Project Canterbury

Leaders of the Canadian Church

Edited by Canon Bertal Heeney

Toronto: Ryerson, 1943. 191 pp.


ONE of the most inspiring and invigorating influences in national and Church life is the presence of a truly great man. It is like the showers that come down from heaven to refresh and revive the parched earth. It is like the salt which preserves the perishable substance from decay. It uplifts and strengthens us while it abides, and when it is removed its memory lives on as a cherished possession, and exerts a powerful influence on all succeeding generations.

Such a man, to our young Church and nation, was Robert Machray, Metropolitan of Rupert's Land and Primate of all Canada. He appeared on the scene when the country was a congeries of disunited Provinces and dioceses. He began to act his part in a remote, obscure, and inaccessible region. But Fortune had chosen a psychological moment for the advent of its favourite son. Vast changes were impending. He lived through what must always remain the most eventful period in our national history. He grew with the Church and the State, and gave a powerful impetus to their development. In course of time he became universally recognized as one of Canada's and the Empire's great men, and by the spontaneous act of the authorities, both in Church and State, he was made Primate of all Canada, and Prelate of the most distinguished order of St. Michael and St. George.

The qualities that won him such distinction could be of no mean order. His was indeed a many-sided character. His single-hearted devotion to the best interests of the Church and the State, his courage, his perseverance, his judgment, his hopefulness, his energy, his self-denial, he had in common with many humble and obscure missionaries. All these were essential to the completeness of his equipment, but they did not constitute his distinguishing merit. There was in him a certain firmness of grasp as of superior strength, a certain clearness of vision as of superior insight, a certain illumination of intellect as of superior genius that seemed to reveal to him the dim and distant courses of the future which remained dark to ordinary men. And with these were coupled a constructive genius that made him adopt, with unerring instinct, the means best suited to the attainment of his objects. His was a rare combination of the ideal and the practical. He saw clearly and far, and his every impulse led him to translate thought into action, and purpose into organization for its achievement. And so he became the great man of action, the statesman, the master-builder, who, with a unique opportunity, cherished a great purpose, pursued it unflinchingly for forty long years, and was permitted to see in his old age the realization of more than the dreams of his youth.

These eminent gifts stood out in all their fulness at the outset of his career. He was confronted with conditions which to him were absolutely new, and with prospects which to all, were absolutely unknown, and yet, as early as 1866, in the first year of his episcopate, he propounded a policy whose logical developments were sufficient to cover all the marvellous changes of the last forty years. In the year before Confederation, twenty years before the completion of the C.P.R., he entertained high hopes regarding immigration. There were only some twenty clergy in his diocese, which extended from the international boundary to the Arctic Ocean, and from Hudson's Bay to the valley of the Yukon. At his first conference he could only muster some ten clergy and eighteen laymen, but even then he felt the necessity of constitutional action, to enlist the cooperation of his clergy and faithful laity. He saw, at the first glance, that if the Church was to succeed, it must become self-supporting, and even under the almost complete dearth of population and material wealth, he set on foot a scheme of systematic giving. He saw, as a necessary consequence, that a self-supporting Church must also be self-governing. He accepted a Synod as a settled question and exerted all his influence to make it efficient. Further to enlist the interest of the people he proposed to divest himself, when a suitable time should come, of his powers as corporation sole, and to place the custody of Church property in the hands of trustees. Foreseeing the ultimate withdrawal of the grants of the English societies, he immediately set to work to create local endowments and a Diocesan Mission Fund, to help needy parishes. Rising to a still higher plane he foresaw that the strength of self-government lay in the intelligence of the people, hence the importance of an adequate system of public education. And as all had to be created, he set to work immediately and took the first steps toward the establishment of a system of common schools. Anticipating the evils inherent in a purely secular education he made provision for instruction in religion in the common schools, and the Sunday Schools, supplementing these by the establishment of libraries of useful reading. And as though nothing could escape his vigilant eye, he provided that school books and all useful literature should be sold, not given away, thus teaching the people to prize the books they were expected to read. Knowing that the pivot of the whole educational system lay in the teacher, he set to work to establish centres where an efficient teaching staff could be trained. Applying the same principles, though under different conditions, to the Church, he saw at once the value of native agencies, and set to work to establish a Divinity School which, to the end of his episcopate, he cherished as the keystone of his policy. He saw, as if by intuition, what it has taken others a lifetime to find out, that the best shepherds and leaders of the people must always be drawn from among the ranks of the people themselves, men who know the country and its conditions, men who understand the people and are in fullest sympathy with their needs and aspirations. Hence the absolute need of a Theological College for the training of a native ministry. Coming, as he did, from one of the greatest seats of learning in Europe, he did not fail to realize that theological training alone is too narrow without the broadening influence of classics and mathematics, science and art, and therefore at the apex of the whole system, as a keystone to the whole arch, there must be a system of university training. The seed was then sown whose ripened harvest was seen a few years later in the great University of Manitoba. Never once losing touch with fact and life and nature, he saw that behind and beneath every system must be the living man to give it vigour and efficiency. In order to make the Church an aggressive force that would keep pace with the advance of settlement he determined to call together, in due time, an efficient body of clergy who would combine the offices of a cathedral staff, a school and college staff and a staff of missionary preachers. Thus he revived the Cathedral System as it was originally intended to be, and made the little Church of St. John the centre of the missionary life of the diocese. All this germinated in the brain of a lonely worker, in 1866, in the midst of a vast wilderness whose chief inhabitants were countless herds of buffalo and roving tribes of Indians. Here surely was a great man, called of God to cope with a nation and a Church. Here the main lines were laid down of all the future policy for the carrying out of which he devoted his unrivalled powers, his tireless energy, and his long life. The seeds of this complete system were sown in the first charge he delivered to the Synod of his Diocese, composed of a diminutive body of a dozen clergy and less than two dozen laymen.

And his genius did not consume itself in devising impracticable schemes, in building castles in the air. Day by day was it called into active use in supplying the defects of the system it was gradually calling into play. Ever and anon were the words on his lips, "let me suggest a plan." This practical judgment pervaded every department of his work as chief pastor. His views on preaching were remarkably sane, combining the essential requisites of positive dogmatic teaching, spirituality and practical adaptation to the daily needs of the people. His views on the Holy Communion were a remarkable blending of the spirit of reverence with perfect freedom from all superstitious fancies. With little experience of parochial work he nevertheless set great value on pastoral visitation. With all its shortcomings the Sunday School held a deservedly high place in his estimation. Anticipating the experience of subsequent years he rightly judged that the proper function of charitable and missionary funds was not so much to relieve temporary distress, as to help poor men and congregations to help themselves. Essentially cautious and conservative and radically opposed to novelties, he nevertheless looked with favour on the adaptation of the Prayer Book services to the wants of country missions. He constantly urged the need of due preparation for baptism, of the choice of suitable persons for sponsors and of the value of public catechising. It would be difficult to find, in any manual of practical instruction for the clergy, a more complete system of sound and useful directions than is to be found scattered through the charges of the Bishop to his Synods.

As might naturally be inferred, we find in these charges as they are delivered year by year, a continuous history of the Northwest, and a reference to the chief events that took place in the land during his episcopate, coupled with comments of a rarely sagacious character. In them we trace the gradual transformation of Fort Carry into the city of Winnipeg, the foundation and growth of Holy Trinity Church, the establishment and expansion of St. John's School and College, the welcome advent of the telegraph and the railway, the years of dearth that followed the summer droughts and the early frosts that threatened to blight the Bishop's hopes and to destroy the fortunes of the country; the scourge of grasshoppers, as destructive as the eighth Egyptian plague, the disheartening measure of help received from Eastern Canada, the Winnipeg boom that for a time threatened to engulf the most stable institutions of the land, the formation of a Cathedral Missionary Staff, the establishment of a ladies' school, the inauguration and the successful working of a Provincial University, the first and second Riel rebellions, the gradual subdivision of the Diocese of Rupert's Land and the formation of a Provincial Synod, comprising, besides the parent see, the Dioceses of Saskatchewan, Athabasca, Moosonee, Calgary, Mackenzie River, Qu' Appelle, Selkirk, and Keewatin, and the Winnipeg Conference, held in 1890, which led to the fruition of his most cherished hopes in the formation of the General Synod in 1893 and of M.S.C.C. in 1902.

But the full measure of his worth and work can best be gauged by the growth and development that took place during his episcopate of which he might truthfully say "Quorum pars magna fui." Fort Carry, a remote station of the Hudson's Bay, with a population of 300, grew into the city of Winnipeg, the third greatest of the Dominion, with a population of some 80,000 souls (1904). The Hudson's Bay territory was converted into a vigorous Province, and many growing territories of our young and already powerful Dominion. Twenty clergy became 200. There was no church in Winnipeg, where now there are six, one of which alone, Holy Trinity, contains a larger membership and greater wealth than the whole diocese did in 1866. There were no common schools where now flourishes one of the most perfect systems of education in the world, rounded off by high schools, theological colleges, and a university. There was not a yard of railway where now a perfect network is to be found, measured by thousands of miles. Eight Bishops now bear rule where there was only one. There was no legislative body in either Church or State, where now there is a complete system of Dominion, Provincial and Territorial Governments of General, Provincial and Diocesan Synods. Not one cent was raised by offertories where Churchmen now freely give tens of thousands of dollars. There was not one self-supporting church where there are now fifty. The words of the prophet find here a literal fulfilment both in a material and spiritual sense, "the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad thereof, the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose." It would be difficult to find anywhere, at any period of the world's history, a more marvellous transformation than that which has taken place in the Northwest in the course of this single episcopate.

The personal traits of such a man must be of great interest to all who feel the touch of nature that makes the whole world kin. He was never known to miss an appointment, save under the constraint of force majeure. In one of his missionary tours he travelled 1,000 miles in a dog sled, and slept seventeen nights of the camp-fire, in the open air, when the thermometer was forty degrees below zero. If he loved the Church with all his heart he may be said to have loved the School with all his mind. St. John's School and College were never absent from his thoughts. For many years he filled the chair of mathematics of which he was a past master. His lessons in Euclid were the terror of the school boys. A rigid disciplinarian of the old school, he is said to have flogged most of the leading men of the West. Work to him had become second nature, and it is said that when, on one occasion, he took a holiday, he became suddenly ill. He spent his leisure hours even when recovering from a serious illness, in solving problems in the loftiest regions of the higher mathematics. He carried all the loyalty of the Highlander into the administration of the affairs of the Church, and never failed to reward those who had done good service for the Church in the West. Thus, from the ranks of his clergy, McLean, Horden, Bompas, Pinkham, Young, Reeve, Grisdale, Lofthouse, and Matheson, were raised to the episcopate. His liberality knew no bounds. He gave no less than $10,000 toward the endowment of a chair of Ecclesiastical History in St. John's College, with an attached Canonry in the Cathedral, not to speak of countless other gifts. His character was probably deficient on its social side. Society had apparently few charms for him. He never enjoyed the comforts of family life. His rugged, granite nature, which had to bear the strain of isolation and the hardness of pioneer life for so many years, was never mellowed and softened by the gentle hand of woman and the prattle of little children.

In no sense of the word could he be called an orator. Essentially a man of action and absorbed through life in the administration of affairs, he had probably no more time than inclination to cultivate the art of persuasion, but the deep conviction and earnestness that breathed through every word he spoke gave to his direct and vigorous language all the force of genuine eloquence. Among many examples of his style that might be given, the following description of a plague of locusts must suffice.

The ground was riddled with the eggs of the grasshoppers. When spring opened the young grasshoppers came out and filled the land. Some weeks passed before they reached their full growth, and were able to fly. During that period they crawled on in one unceasing march, the whole country for a great distance was alive with them. They devoured every green thing--the young crops, weeds, grass. They filled the trees till they were covered with them, as when bees were swarming. They covered every piece of fence or wall. They crowded on each other when any obstacle came in their way till they formed masses feet deep. Having no food in the fields they devoured each other till the whole country was filled with masses of their corrupting bodies. In many places the air was filled with a noisome stench from them. It was a merciful providence that no pestilence broke out. At length, they took wing and, in a short time, all disappeared. The country in many places never recovered all the season. The trees and grass seemed poisoned, the land remained black and bare. It shows what God can do by an apparently very feeble instrument. Oh, may we be moved by a sense of our dependence on Him, and by the evidence of His having some controversy with us, each to examine His life and conduct that we may live close to Him and devote ourselves more heartily and unselfishly to His glory and service.

And yet, even such an episcopate did not escape detraction. It is so easy for armchair critics, who may never themselves have done anything worth recording, to sit in their studies and teach our Generals to conduct their campaigns, and our Bishops to rule their dioceses. Such critics often overlook one hundred merits to pounce upon one or two conspicuous defects. They are often oblivious of the enormous difficulties to be encountered, and of the slender means with which they have to be overcome. They forget that all human endeavour is essentially imperfect, and that the attainment of the main object must often be reached at the sacrifice of the subsidiary ones. They often prefer, in their theorizings, abstract perfection to practical efficiency. They are sometimes even carried away into the region of the imagination, that their critical faculty may have free scope. In that spirit complaints were made in Eastern Canada that the Bishop neglected the work of the Diocese to attend to that of the College, whereas the fact of the matter was that from the lack of men and means both the work of the Diocese and that of the College were sadly neglected. It was objected twenty years ago as it is objected today, that the farmers of the West were saving their millions and that was pleaded as an excuse for not supporting missions in the West. It was objected that the Church had grown rich from the sale of lands. The Bishop even mentions an objection that came in plain words from the Diocese of Montreal through the Secretary of the Synod, that an impression prevailed that the spiritual needs of the Northwest were greatly exaggerated. The Bishop says in reply:

In the very week that I received that letter from Montreal, the Presbyterian Church of Canada had appointed some thirteen new missionaries to this country. They had already last year voted some $16,000, and become responsible for not less than forty missionaries. I have been long aware of a very false view being current in Eastern Canada. In 1885 I received a letter from one of the Canadian Bishops remonstrating with me for having spent a large sum of money in building a splendid Cathedral instead of giving it to Missions. To those who know the little plain Cathedral built by my predecessor, the absurdity of this is amusing. A writer in the English Guardian began a number of inquiries regarding this Diocese by asking, "Is not the Diocese of Rupert's Land the richest and best endowed Diocese in Canada."

It was inevitable that such a man should have taken a leading part in many functions that will become historic. On such occasions his striking presence added an element of the picturesque to the scene. No one who witnessed his appearance on the last of these important occasions will ever forget it. The Synod of the Province of Rupert's Land, had been convened at St. John's, Winnipeg, for no less a purpose than the election of two bishops, one to the See of Saskatchewan, and the other as his own Coadjutor. Punctually, at the appointed hour, the aged and feeble Archbishop entered the cathedral and advanced toward the chancel, leaning on his staff. Though the most distinguished Bishops, clergy and laity in the whole Province, figured in the procession, the eyes of all were riveted on the aged Primate. Though bowed with age and care, and with the hand of death visibly upon him, he looked every inch a king of men. He left on the mind the impression, as in a moving picture, first of a Montrose or an Argyll, then of an Ambrose or a Cyprian, then of an Isaiah or an Elijah. He seemed to combine the bold dauntless air of the Highland chieftain whose blood probably coursed through his veins, the concentrated energy of service of the Father of the Church whose descendant he was in the ecclesiastical succession, and the rapt far-piercing look of the old Hebrew prophet of whom he was one of the spiritual sons.

His personal history, which reads like a list of honours, is soon told. He was born in Aberdeen, in 1832. From King's College, Aberdeen, he proceeded to Sydney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he graduated with the highest honours, in 1855, and soon after was elected a Fellow. He was ordained Deacon in 1855 and Priest in 1856 by the Bishop of Ely. He took his M.A. degree in 1858, and became Dean of his College in 1860, and Ramsden University preacher in 1865. From 1862 to 1865 he was Rector of Madingley, and in 1865 was consecrated Bishop of Rupert's Land in Lambeth Chapel. In 1874 he became Archbishop of Rupert's Land, and in 1877 Chancellor of the University of Manitoba. In 1893 he was elected by the General Synod, Primate of All Canada, and in the same year was appointed by Queen Victoria, Prelate of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George. After a lingering illness he died, in 1904, in Winnipeg where Church and State combined to do him honour. And he was laid at rest on the banks of the Red River in the beautiful graveyard of St. John's Cathedral which he had made the centre of his missionary and educational activities. Such a life will always remain a precious inheritance to the Church people of the Northwest, and of the Dominion of Canada. It shows what one man, with well directed energies, under the Divine blessing can accomplish. It will be a constant stimulus to thousands of us to seek to complete the work which he so successfully inaugurated. It should strengthen our faith in God Who must have some great destiny in store for the Church, on whose behalf He brought together such a glorious opportunity and such a remarkable man. And it should continually inspire the prayer that God would raise up for the important duties that lie immediately before the Church, Missionary Bishops and Clergy, imbued with at least a portion of the spirit of Archbishop Machray.

Project Canterbury