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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 XI. Diocese of Niagara

IN 1874 it was determined by the Synod of Toronto to form another Diocese out of the six western counties of the remaining Diocese of Toronto. A committee was appointed to make all necessary arrangements as to Episcopal endowment. This being done to the satisfaction of the House of Bishops, they formally set apart the new Diocese on the 12th February, 1875. At the Episcopal election held in Christ Church school-house, Hamilton, on March 17th of the same year, the Rev. Thomas Brock Fuller, D.D., D.C.L., was chosen first Bishop. He was consecrated by the Metropolitan of Canada on May 1st, the Festival of St. Philip and St. James, 1875. Bishop Fuller was over sixty-five years of age when elected; he was moreover suffering from an incurable bodily infirmity; but with surprising energy and diligence he devoted himself to the work of the Episcopate, and to the very close of his life administered the Diocese with great energy, wisdom, and fairness. Bishop Fuller was of Irish origin, being descended on his mother's side from Archbishop Loft us, one of the founders of Trinity College, Dublin, while on his father's side he was a lineal descendant of the Church historian, "Worthy Master Fuller," as he was styled in his day. He was born in the garrison at Kingston, Ontario, where his [245/246] father, Major Fuller of the 41st Regiment, was quartered. The gallant Sir Isaac Brock, after whom he was named, was his godfather.

"Mr. Fuller was educated at the best schools then in the country, including that of Dr. Strachan's at Little York. His special preparation for the ministry was made at the Divinity School at Chamblay, L. C. He was admitted to the Diaconate by Bishop Stewart in 1833, and appointed to the curacy of the Church in Montreal. He therefore began his ministerial life in the midst of that terrible scourge of cholera of which we have spoken before. For many weeks he was employed amid the fearful scenes of the city pest-houses in visiting the sick, consoling the dying, and burying the dead in their hurriedly-made graves. It was a baptism of fire, a terrible initiation into the most heart-searching duties of the ministry" (Archdeacon Dixon).

From Montreal he was removed, on his ordination to the priesthood, to the mission of Chatham, on the extreme west of Ontario. Here he laboured alone for four years, supplying as best he could the ministrations of the Church throughout the counties of Lambton and Kent. At this period the Church throughout Canada was exceedingly weak. There were only forty clergymen in the whole of Upper Canada. These, for the most part, were widely scattered over the whole country; they only knew of each other's existence by printed reports, and had very little personal intercourse. They were without combination among themselves, without any plan of operation, and practically without Episcopal super vision. From the Ottawa to Lake Huron there were only three missionaries, where there was abundant occupation for a hundred at least. In the Newcastle district, in which during a single year 8000 English emigrants had settled, there was only one clergyman, [246/247] settled at Peterborough, and he had the instinct of an old-fashioned English parish priest, rather than of the backwoods pioneer missionary. One cannot help feeling, in looking back at those opening days of our history, that our entanglements with the State, and dependence upon the Crown for the appointment of Bishops, has wrought us great and irreparable mischief. Had half a dozen of the best missionaries of that time been consecrated Bishops, even on the salaries they had, and had they ordained the best men they could find in each settlement the men who afterwards be came Methodist preachers, such men as the apostles of old must have "ordained elders in every city," the state of the Church and the prospects of religion in the land would have been very different from what they are to-day.

Bishop Fuller, it is claimed, was the real originator of the Colonial Diocesan Constitution. As early as 1836 he published a pamphlet on The State and Prospects of the Church in Canada, in which he displays a broad and comprehensive grasp of the whole situation. He saw clearly the calamities, as they were then regarded, that were impending, and which before long actually befell the Canadian Church. The loss of the Government grant of 3000 a year. The confiscation of the clergy reserves, and the secularization of King's College, the Church University. The remedy which he suggested for these perils was the formation of Diocesan Synods, in which he says--"We may be enabled, together with lay delegates from our parishes, frequently to meet in general council. Nothing less than the adoption of a code of laws embraced in a new constitution can bring order and regularity to our Church; nothing short of the admission of the laity into our Councils will give us strength and energy." Bishop Fuller then was the first clergyman in Canada who openly [247/248] advocated Synodical action on the lines finally adopted. Bishop Strachan shortly afterwards submitted to the Church a somewhat more developed scheme, but on the same lines, and he never ceased to advocate it, till in 1853 he presided over the first Colonial Synod of the English Church ever held. But whether Bishop Strachan merely adopted and unfolded the scheme of Mr. Fuller, with which he must have been familiar, or evolved one out of his own mind, does not appear. Both the one and the other was no doubt suggested by the constitution of the Church in the United States, of which, after all, it is merely an adapted receipt.

In 1840 Mr. Fuller was appointed Rector of Thorold, and established congregations at several places on the Welland Canal. During his twenty-one years residence in that parish, he erected the present beautiful stone church, and shortly after his removal from it he cancelled a debt of 11,000 dollars, due for money which he had advanced towards the erection of the church. He was appointed Rector of St. George's Church, Toronto, in 1861. The congregation was in great financial embarrassment at the time, from which Dr. Fuller's administrative ability succeeded in relieving it before long. In 1869 he was appointed Archdeacon of Niagara by Bishop Strachan, and in 1875, as has been narrated, was elected Bishop of Niagara, over which he presided wisely and well till his death on the 17th December, 1884. In the words of one of the obituary notices--"The lesson of the life just ended is full of example worthy of emulation. It has been a life of unceasing work and constant striving for noble ends and high attainments." Bishop Fuller was most conscientiously and sincerely attached to the Church, her doctrine and her discipline. He was ever against extremes on the one side or the other, and by his conciliating counsel he often allayed [248/249] rising difficulties of this kind. Bishop Fuller was married at an early age to Miss Street, who in addition to being, in gentleness, goodness, and wisdom, the very ideal of a parson's wife, brought him a large fortune, so that he was quite able to live without his clerical income in abundant comfort, but he never in the least relaxed his energy and toil in the Master's service.


At a meeting of the Synod held in the School-house of Christ Church Cathedral, Hamilton, on the 27th of January, 1885, the Rev. Charles Hamilton, D.D., Rector of St. Matthew's Church, Quebec, and for some time Prolocutor of the Provincial Synod of Canada, was chosen to fill the vacant See. He was consecrated at Fredericton by the Metropolitan of Canada, assisted by the Bishops of Nova Scotia, Quebec, Maine, Toronto, and the coadjutor of Fredericton, on the 1st May of the same year, and at once entered upon his duties.

Bishop Hamilton is a Canadian by birth, but is, like his predecessor, of Irish extraction. He was educated at University College, Oxford, and graduated in that University in the year 1856. He was ordained both Deacon and Priest by Bishop George J. Mountain, and soon proved himself to be a diligent, wise, and successful parish priest. He is a man of dignified and winning manners, humble-minded, devout and energetic. He is credited with unusual practical judgment, and certainly is filled with fervent zeal for the advancement of the Kingdom of Christ.

The Diocese, though lately constituted, is not new territory, and is riot therefore likely to expand with the rapidity of Huron and Ontario. Its growth can [249/250] only be by subdivision of existing parishes and missions, and by occupying territory that was long neglected. Growth under such circumstances will necessarily be slow, as the neglected territory has long since been occupied by more than one of the denominations, and generally all the more religiously disposed and earnest souls have been gathered into one or other of these, only the careless ones, for the most part, being left as even nominal adherents of the Church of England.

When the Diocese was constituted there were forty-six parishes and fifty-one licensed clergymen within its bounds; since then fourteen new parishes have been constituted, and the clerical staff has been increased by seventeen. During this period twenty-five new churches have been built, many of which were consecrated at the time of opening, while many others have been enlarged and improved. There are now over forty parsonages, many of which have been built since the establishment of the Diocese. Hamilton, the See city of the Diocese, has manifested a great revival of Church life and activity. This life has shown itself in the establishment of five new parishes and four new churches. The Church throughout the Diocese has increased at least proportionately in strength. In 1875 there were only twenty parishes in the Diocese which did not look to the Mission Fund for assistance, now there are forty-two, and twenty-five new stations have been opened for public worship. Over 18,000 persons have been received into the Church by baptism, among whom were many adults, and a large number of these had been brought up outside the Church. About 12,000 persons have been confirmed; the average number for the last four years had been about 1000, a great increase upon the earlier years of Diocesan life. And it is worthy of note, that at least twenty-five per cent, of those [250/251] confirmed were converts from the various denominations. It is also estimated that the number of communicants has more than doubled during the sixteen years of separate Diocesan life.

The Church's ministrations are being gradually and steadily extended into the hitherto neglected places of the Diocese. The interest in missionary work and the contributions for the support of the same are steadily increasing, while the sums annually raised for the maintenance of the clergy, the erection of new churches, parsonages, and other Church objects, are year by year becoming larger. In addition to these outward manifestations of revived life, there are other tokens of progress which are more reliable and more gratifying. There are larger congregations, more frequent and more reverent attendance at Holy Communion, larger numbers and more carefully prepared candidates for confirmation, and as a consequence a more intelligent and instructed Churchmanship spreading throughout the Diocese. It is probable that if the clerical staff could be increased by twenty-five or thirty additional members, the Diocese would be fairly well supplied, and the ministrations of the Church brought within reasonable reach of all the inhabitants. It is not too much to expect that, under the earnest and energetic administration of the present Bishop this result may be attained, and steady progress, and at least a gradual recovery of those who through neglect have left the fold, may be looked for.


One of the most prominent clergymen who laboured in the district now constituting the Diocese of Niagara was the Rev. Robert Addison, who laid the [251/252] foundation of the Church there. He was a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, and displayed such marked ability, both in the classical and mathematical departments, that his seniors formed great expectations of his future career. Shortly after his ordination he applied for work in the Colonial Church, and was appointed, in 1791, to the mission of Niagara. His whole income was less than £100 a year, while his duties were of the most severe and exhausting kind. "My mission," he says, "is very laborious. I must either neglect my duty or make a circuit several times in the year of more than 150 miles." The congregation that he seems to have visited with the most satisfaction was that of the Mohawks on the Grand River. In 1812 Niagara was captured by the invading American army, and most of the principal inhabitants were sent hundreds of miles into the interior of the United States as prisoners of war. Mr. Addison was allowed to remain on parole in his own house. In the following year the town, with the church, was burnt down, and Mr. Addison says it is impossible for him to describe the horrid scenes he witnessed. He had himself been plundered, made prisoner of war, and harassed until he was dangerously ill. When in 1814 the Americans were driven out of the country, he resumed his regular mission work, which had been thus interrupted. His baptisms among the Indians now amounted to about 100 every year. After having ministered to the congregation in Niagara for nearly forty years, he died in 1829, in his seventy-fifth year, beloved and regretted by all. Bishop Strachan says of him--

"He was a gentleman of commanding talents and exquisite wit, whose devoted ness to his sacred duties, kindness of manner, and sweet companionship, are still sources of grateful and fond remembrance. In [252/253] every township we find traces of his ministrations and endearing recollections of his affectionate visits."

Another prominent figure was the present Dean of Niagara, the Very Rev. J. Gamble Geddes, ordained in 1834. His whole clerical life was spent in Hamilton, to which he was sent as a missionary when it was only a small village. He was a man of highly-cultured mind, of dignified and refined manners, a gentleman of the old school, of earnest faith and of devout life; a thoroughly convinced, reverent, and devout High Churchman of the Anglican type.

His life was distinguished by methodical, earnest, persevering work. He was elected Prolocutor of the Provincial Synod for the session held in 1873, and Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Hamilton, of which he had long been rector, on the consecration of Bishop Fuller. Dean Geddes is now living in retirement, after a ministry extending over fifty-nine years, and is held in reverent and loving regard by all who know him.

With the Dean has been associated in neighbourhood and work the Venerable Archdeacon McMurray, the school companion and life-long friend of Bishop Fuller. Dr. McMurray, born in Ireland, came to Canada when a child. He was one of the pupils of Bishop Strachan's famous school. On his ordination at the age of twenty-three, he was appointed by Sir John Colborne, then Lieut.-Governor of Upper Canada, to establish mission posts among the Indians on the north shores of Lake Huron, with head-quarters at Sault Ste. Marie. He continued for six years ministering in the lone wilderness to these children of the forest, scattered along the shores of the two lakes. He was then removed to the Rectory at Ancaster and Dundas, where he remained till he was transferred to his present charge, the Rectory of Niagara. Dr. McMurray is a man of dignified and [253/254] winsome manners. At the founding of Trinity College he was sent to the United States to solicit assistance. In a short time he returned with 10,000 dollars, as an expression of the sympathy of the Churchmen of the Republic for their brethren in Canada. He was employed by Bishop Strachan to look after the interests of the Church in 1854, when the secularization of the Reserves was in progress. The commutation scheme, devised by the Hon. John Hilliard Cameron, was in danger of being rejected by the Upper House, and it was largely due to Dr. McMurray's diplomatic influence that it was finally adopted, and that vexed question for ever settled. In 1864 he was selected to visit England in behalf of Trinity College. It is safe to say that no Canadian clergyman ever so favourably impressed the English people as did Dr. McMurray. Everywhere his dignified manners and genial courtesy won for him devoted friends. After twelve months he returned with a large addition to the endowment fund of Trinity College. Dr. McMurray has throughout his long life been a patient, persevering parish priest, and now in his declining years he enjoys the respect and affection of all who know him.

The Rev. Dr. Atkinson, for a long time Rector of St. Catherine's, was the contemporary and friend of these pioneers. He was a patient, loving man, who, though disabled by an injury received early in life, so that he was unable to walk or to stand in the pulpit, yet held a large and intelligent congregation together by his eloquent preaching and personal attractiveness. He was succeeded by the Rev. Henry Holland, a devout, gentle, humble-minded, earnest man, who had done noble pioneer missionary work in his earlier days.

Dr. Read, the present Rector of Grimsby, was also distinguished for long years of missionary toil. The [254/255] Diocese of Toronto owes its episcopal endowment to his persevering efforts.

The Rev. B. C. Hill, for long years missionary on the Grand River, was another of the Church's laborious pioneers. He used to walk forty miles, and hold five services on the Sunday. He was a great classical scholar, could read the Greek and Latin authors as readily as the English. He was a peculiar man, and used to be betrayed in his fervour into giving his backwoods hearers a taste of Latin and Greek. He was a most assiduous worker, holding services constantly during the week-days, in school-houses, or the homes of the people. He was a pronounced Evangelical, and as such he devoted himself to preaching the Gospel as he understood it, without taking much trouble to instruct his people in the distinctive principles of the Church of England. The result is, that of his abundant labours very little fruit has been gathered by the Church in which he toiled.

The two Leemings, Ralph and William, were modest, retiring men; not much was heard of them in the public life of the Church. They had, however, both seen hard pioneer work. Ralph for many years devoted himself to missionary work among the Indians.

The Rev. Arthur, afterwards Archdeacon Palmer, was a prominent figure in the Church during the whole Episcopate of Bishops Strachan and Bethune. He was an Irishman by birth, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, a man of splendid physique and majestic bearing. He settled in the backwoods, where the City of Guelph now stands, and so he saw a great deal of hard backwoods mission life during the earlier years of his ministry. He was an in fluential man in all the public concerns of the Church.

[256] Of the younger men it would be invidious to speak individually. The story of their lives is not yet told. As a body they are earnest, loyal, devout men, who are quietly and diligently doing their Master's work to the best of their judgment and ability. Their history will be written when their work is ended, and so the curtain falls upon the toils and hopes of this the youngest of our Ontario Dioceses.

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