Project Canterbury

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 IX. The Diocese of Ontario

IN 1862, the fifteen eastern counties of the province of Ontario were separated from the old Diocese of Toronto, and formed into the long contemplated new Diocese of Ontario. This original territory was greatly enlarged in 1886 by the transfer from the Diocese of Algoma of the district of Nipissing, lying south of the Matawan River. The area of the present Diocese is almost exactly one-third that of England and Wales, equal to two-fifths of Ireland, or two-thirds of Scotland. It contains over 200 townships, and nearly 700 villages, hamlets, and post-offices, besides 25 incorporated villages, ten towns, and three cities. The population of the whole Diocese is now about 500,000. The territory which it embraces, though containing a large proportion of excellent farming land, was not so fertile nor so thickly settled as the western part of the Province. Hence great difficulty was experienced, and long delay occasioned in raising the necessary Episcopal endowment. Bishop Strachan had always desired and expected that the first slice to be cut off from his huge Diocese would be this eastern portion, but in this expectation he was disappointed. The western Diocese of Huron had out stripped it. But now, on the 12th Sept., 1861, the election of its first Bishop, under the presidency of Bishop Strachan, took place in the city of Kingston. [218/219] The Rev. John Travers Lewis, a distinguished graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, was elected by a practically unanimous vote, in the thirty-fifth year of his age.

On the 10th of September of that same year the first meeting of the Provincial Synod of Canada took place in the city of Montreal. Bishop Lewis had not yet been consecrated, and so could not take his seat in the House of Bishops. He was, however, initiated into the mysteries of the Upper Chamber by being elected Secretary to that House. Through delay in issuing the Royal Letters Patent, which were still thought a necessary preliminary, his consecration did not take place till the Feast of the Annunciation in the following year, 1862. Dr. Lewis was consecrated in St. George's Church, Kingston, by the most Reverend Francis Fulford, Metropolitan of Canada, assisted by the Bishops of Toronto, Huron, and Michigan, being the first Anglican Bishop ever consecrated in Canada.

The history of the Church in the new Diocese reaches back to the very beginning of the permanent settlement of Upper Canada in 1784. The influx of the United Empire Loyalists and the disbanding of certain colonial regiments, notably Sir John Johnson's Royal Regiment of New York, supplied the Province with its first settlers. Of these, comparatively few were Church people. Even so late as 1792, when the population was estimated at 50,000, so competent an authority as the Hon. Richard Cartwright thought himself fully warranted in asserting "that in all Upper Canada there are not 100 families who have been educated in the Church of England. In the whole district of Lunenburg, which was afterwards known as the Eastern and Johnstown Districts, there was," he says, "one Presbyterian and one Lutheran minister, but no clergyman of the Church of England." [219/220] In the district of Macklenburg, comprising what were afterwards called the Midland, Prince Edward, and Victoria Districts, there were two clergymen of the Church of England very much respected, and some itinerant Methodist preachers, whose followers were very numerous; from which it appears that there were at that time only three clergymen in all Upper Canada, two of whom were in the new Diocese of Ontario. These two were the Rev. John Stuart of Kingston, and the Rev. John Langhorn of Bath, the date of whose arrival was 1786 and 1787 respectively. Mr. Stuart had, however, made a brief visit to Kingston in 1784, in the regular discharge of his duties as chaplain of the Royal Regiment of New York. During that summer he had made a tour through all the settlements of Loyalists, even as far as the Mohawk reservation near Niagara; and taking Kingston on the return trip to Montreal, he remained there some days, baptized several children, and buried one. In less than two years he returned and settled permanently at Kingston, thus becoming the pioneer missionary of Upper Canada. Kingston and Bath then are the two oldest parishes in Ontario.

The next parish established was at Cornwall, to which on the removal of the Rev. Mr. Rudd, the Rev. John Strachan was appointed in 1803. About 1811 the Lutheran congregation at Williamsburg, with its pastor, the Rev. John G. Weagant, came over bodily to the Church, and this made the fourth parish within the limits of this Diocese. No further progress was made till 1814, when the Rev. John Bethune, a son of the only Presbyterian minister in the district of Lunenburg, was ordained at Quebec, and appointed missionary at Elizabethtown and Augusta. These were the only agents the Church had at work in the entire Diocese of Ontario, till after the war of 1812-1814. But wherever, all [220/221] this while, non-Roman settlements were found, there the Methodist preachers, regular or local, were at work, and were naturally drawing into their community those for whom the Church was providing no ministrations of her own.

Through the officers and men engaged in the war of 1812, the fertility of the soil and the moderation of the climate became known in the Mother Country, and large numbers of emigrants from the three kingdoms came pouring in, so that in ten years after the war the population of Upper Canada had increased to 157,930, nearly one-half of whom were settled in the Diocese of Ontario. Yet during this period only four new parishes were established, viz. at Belleville, Adolphinstown, Prescott, and Perth. On the death of Dr. Jacob Mountain, the first Bishop of Quebec, his successor, Dr. Stewart, pushed the missionary operations of the Church with vigour, and during the next ten years established twelve new parishes within this Diocese. Nine new parishes were added during the early years of Bishop Strachan's Episcopate; but as he was unable to send a sufficient number of men into the new and rapidly filling-up districts, he devised a scheme to keep the people from losing heart altogether, and for checking the wholesale exodus from the Church which had now been going on for so many years. Into each of the frontier districts he sent a clergyman, who should continually travel from one place to another, looking up, visiting the church people, baptizing and catechizing their children, and holding occasional services as frequently as they could. This system was extended throughout the whole vast Diocese of Toronto, and was continued for many years. No doubt it did something to retain our people; but the writer, whose early years in the ministry were thus employed, found that very generally the establishment of one [221/222] of these monthly, or bi-monthly services in any neighbourhood was the signal for a concentrated attack on the part of the numerous Methodist preachers. A revival meeting or a camp meeting was started in his absence, and when he returned he found a large number of his religiously disposed, but as yet uninstructed people gathered into the Methodist net. The result, however, of the travelling missions in what became the Diocese of Ontario was the addition of fifteen new-settled parishes to the thirty-one existing in 1849, bringing up the whole number of the parishes, within the limits of the new Diocese, to forty-six, as it stood at the election of the Bishop.

The Synod of the new Diocese was summoned at the earliest moment after the Bishop's consecration, and met on April 9th. The Bishop's primary charge impressed upon the Synod the necessity for immediate action, as regards the missionary work of the Diocese. He strongly urged the incorporation of the Synod itself as preferable to the formation of any irresponsible Church Society. "The vast missionary work before us," he said, "cannot be done unless the whole Church works as a unit." It is too solemn in its greatness to be thrown by us on the precarious charity of isolated parishes, or allowed to be dependent upon the popularity or unpopularity of a Society. The Church expects every parish to do its duty. We need, then, an organization, which must command the moral support of every bonâ fide Church member."

The noble ideal of duty thus presented to the imagination of the Synod by its youthful President could hardly fail to arouse enthusiasm for its states manlike grasp of the situation, and to challenge respectful attention. Measures were at once taken for the incorporation of the Synod. This was effected [222/223] by the passage of an Act of Parliament within two months of the inception of the scheme. The wisdom of this important step has long since been justified, not only by the smooth and effective working of the whole Diocesan machinery, but also by the fact that the example thus set by the Diocese of Ontario, has since been followed by similarly good results in almost every other Canadian Diocese. The Church herself has become one great missionary organization.

It was also at the suggestion of the Bishop that a thoroughly representative Board of Diocesan missions was organized by the Synod. This, too, has been generally imitated in the other Dioceses. The Bishop of Ontario further devised a scheme of missionary deputations, for the purpose of holding missionary meetings in the several parishes and congregations during the winter, five clergymen being appointed for each Rural Deanery by the Bishop, in annual succession, for the purpose of thus making known the pressing needs of the Church, and if possible drawing into active co-operation in the missionary enterprises every member of the fold. It is to the loss of the cause that this scheme has not also been adopted in all the Dioceses of the country.

The total population of the Diocese at the consecration of the first Bishop was 373,635, the rate of increase for the previous twenty years averaged 10,000 per annum. The Church population in 1861 was 81,383. There were at that time only forty-six parishes and missions within the whole Diocese, and six of these in the cathedral city of Kingston and its immediate precincts. Eleven were scattered along the shores of Lake Ontario and Bay of Quinte, four were established along the second range of townships north of this bay. Twelve stretched at immense intervals along the banks of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers. The remaining thirteen were [223/224] scattered at wide intervals through the western town ships. In a large part of this inlying district, nearly one-third the size of England, the Church was wholly unrepresented; and yet, within this territory it is estimated there were settled not less than 50,000 members of the Church. Year by year, while this want remained unsupplied, large numbers of these were drawn away to unite themselves permanently with some body of Christians, who claimed and won their allegiance on the ground that they were "sound Protestants," and preached the same Gospel. How to bring these thousands within range of regular pastoral oversight, and how to keep pace with the rapid development of the country, were the difficult problems which the young Bishop had to face.

The total number of clergymen in the Diocese at its formation was fifty-five; but death, removal, and infirmity reduced the number in a few weeks after the Bishop's consecration to forty-eight, seven of these were chaplains or curates; and one lately arrived in the country was so aged as to be incapable of effective work. So that with forty men, the General set out to supply the needs of two hundred townships (each about twelve miles square), and with such energy and efficiency did he work, that in two years, at the Synod of 1864, he announced that the staff of forty had increased to seventy-three.

The question of the maintenance of the clergy gave reasonable grounds for grave anxiety. The help extended by the societies at home, and by the Government in the struggling days of the first settlements of the country, was a great beneficence at the time; it had, however, this deleterious effect, that it trained the Church people into dependence upon external aid. The clergy, for the most part, did not ask and did not receive any considerable part of their income from the people; add to this, that [224/225] the generation of clergy now nearly passed away, consisted largely of men possessed of considerable private means, for whom the income derived from the commutation afforded a sufficient stipend, making them comparatively independent of the contributions of their parishioners, and so the Church had little or no revenue derived from the offerings of the people. The vicious system of selling pews was then widely prevalent, and so when churches were erected, the subscriptions to the building fund were, in many cases, regarded simply as loans to be repaid out of the sale of the pews as soon as the building should be ready for use. It will not be surprising that in such a condition of things, people had never been awakened to any true sense of responsibility, even with regard to Diocesan funds. The total contribu tions for all Diocesan (as distinct from local) purposes, from the whole territory now constituting the Diocese of Ontario, during the twenty years preceding July 1862, amounted to only 24,580 dollars, an average of 1229 dollars yearly. The average now from the same territory is 35,000 dollars a year.

"The thought seems scarcely to have dawned upon the mind of the great mass of Church people that they owed any duty to the Church, beyond that of receiving her ministrations, and attending the services provided for them. Of the forty incumbents of Ontario, at its inception twenty-seven were in receipt of stipends from the commutation fund, ranging from £75 to £200 per annum. One was largely maintained by a grant from England. Twelve others were receiving from £150 to £250 from the mission fund of the Diocese of Toronto. These grants terminated six days after the Bishop's consecration. These twelve parishes then stood in urgent need of assistance from a Mission Fund, which, as yet, had no existence, and the list was soon swelled by the [225/226] addition of eleven others, as they were one by one deprived of the services of stipendiaries of the commutation fund. In fact, not more than seventeen of the original parishes have proved equal to the entire support of their clergy, without aid for a longer or shorter period from some extraneous source.

"Hence a Diocesan Mission Fund became an urgent necessity, not only for opening up new fields, but also for keeping alive a large proportion of existing parishes. Of the forty-six parishes only nineteen were provided with parsonages. There was an average of about three churches to every two parishes, or about seventy in all, possibly some four or five more, if some very temporary log or frame structures in a ruinous condition be included. Far the greater number of even the seventy churches were of a temporary character, rude in style, cheap in material and structure, and requiring soon to be replaced by edifices more suitable for the celebration of Divine Service" (Rev. A. Spencer).

The progress made during the twenty-nine years that have elapsed since the consecration of the Bishop will be best seen by a comparison of the state of the Diocese then with its present condition and prospects. The average number of churches is now about two for every parish. But both parishes and churches have far more than doubled, there being now 115 parishes and 223 churches, besides ten or twelve mission school-houses. The parsonages have grown from twenty-two to eighty-two. Several of the old parsonages have also been rebuilt; while of the churches twenty-four have been rebuilt, and many others restored and improved, so that only a few of the temporary structures of twenty-eight years ago now remain. The rate of progress has been for the past eighteen years two new parishes, and for the last nine, three new parishes a year. The parsonages [226/227] have averaged two, and the churches six a year, during the whole period of Dr. Lewis episcopate. In addition to the churches and chapels regular services are now held in not less than sixty school houses, halls, and other buildings. Hence in twenty-eight years the number of distinct congregations in the Diocese has grown from about 100 to about 282. This shows substantial progress; but there are still enormous arrears to be occupied and work to be done before the 200 townships are adequately supplied with the opportunities of worship. There ought to be on an average, four churches to each township, or 800 in all, so that not half the work of extension is yet accomplished, though thirty years have fled since it was first vigorously taken in hand.

In his charge to the Synod in 1883, the Bishop discussed at some length the state of the Church with reference to the somewhat disheartening revelations of the census of 1881. He pointed out the real cause why the Church not only in the Diocese of Ontario, but throughout the whole province, has not kept pace with the growth of the population. After showing how large a proportion of those returning themselves as members of the Church, must of necessity be outside the range of the ministrations of the clergy, how large a territory still remained unoccupied by the Church, he added, "There is room for reflection here, and a trumpet call for more missionaries, and larger donations to our mission fund." The Bishop then showed how little cause there was for surprise at what the census revealed, the result being what any one who knew the facts must have been prepared for.

He says, "In the generation now passing away, a very large number of the old settlers, while never attending the Church's services, for the best of all reasons--that there were none to attend,--and though [227/228] attending other religious services, yet always called themselves and their families members of the Church of England. That generation either has passed or is passing away, and the rising one, through our neglect to provide them with the ministrations of religion, had no hesitation in calling themselves by the names of the denomination that has come to their relief. But though the Church has sustained great losses in this and other ways, she is not without her compensating gains. The lines of demarcation between the Church and the denominations are more definite than they used to be; we have fewer heterogeneous and fewer nondescript churchmen nowadays than we used to have, and this is a source of strength. For my part, I do not estimate the strength of a Church by its numerical superiority, but rather by the intensity of the conviction with which her members hold to her doctrines. That intensity is, thank God, growing apace Formerly defections from the Church were matters of everyday occurrence. The tide has now set the other way, five per cent, of those confirmed by me in the last twenty-one years were converts to the Church, and very many of them persons of rank and intelligence, who knew why they became Churchmen. Hence when it is considered how large a number have been confirmed and become communicants, we must see that the Diocese has not been without vitality." This vitality is abundantly evidenced by the fact, that while the total contributions for all Diocesan objects, for the twenty years previous to July, 1862, amounted to only 24,000 dollars, the total contributions for the same objects during the next twenty-seven years amounted to 301,526 dollars; and while the annual collections for missions during the first three years of Bishop Lewis episcopate amounted to 4,500 dollars, the annual collections during the last three years exceeds [228/229] 14,000 dollars. Adding to this the large sums raised annually in each parish for the direct support of the incumbent, for current expenses, for local improvements, Church buildings, &c., we are able more fully to appreciate the self-denying efforts of the people to extend and establish the Kingdom of God among them. There is every reason to feel encouraged by the success with which those efforts have been crowned. There is substantial proof on every hand of the firm foothold which the Church has obtained in the territory constituting the Diocese of Ontario, and especially at the accelerated growth which has marked these latter years, and the activity and zeal that are now being manifested in working the parishes and missions of the Diocese. The cooperation of the laity in the practical working of the Church is no longer mere theory, but is welcomed and utilized in every part of the Diocese.

The Diocese of Ontario does not contain the best land of the Province, and the inhabitants are not as well off as in Toronto or Huron, and yet the work has gone on perhaps with steadier progress than in either of these Dioceses. The clergy have all along been of one mind, and that mind has been decidedly of the moderately high Anglican type. This has given unity to their plans, and strength to their efforts. There has been no distracting, weakening party disputes. And so while there have been among them hardly any men who have been distinguished above their fellows, either for learning, ability, or zeal, there has been a high average maintained; and so, even through these latter years, when the Bishop, through growing infirmities, has been unable to give much attention to his Diocese, the united Brotherhood standing shoulder to shoulder has remained true to him, and has carried the standard steadily forward. May God bless them [229/230] and guide them in the long, hard struggle that is yet before them.


The clergy of note who took part in the pioneer work of this Diocese were--the Rev. John Stuart, born in the year 1736, in the State of Virginia. His father was a rigid Presbyterian, who drilled his children every Sunday in the Shorter Catechism, and then in the Confession. Young Stuart was repelled by its appalling Calvinism, and after examination made up his mind to seek orders in the Church of England. His father after a time reluctantly consented, and he sailed for England, as all men of that time desiring orders had to do. He returned to Philadelphia in the full orders of a priest in 1770. The first seven years of his ministerial life were spent amongst the Mohawks at Fort Hunter. Then the Revolutionary War broke out, and Mr. Stuart openly avowed his allegiance to the King. After a long course of injury and ill-usage, as well from the new authorities as from the populace, he escaped into Canada in 1781, and was soon afterwards appointed to the Chaplaincy of a Provincial Regiment. Mr. Stuart felt a warm and affectionate interest in the Indian tribes, loyalists, and voluntary exiles like himself, and now again brought within reach of his ministrations. He visited their settlements with as little delay as possible. In writing to the Society an account of his first service among them he says--

"I never felt more pleasing sensations than on this solemn occasion. To see those affectionate people from whom I had been separated more than seven years, assembled in a decent commodious church, erected principally by themselves, behaving [230/231] themselves with the greatest outward devotion and becoming gravity, filled my heart with joy."

Before leaving he baptized 104 infants and five adults. He then visited Cataraqui (now Kingston) and the Bay of Quinte, instructing and baptizing all whom he could reach. Two years later he returned and settled at Kingston, his mission embracing many townships, which he visited periodically.

The next year, feeling that he alone could give the newly-appointed Bishop of Nova Scotia information about the condition of things in Canada, he set forth, in company with the Rev. John Langhorn, on a journey of over 400 miles to attend the visitation at Quebec. It took them five weeks to accomplish it. The next visitation was in his own parish at Kingston, by Bishop Mountain in 1794, when several Scottish Presbyterians avowed their conformity to the Church, and received confirmation by the Bishop. He says there did not exist in the whole parish any party or faction against the Church.

He made annual missionary tours, 150 miles east of Kingston to Cornwall, and as far west as the Indian settlement on the Grand River. He is described by one who knew him well as a very fine elderly man of lofty stature and powerful frame, and of somewhat stately bearing, as conceiving himself the lineal descendant of the legitimate monarch.

He was subject to occasional attacks of gout, and when the attacks came on he walked into the lake and stood there some time to soak his shoes and stockings, and then walked at a swinging pace until they became quite dry. This he found an immediate, safe, and complete cure. Chief-Justice Sir John Beverley Robinson writes of Mr. Stuart--"He had been an intimate friend of my father's during the five or six years that our family lived in Kingston. My father became indebted to him in the course of [231/232] some transactions about land, and had given him a bond for the amount. I well remember his coming to our house near York, a short time after my father's early and sudden death, and destroying in my mother's presence the obligations of my father, declaring that he would never consent to receive any part of the amount. Then, as he was returning, he strongly urged my mother to allow him to take me with him, that I might attend Mr. Strachan's school just opened at Kingston. I went, and spent three years in his family, treated as tenderly and kindly as if I had been his own son."

No clergyman could be more universally beloved than he was by his own people, and between him and the members of other religious communities there was always a kindly feeling. "I have seen no one who came so fully up to the idea one is led to form of a fine old Roman--a man capable of enduring and defying anything in a good cause, absolutely in capable of stooping to anything in the least degree mean or unworthy."

The Rev. John Langhorn, the second missionary of Upper Canada, a Welshman, educated at St. Bees, arrived at Kingston on the last day of Sept. 1778. He had great difficulty in reaching his destination. After long waiting at Quebec he was only able to get passage on a sloop carrying Government stores; amongst others 100 barrels of gunpowder. No fire was allowed on board. They ran aground in the river, and were twelve days reaching Montreal. From Montreal he had to walk to Lachine, and thence up the river, sometimes on foot, and sometimes in an open boat. The first night he slept in a hay-mow, another night on a bare floor without covering; "another night," he says, "I had my abode in the woods, but I could not lie down, as it rained," and thus till he reached Kingston. Mr. Langhorn was appointed [232/233] Missionary on the Bay of Quinte, where about 1500 people were living. "Four-fifths of these," he says, "were dissenters of nine or ten different denominations." They were scattered over a country of forty miles square. He had about ten different congregations whom he visited regularly on foot. He never kept a horse; he used to sling his surplice and necessary outfit in a knapsack on his back, and so set forth on foot to visit his scattered flocks.

For the first two years he had no other provision than the £50 allowed by the Society. He used to call upon every new family that came into the district, and so won many estranged ones back to the Church. He was quite indifferent to the bodily comforts of bed or board. On one occasion, failing to reach the house where he was accustomed to stop till after the family had retired, he made himself a bed of straw in a farm wagon rather than disturb them, where he was found fast asleep when they went to their work in the morning. At every service he catechized the young and taught them their prayers in the face of the congregation. He was bold in rebuking vice, and strictly enforced the discipline of the Church, excluding evil-livers from the Communion. He had a strong dislike for all dissenters, Roman and protestant; he would not eat with their ministers, nor walk on the same side of the road. An old Presbyterian minister living at Fredericksburg had much respect for Mr. Langhorn's honesty and earnestness, and had made repeated endeavours to be on brotherly terms with him, but his advances were invariably repulsed. "One day," he says, "riding on horse back, when the roads were exceedingly bad, and walking a labour, I overtook the old gentleman in a wood, and much of our roads then lay through the woods. He appeared much exhausted with walking, and well might he be, for there was a wall of trees on either [233/234] side, which prevented the circulation of the air, and the sun's rays were pouring down with great intensity. Now, thought I, his reverence is fatigued, and I will avail myself of the opportunity of making friends with him by offering him my horse; so I rode up and addressed him, Good-day to you, Mr. Langhorn.' He soon gave me to understand that he was not obliged to me for my salutation. However, I thought at all hazards I would carry out my intention, and so proceeded--'It is a very warm day, sir, and the roads are bad, and you appear fatigued; allow me to offer you my horse. He again stopped, and eyeing me very seriously, said, 'Sir, you are a promoter of schism in the flock of Christ, I cannot therefore have any intercourse with you, much less accept any favour from you. So I left him." No wonder that he was described by the Bishop of Nova Scotia as uncouth, and little acquainted with the world, but as a conscientious and honest man. Whenever he entered the house of a Churchman, he gave the Apostolic Benediction, "Peace be to this house and to all that dwell in it." The Dissenting teachers here used to take advantage of his rough exterior and want of fluency of speech to attack him on some controverted passage. This used to annoy him at first, but he soon hit upon a remedy. He carried about with him a pocket edition of the Greek Testament, and when any preacher attempted to entrap him in a controversy, he would hand him the book and ask him to read that passage in the original, and then when he could not, Mr. Langhorn would say, "You see, my good friends, the folly of listening to a teacher who cannot read the language in which the New Testament was written." They soon ceased attacking him.

For his health's sake and to brace his nerves, he used to bathe every morning in Lake Ontario, and [234/235] this practice he kept up during the coldest days of winter, even when the ice was two feet thick, and he could only get his morning bath by diving through the holes which had been made for the purpose of watering the cattle. But whatever might be said of his eccentric or uncouth manners, it was universally allowed that he was a zealous, devoted, humble-minded missionary, and his earnest labours have left their mark in many a life and home.

It is not possible in the space allowed to pursue these biographical records. The lives of such pioneers of the Church as the Rev. J. Archibold, R. D. Cartwright, Salter Mountain, W. Kerchmer, Paul Shirley, Harris, Campbell, Greir, Rogers, Harding, Patton, Bleasdale, and many others are full of personal and historic interest; but their record, as far as it may be recovered, and that of the writer's many able and devoted contemporaries, must be left for some future and less limited history to detail.

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