for Canada and to see visions of her great significance for the newborn Dominion.

Tucker was the living embodiment of these constructive forces. He literally fled from Province to Province and city to city--the prophet of the new order for the Church in Canada. His conversations were brilliant, his enthusiasm catching, his eloquence the utterance of a logical mind, a passionate heart and a silver tongue. The moulding power of his fire and his hammer strokes created a new Church-corporate for Canada and gave spirit and purpose to national life.

Apart from his work in the pulpits over the land his circulating organ of expression was The New Era. While it was the official organ of the movement and reflected other minds, it was his own in a special way. He was its editor and chief writer. The volumes of this paper show clearly his handiwork, and bear yet the inspiration of his mind and soul. From its pages we may gain a first hand knowledge of the principles which guided his efforts and those of the Fathers of the Church of that day, some of them among the greatest of the saints and sages of this or any country in Christendom.


The strength of a man must be seen against the strength of other men, his associates in the work. To be responsive yet not pliant in the midst of men like those whose names appear on the Board of Management of the Society, more particularly, perhaps, on its Executive Committee, required strength, wisdom and tact on Tucker's part. Moreover, the gifts of such men must be called into play by a dominating motive. Tucker's was not an engaging personality. Men did not act as it were for his sake. They yielded to his sincerity, vision and eloquence. He had power to persuade even when his personality stirred the smouldering embers of prejudice. Men of real ability will yield for the sake of the Cause in hand. In this instance they did so for the most sacred of all causes.

What Tucker wrote of the third General Synod remains true of those chosen to carry out its commands.

There were present men of varied talents in the presence of the one great issue. For the nonce all were transformed into ardent missionaries. The one burden that seemed to weight on every conscience was the burden of the West. The one object to which all eyes were directed was the good land which the Lord God of our Fathers had given us.

The first Primate was not perhaps an intimate of Tucker's, but there was a deep kinship between the two men in theology and missionary zeal. Of him, Tucker wrote, what is probably a true estimate: "More than any man he brought about the consolidation of the Church and the existence of the Missionary Society." By the strange ways of Providence he was not present at the General Synod which gave the new Society its being.

Among the laymen of unusual ability in those early meetings of the Board, was Matthew Wilson, K.C. His more than any man's "was the honour of piloting the missionary cause in its perilous voyage through the shoals and sands of the Lower House.'' Tucker speaks with admiration of his "clear and powerful intellect, his convincing and conciliating eloquence"--a great tribute coming from one of Tucker's own gifts and attainments.

Consider the ability required to present a case to an executive which numbered among its members so remarkable a man as the Hon. S. H. Blake, "the last of the great lawyers of Ottawa," a man of extraordinary strength of mind, of commanding presence, and having a tongue as sharp as a razor blade. No cause could succeed in spite of such minds as those of Wilson or Blake or Davidson, or the great primate.

It throws light on the strength of Tucker that he made allies not enemies of such as these. No man achieves greatness or does his life work alone and in the end it will be difficult to determine who won the day. Tucker was given the help of great lay associates.

Moreover, the list of clergy who stood round about Tucker in those early days is impressive in individual and collective strength. Among them too he moved as an equal in gifts, vision and zeal. They are now all in the land of the righteous where merits are not underrated or weaknesses unduly dwelt upon.

It is helpful to those whose task it is to carry on today that this goodly company of strong men, both lay and clerical, have left us such an example of high endeavour in unity and concord for the Cause of Christ.


As I have already suggested, Tucker was not a large man in stature; on the contrary he was spare of body. One might say that he was "wiry" and so he was; how else could he have endured! His field was as vast as the country--Sydney, Winnipeg, Vancouver; writing always as he travelled, speaking in town, village and country-side; never refusing an invitation, never letting down the fires of his enthusiasm: his was a wiry frame indeed. In long meetings he never seemed to weary. There was a passion for the cause which kept the mind alert long after his physical energies were due for rest. On the platform when about to speak one saw only a dark faced man with a large nose, a pair of penetrating grey eyes, a large mouth; the whole person eager but motionless.

I will not say that Dr. Tucker was attached to myself personally. I will affirm as my last word of tribute to him that he acted for Christ's sake as though such were the case. More than once he came the length of the city of Winnipeg to spend an hour in my study; more than once he spoke encouraging words. On one occasion he stood with me in the doorway of a Cathedral while the rain was pouring down, that we might speak and feel together in a problem that was more mine than his.

When he had grown old and was in ill health I visited him at London where he was the Dean of St. Paul's. I found him in his summer cottage on a little hill-estate outside the city. He was obviously not his old self though he had hopes of early recovery. But his mind was alert, as ever, and his memory richly stowed with recollections. It was a delight to listen to the smooth flowing of his rich eloquence as he related incidents grave and gay and let me have his wisdom as a father might his son. As I was about to leave I said, "Mr. Dean, I must be off and I crave your blessing before I go." Without more ado, I knelt down before him as he sat in his chair. He laid his hands upon my head and I was disturbed by the depth and warmth of his benediction, which has rested upon me ever since. And so to pay what tribute I can to the memory of L. Norman Tucker is an honour I covet but scarcely deserve.

Project Canterbury