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Colonial Church Histories

History of the Church in Eastern Canada and Newfoundland

By John Langtry, M.A., D.C.L.,
Rector of S. Luke's, Toronto, and Prolocutor of the Provincial Synod of Canada

London, Brighton and New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1892.

Chapter VIII. The Diocese of Huron

THIS Diocese was constituted in 1857 by the separation of the thirteen western counties of Ontario from the Diocese of Toronto. In July of that year, a meeting of the clergy and lay delegates resident within the proposed Diocese was held in London, under the Presidency of Bishop Strachan. There were present forty-two clerical members, and sixty-nine lay representatives of the various parishes. The Rev. Dr. Cronyn, Rector of St. Paul's Church, London, and the venerable Dr. Bethune, afterwards Bishop of Toronto, were the candidates proposed, and for whom ballots were cast. Dr. Cronyn was elected on the first ballot, by a narrow majority, and was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury the same year. This was the first instance of an untrammelled Episcopal election in any part of the English Church, for many generations, and it was the very first election in the Canadian Church.

Bishop Cronyn was born at Kilkenny, on the 11th July, 1802. He graduated at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1822, was ordained priest in 1827, and came to Canada in 1832. It is wonderful on what small and apparently accidental occurrences the whole after history of a Church or a country depend. The following account explains how Mr. Cronyn came to settle in London. His settlement in London [201/202] has greatly affected the history of the Church in Western Ontario, and indeed throughout the whole Province ever since.

"On a dull, chill November evening, in the year 1832, along the bush road which followed the Indian trail between the Niagara and Detroit rivers, just south of where the present city of London stands, there toiled in a rough lumber-wagon a weary, travel-stained family of emigrants, consisting of the Rev. Benjamin Cronyn, then just thirty years of age, his wife, and two young children.

"Circumstances and surroundings more depressing could hardly be conceived. After a seven weeks voyage in an ill-found sailing-vessel from Dublin, they had arrived from Quebec, and were now pursuing their weary way to the Township of Adelaide, to bring the ministrations of the Church to the settlers there, who had been represented to Mr. Cronyn before leaving home as numerous and wholly without the services of an ordained minister. For days this solitary wagon-load had jolted along the narrow, devious track through the woods, the light of heaven only reaching them through the rift in the branches overhead, made by the newly cut-out road; far from home and friends, in the midst of a wilderness, strangers in a strange land, night falling fast, and no apparent shelter near, the father's heart was sorely anxious for his delicate wife and little ones. From a solitary traveller they happened to meet, he inquired whether any shelter for the night was to be found in the neighbourhood, and then for the first time heard of the village of The Forks (London), distant about two miles to the north of where they were. Thither they made their way, and put up at a primitive hotel, designated by the title of the Mansion House.

"So utterly worn-out was Mrs. Cronyn, that it was [202/203] decided to rest there for a time. The arrival of a Church of England clergyman soon becoming known to the inhabitants of the hamlet, all were summoned to service on Sunday in a farm-building which served the purpose of the district court-house. The first house had been erected in London in 1827, just six years previous. On Monday a deputation of the inhabitants waited upon Mr. Cronyn, begging him to remain with them as their clergyman. Immediately on this came entreaties from many couples in the neighbourhood to be married; some of them had long lived together as husband and wife, but had never had an opportunity of marriage by an ordained minister. Guided by one Robert Parkinson, familiar with the bush, they followed for days on horseback the blazed lines through the woods, stop ping at the settlers' shanties, 'the parson' performing many marriages, and oftentimes uniting the parents and baptizing their offspring at the same time. Among the early settlers in the township of Adelaide were many of education and refinement, whose antecedents unfitted them for the rough life in the bush, consequently great distress soon prevailed amongst them; and during the first winter, on one occasion, Mr. Cronyn, with his friend Col. Curran, started on foot from London to Adelaide, twenty-six miles away, carrying a quarter of beef strung on a pole between them, for the relief of a friend amongst the settlers there. For the first few miles they made light of the load; but it soon grew heavy, necessitating frequent stoppages for rest. Night came on, and the wolves, numerous, fierce, and daring in those days, scenting the raw beef, howled uncomfortably near. To add to their troubles they lost the trail in the dark, and were about to abandon the beef and endeavour to retrace their steps when they saw a light, and making for it found it [203/204] proceeded from a chopper's shanty, where, stretched on the floor, with feet towards a huge log fire, the choppers slept. They hospitably made room between them for the tired travellers, who lay down and rested there for several hours; but were again on the march long before daylight, furnished by the choppers with a lantern. This for a time showed them the trail, and kept the wolves at a distance; but soon the lantern went out, and they again lost their path, and the wolves howled dangerously near, when they were discovered by some settlers who were on the look-out for the expected succour.

"Soon after his arrival in London, Mr. Crony n was appointed to the parish of London, and in 1836, on the creation of the Rectory of St. Paul's, London, and St. John's, London township, was appointed by Patent from the Crown, Rector of both. The latter he resigned in 1842, and that of St. Paul's in 1866.

"A fearless horseman, he almost lived in the saddle in the early years of his ministry, endeavouring to compass the work of his almost boundless parish; and being an expert swimmer himself, he would, if the weather was not too cold, boldly swim his horse over swollen streams that crossed his path. Naturally observant, he had acquired a wonderful store of general knowledge, and by example and precept he did what he could to improve upon the prevailing slovenly system of farming; his knowledge of agricultural chemistry enabling him to demonstrate what could be gained by the judicious application of manures to the soil. As a judge of live stock he had few equals, and by his introduction of pure bred cattle, sheep, and pigs, he greatly improved the stock of the district, and added to his personal influence with the farmers. He had sufficient knowledge of architecture and building in all its branches to enable him to plan and construct any ordinary building; [204/205] and he was no mean engineer, which oftentimes proved most useful in assisting in the construction of bridges in these early days. Many times he accepted the position of path-master, in order to improve upon the ordinary mud roads of the country.

"The first St. Paul's Church, London, was a frame-building, erected in 1835, and is thus described in a book published in 1836--'The Episcopal Church, if we except the spire, which is disproportioned to the size of the tower, is one of the finest, and certainly one of the neatest, churches in the Province.'

"It was destroyed by fire on Ash Wednesday, 1844, and the foundation-stone of the present edifice was laid by the Right Rev. Jno. Strachan, Bishop of Toronto, on St. John's Day of that year, the military turning out in force, and the Artillery firing a salute of twenty guns. Pending the completion of the new building, the congregation worshipped in the old Mechanics Institute, a frame-building then standing on the Court House Square. It was during service in this building on a Sunday, in April 1845, that the cry of 'Fire!' announced the commencement of the great fire, whereby 150 houses were destroyed.

"Chief Justice Robertson (afterwards Baronet) was present; the Psalms of the day were being read. The only exit from the hall was by one rather narrow staircase. On the alarm the people near the door began to go out. Mr. Cronyn kept on reading, the Chief Justice responding in clear, deliberate tones, until nearly the entire congregation had quietly withdrawn. Thus, by the presence of mind of the Rector and the Chief Justice, doubtless a panic and probable serious accident was averted. The fire had commenced in the Robinson Hall, the principal hotel at that time, just across the square from where they were at service at the time. The Chief Justice's quarters were at the hotel, and his unselfish conduct [205/206] in endeavouring to avert a panic nearly cost him his baggage, which he had barely time to secure, and at some risk. With a squad of Artillerymen under him, the Rector all day, until late into the night, worked at emptying the houses of their furniture ahead of the fire, which pursued them with relentless fury, alas! in many instances licking up the piles of furniture which the salvagers thought they had left at a safe distance from danger. At nightfall the Rector reached his house, utterly tired out, with his Sunday suit ruined from the rough work in which he had been engaged.

"This most seriously affected the progress of work very near the Rector's heart at that time, viz. the rebuilding of his church; so many of his people suffered by the fire, and were thereby disabled from contributing to the building-fund, that work on the church was almost discontinued for a time. Nevertheless, the edifice was brought to completion, and opened the following year.

"Soon after, Mr. Cronyn was appointed Rural Dean of all west of London to the Detroit River, no mere sinecure with him, for he exercised an active super vision of all the churches in the district." (Contributed.)

As the village grew into a town, and the town into a city, the character of his work gradually changed from that of extended itinerancy into the routine work of a settled city parish. Mr. Cronyn had, however, established a sort of patriarchal jurisdiction among the men who came in to relieve him, first of one part and then of another of his extended mission. He was a man of grave yet genial manners, overflowing with native Irish wit, and as a consequence was very popular amongst the settlers everywhere.

On his election to the Episcopate, he had, according to the traditions of that time, to repair to England [206/207] for consecration. Naturally he visited his "Alma Mater" in Dublin, and had the degree of D.D. conferred upon him jure dignitatis.

The first Synod of the new Diocese was held in June 1858, and a constitution was adopted, which was a rescript in most particulars of that of the Diocese of Toronto.

The new Diocese addressed itself at once, under the leadership of its Bishop, to grapple with the missionary needs of the district. The thirteen counties composing this Diocese now contains one hundred and forty-two townships, four cities, twelve towns (thirty-two incorporated), and a large number of other villages. Its eastern boundary, which was determined by the county lines, is very irregular, and ought to be readjusted in any future subdivision of Dioceses.

When the Diocese was first founded, a large section of it lying to the west and north of London--the See city--was only beginning to be settled. Whole townships were still almost wholly covered with their primeval forests, and the roads were very much in the condition described in Bishop Strachan's journal quoted above.

The writer, whose mission embraced several town ships in the north-eastern part of this Diocese, had to drive through ten and twelve miles of unbroken forests to reach some of his stations, and to travel stretches of corduroy road for four continuous miles. It is hardly possible to conceive the extent and variety of the material improvements that have taken place between those days and these. The forests have given place to cleared farms with waving orchards. The shanties have been supplanted by substantial houses. For the corduroy has been substituted the solid stone and gravel road. The swamps have been turned into the richest meadow-land, and towns and villages have grown up with [207/208] surprising rapidity where, a few years ago, wolves had their habitation.

Railway travelling was then limited to the southern part of the Diocese, now the whole territory is intersected to such an extent that there is scarcely a town of any size that does not possess its railway-station. The milder climate of this western section of the Province, the fertility of its soil, and the comparatively small area of unproductive land within its bounds, contributed to its rapid growth in population and wealth. This increase is easily exhibited in figures. In 1857, the entire population of the Diocese of Huron was 360,000, 70,000 of whom were members of the Church of England. These had increased, in 1881, to 719,900 and 118,757 respectively, while the assessed value of its property has become one-third greater than that of the Diocese of Toronto. The progress of the Church has been at least as remark able. When Dr. Cronyn was consecrated, there were 43 clergymen in the Diocese, but of these only 40 were in active service. The number of constituted parishes and missions was 46, and there were 59 churches in the whole Diocese. The regularly organized parishes were situated in the southern and central counties. The northern parts of the Diocese were almost wholly destitute of the ministrations of the Church, there being but one parish--that of Owen Sound--in the vast territory lying between Stratford and the Georgian Bay. During the 14 years of Bishop Crony n's Episcopate the clergy in creased to 93, the parishes to 88, and the churches to 142. This increase in the earlier years of the Diocese depended mainly upon the liberal assistance granted by the Propagation and Colonial Church and School Societies. The Bishop was convinced that this assistance would not be long continued, and so he at once organized a Church Society, after the model [208/209] of that established in Toronto. Its chief work was to obtain subscriptions from all the Church people of the Diocese towards the support of the missionary clergy who were pushing forward into the new settlements. The Bishop devoted himself to the furtherance of this object, and his great ability as a persuasive speaker, and his consummate tact, did much to advance in this way the best interests of the Society he had founded. He was the ablest advocate of its claims in his Diocese, and he went everywhere preaching and speaking in its behalf. The same difficulty was, however, experienced here as in the older Dioceses, in obtaining the necessary supplies for maintaining and extending these missionary operations. Every charge the Bishop delivered teems with passionate appeals for help to uphold and extend this work. Sometimes there is a considerable increase in the contributions, and then a falling off again, and then the unwearying call for help. The work, however, progressed in spite of these difficulties and discouragements. Year by year the neglected territory was more occupied, and the Church extended, until the result above described was reached.

The most notable action of Bishop Cronyn's Episcopate, and the one which has left the deepest mark upon the whole Canadian Church, was his attitude and action with regard to Trinity College. The origin and aim of that institution has been fully described in the history of the Diocese of Toronto. Bishop Strachan carried the Church throughout the country with him, and there was no outspoken opposition; but it was well known that Mr. Cronyn and several of the leading clergy living in the western part of the country, never quite approved of the action of Bishop Strachan. They were more than half persuaded that reasonable and fair terms for the [209/210] Church could be made with the Government, and so they stood aloof from the effort that was being made to found and endow a Church University. This discontent grew into whispered suspicion of the character of the theological teaching of the new College. And this suspicion broke out into open accusation of the unprotestant character of that teaching, by Bishop Cronyn, not long after his consecration. The answer to these accusations, by Provost "Whittaker, was that while the teaching was characteristically Anglican, it was yet far within the limits permitted by the Church of England. The Bishop and his followers had, however, become thoroughly alienated, and they determined to set up a Theological College of the extreme Evangelical type in London.

Dr. Isaac Helmuth, who was a Jew by birth and education, but who had embraced the Christian faith in 1841, was brought from Lennoxville, where he was Divinity Professor, to London, to assist in this work, and was first made Archdeacon, and then Dean of Huron. He was a man of plausible manners and persuasive speech, and was employed by Bishop Cronyn in raising funds for the new enterprise. He visited England, and secured a sufficient sum to start Huron Theological College. He became himself the first Principal of that institution, and, being a man of great energy and good administrative ability, he soon acquired great influence in the Diocese.

The Bishop seems to have been possessed with a consuming fear of Romanism. Every charge he delivered during these years was surcharged with warnings against the insidious spread of popery. He was not only averse to, but fiercely hostile against, the whole Oxford movement; and every departure from the doctrines and usages with which the reign of Puritanism in the Church of England had made [210/211] them familiar, was viewed with grave if not with trembling suspicion.

In 1871, the Bishop's health had so failed that he was obliged to ask for a coadjutor. In the election which followed, Dr. Helmuth was chosen by a considerable majority over his opponent, Archdeacon Marsh, whose able management of the Church Society had given him great influence throughout the Diocese.

The state of Bishop Cronyn's health was such that the whole care of the Diocese devolved at once upon the coadjutor. In less than a year Bishop Cronyn died, and Dr. Helmuth became Bishop of Huron by right of succession. He devoted himself with great earnest ness to his work, and soon became very popular throughout the country. He found that there were still many townships unsupplied with the ministrations of the Church. Following the example of the Diocese of Ontario, he secured the incorporation of the Synod, and had the entire management of the Church finances transferred to that body.

There was great monetary stringency throughout the country from 1873 to 1878, and yet Dr. Helmuth was enabled to report an increase of 42 clergymen, 58 churches and missionary stations, 31 parsonages, and 5420 communicants, during the 12 years of his term of office. Within that period also he had ordained 76 deacons and 72 priests.

Bishop Helmuth's Episcopate was, however, specially distinguished by his great efforts in the promotion of Christian education. In addition to the important services which he rendered in connection with the establishment of Huron College, he manifested such zeal and liberality in the establishment of the Helmuth Ladies and Boys Colleges, in the City of London, as will not soon be forgotten in the Diocese of Huron.

[212] Bishop Helmuth resigned his See, and retired to England in 1883. The Bishop of Algoma, Dr, Sullivan, was almost unanimously chosen to succeed him; he however declined the election in fidelity to his own missionary Diocese.

The Rev. Dr. Baldwin, the present Bishop, was then elected to the vacant See. From his boyhood Bishop Baldwin was distinguished for earnest devotion. He soon became known as a fervid preacher. After holding several other important charges he was made Dean of Montreal, and Rector of Christ Church Cathedral in that city, positions which he held at the time of his election to the Episcopate, He was a graduate of Trinity College, Toronto, and had been ordained both Bishop and Priest by the first Bishop of Huron.

Bishop Baldwin entered upon his work with all the essentials of Diocesan machinery ready to his hand. The Diocese is, however, still far from being adequately supplied with the ministrations of the Church, and the Bishop with fervid eloquence has several times pressed upon the Synod the paramount importance of providing by increased liberality for the pressing needs of the Church. Nor have his thrilling appeals been barren of results. During the first six years of his Episcopate, he has ordained 38 deacons, and has admitted 34 deacons to the priesthood. He has confirmed 8268 persons, opened 13 new churches, and consecrated 14.

Bishop Baldwin is a man of guileless life, of tender hearted affectionateness, and of fervid piety, of the extreme Evangelical type. His people complain that he is not an administrator, and that the business of the Diocese depends for its efficient discharge upon other heads and hands than his. People are, how ever, in these days prone to find defects in their rulers. Perhaps the deficiency is greatly exaggerated. [212/213] At all events no man is likely to possess all the qualities and graces that go to make up a great Bishop, and surely godly earnestness is far the most important of those gifts. The complaint against Bishop Baldwin's predecessor was that he was all business, that he administered too much, and succeeded in finessing himself out of the Diocese. However that may be, the figures given indicate that there has been substantial progress under both administrations. The 4683 dollars contributed by the Church people of this Diocese in the year before its foundation has grown to an average annual contribution of 14,326 dollars.

The constitution of the Synod of Huron differs from those of other Dioceses, in that it has one large executive committee, instead of a number of smaller ones to manage its affairs. This committee consists of 60 members, and is elected annually by the Synod. From the members of the executive there is elected annually what is called the "Maintenance and Mission Committee," with the Bishop as chairman. It is the duty of that committee to assess all the parishes in the Diocese for such sums as they are deemed able to give towards the support of their clergyman. This committee, it is hoped, will speedily increase the number of self-sustaining parishes. There is a general endowment made up of the Commutation and Sustentation Funds, and amounting to a little over 30,000 dollars a year. This, together with the annual collections for missions, constitute the Maintenance Fund, and are administered by the Executive Committee. From this fund the clergy, with the exception of those who are in self-supporting parishes, receive grants according to a graduated scale of salaries determined by the period of active service in the Diocese and the needs of the Mission.

The Diocese of Huron has an Indian population of [213/214] over 7000; for the accommodation of these 12 churches have been erected. There are three native Indian clergymen in the Diocese, while several of these churches are served by white clergymen.

The present number of parishes and missions in the Diocese is 225, as against 46 at its inception; the number of clergy 137, in lieu of 40 at the beginning. The number of churches 242, instead of 59 at first. Total annual contribution for parochial objects, 134,424 dollars.


The first clergyman who laboured within the Diocese of Huron was the Rev. Richard P. Pollard, who was appointed to Sandwich in 1803, the same year that Bishop Strachan was sent to Cornwall. The war in Europe absorbed the attention of the mother country, and the population of Canada remained stationary till it and the American War of 1812 were ended, and yet Mr. Pollard reported that in his district on the Thames there were, in 1807, 500 souls without a minister, church, or school, while in another settlement there were 200 people in the same condition. And these were only instances of the destitution of settlements that were being made all through the country.

The Rev. Mr. Hough seems to have been the first clergyman appointed to the exclusive charge of the Mohawk Mission near Brantford. Of him Bishop Stewart writes--"Mr. Hough seems to me particularly suited to the duties of this mission. His benevolent and gentle disposition, and especially his firmness of character, of which while at Brantford I saw more than one instance, has gained for him the respect and attachment of the Indians." They were themselves of the same opinion, as they publicly [214/215] expressed their gratitude to the Bishop for sending them so good a clergyman, and they say that his kindness to them arid their children had already produced visibly good effects upon their habits.

The other chief men among the elder clergy, as far as the writer's memory goes, were the Venerable Archdeacon Brough, who had rendered yeoman's service to the Church as a pioneer missionary among the Indians of Manitoulin Island, amid the wilds of East Simcoe, and finally as missionary in London township and parts adjacent.

The Rev. William Bettridge, for many years Rector of Woodstock, who had spent his early years as an officer in the British army, was an educated and clever man, of unusual culture and courtliness of manner. He exercised a wide influence over the Church life of that day, and especially amongst the refined society which at that time had settled around Woodstock. He was widely thought of as a probable candidate for the Episcopate.

The Venerable Archdeacon Evans, Rector of Wood-house and Simcoe, for many years carried on hard and extended missionary work throughout the surrounding townships.

The Rev. John Flood, for many years missionary to the Muncy Town Indians and to the white settlers in the neighbourhood of Delaware, has left behind him the record of a devoted life.

The Rev. A. H. Mulholland and the Rev. J. Elwood, both afterwards made Archdeacons, had, widely extended fields of missionary toil, the former at Owen Sound and the country stretching for sixty miles around it, for which he alone for long years was responsible; and the latter at Goderich, with responsibilities not much more limited.

Archdeacon Marsh, who had had his share of pioneer work in the early days of his ministry, [215/216] proved himself a master of organization and finance. To his methodical and persevering efforts the Diocese of Huron is indebted for its endowment, and to him more than to any one else it owes its first Bishop, and the stamp of Churchmanship that has prevailed in the Diocese ever since.

The Rev. George Salter, for many years Rector of Sarnia, and afterwards of St. Jude's, Brantford, was a graduate of Oxford, a dignified and refined man, who won the respect and affection of all who knew him. He was a good preacher and an earnest worker. His first years in Canada were spent as a missionary in the marshy townships lying along the St. Glair. Here he contracted annually recurring attacks of ague; this brought on frightful and continuous neuralgia, which drove him from his parish, hindered his usefulness, and finally brought him to a premature grave.

The Rev. Dr. Townley, a friend and compeer of Mr. Salter's, was one of the prominent figures of the Church till the close of his long life. He had been a Methodist preacher in his early life, but being led into the Church rather by taste than conviction, his reading soon landed him on the highest level of the High Churchism of that day. He was a good-tempered and persistent controversialist, who fought many a battle for the Church in his day. He was a diligent worker in the mission and parochial field--a man of extensive reading, of clear convictions, and fearless courage, his good temper and genial hospitality made his very foes to love him.

The Venerable Archdeacon Nelles was one of the saintly men of the Canadian Church, quiet, retiring, devout; he spent his long ministerial life as a missionary to the Mohawk Indians on the Grand River. His closing years were bright with the gladness of an assured faith. He passed at an old [216/217] age from this life to that beyond with an exulting joy.

There were many more of that and of previous times Johnson, and Mack, and Gunn, and Usher, and Pyne, and Dewar, and Caulfield, and a multitude more, who did their work earnestly, according to their convictions, and whose works do follow them. Among the younger men the most noted were a band of young Irishmen whom Bishop Cronyn induced to come with him on his return from his consecration. Among these were the present Bishop of Algoma, Dr. Sullivan; the Dean of Montreal; the Very Rev. Jas. Carmichael; the Rev. Dr. Dumoulin, Rector of the Cathedral Church of St. James, Toronto. They are all men of great natural ability, who are specially distinguished for their eloquence and power as preachers.

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