Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
March 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Church of England in Canada


[This article was published in 1948; for the full citation, see the end of the text.]

Church of England, a religious denomination, of which in Canada the official title is "The Church of England in Canada", though the name "Anglican Church" is popularly used.


When John Cabot the Venetian, with a crew of English sailors, landed on these shores in 1497, he planted a large cross that carried two flags, one bearing the St. George's cross of England, the other that of St. Mark, the patron of Venice. Thus English churchmen were very early upon Canadian soil. Others followed under Frobisher in 1578. The first regular services, according to the use of the Church of England, took place in October, 1710, in the reign of Queen Anne, at Port Royal, named later Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. In 1750 St. Paul's church, Halifax, was erected-the oldest Anglican church in Canada. The Anglican Church owed much in those days, and in later days as well, to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, founded in 1701 to send clergy to British colonies, and to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (1698), which provided Christian education and literature.


To people the vacant lands in Nova Scotia which the exiled Acadians had cultivated, and to strengthen the British power, settlers were invited to come from the older English colonies in North America. The invitation was not at once accepted. By a provincial law passed in 1758, it had been enacted "That the sacred rights and ceremonies of divine worship, according to the liturgy of the church established by the laws of England, shall be deemed the fixed form of worship, and the place wherein such liturgy shall be used shall be respected and known by the name of the Church of England as by law established." The proposed settlers, mindful of their fathers' experience in England , were apprehensive of similar treatment in Nova Scotia. Their anxiety was, however, removed by the proclamation of Governor Lawrence, in which full liberty of conscience was secured "to persons of all persuasions, Papists excepted"; they were declared to be at liberty to erect their own meeting-houses for public. worship, and to be excused from "any rates or taxes made or levied for the support of the established Church of England." Soon the tide of new settlers began to flow into the Maritimes. The coming of the United Empire Loyalists led to the establishment in 1802, by royal charter, of King's College, Windsor, Nova Scotia - the first English-speaking university in the overseas dominions - and one of their number, Dr. Charles Inglis, of honoured memory, was consecrated the first Canadian bishop of the Anglican Church, as bishop of Nova Scotia. Loyalist refugees came also to Cape Breton and New Brunswick, to Quebec, and especially to Upper Canada, in considerable numbers; but, though parishes were formed in many districts, the hardships of settlers were so extreme that the Church did not enjoy the same progress there as in Nova Scotia. The diocese of Lower and Upper Canada was established in 1793, and in 1800 the corner stone of Holy Trinity, Quebec, was laid - the oldest Anglican cathedral in Canada. Meantime the population of Upper Canada had greatly increased, and the needs of the Church had become correspondingly pressing, so that the governor-general, in a report to Lord Durham, appealed for a separate see for Upper Canada. And thus it came about that the Rev. John Strachan was in 1839 consecrated bishop of Toronto, the third oldest see of the Canadian church.


There is probably no more outstanding name in the early history of the Church of England in Canada than that of Bishop Strachan, who served in the episcopal see of Toronto for forty years. He was "a great master-builder", to whom the cause of education, the Church of England, and the province of Ontario owe much. His power of initiative, his indomitable spirit, his unflinching courage, seem to be unquestioned. He believed profoundly in, and laboured earnestly for, the permanent establishment in Canada of a state church. As a result of his endeavours in behalf of education, the Crown appropriated 500,000 acres of the unoccupied lands of the province, onehalf for grammar schools and the rest for the endowment of a university. Three grammar schools, as well as many common schools, were established; but a university was needed to cap the province's educational system. As a result of Dr. Strachan's efforts, King's College was established in 1827 at York, "with the style and privilege of a university." The royal charter required that "the seven professors should be members of the Church of England", and contained other provisions that stamped the college as an Anglican institution. Opposition to this feature rapidly developed, and in 1848 the legislature "altered the original charter, changing the name from King's College to the University of Toronto and discontinuing all connection with the Church." Undaunted, Strachan, though now seventy-two years of age, in January, 1850, persuaded the clergy and laity of the diocese to establish a church university, which two years later was opened in Toronto under the name of the "University of Trinity College".


One of the outstanding acts of Bishop Strachan was the holding in 1851 of a diocesan synod, at which the bishop, the clergy, and lay delegates were present - said to be the first of its kind within the British Empire. Such synods had contributed much to the success of the episcopal church in the United States, and Strachan had long been convinced that they were greatly needed in the Canadian church. Synods came to be formed in the various dioceses as they were established, and, whereas the earlier bishops had been nominated and appointed directly by the Crown, the election of the bishops of the Anglican Church came to be one of the functions of the various diocesan synods.


In 1850 Bishop Fulford, recently enthroned in Christ Church over the newly-created diocese of Montreal, made a very important statement on the subject of church establishment in Canada . He recognized that, despite the plans of the British government in the earlier days and the recognition by provincial legislatures of the Anglican Church in Canada as "the Church of England as, by Law Established", the Church in Canada could not be so considered. He said, "While spiritually we are identified with the Church in the Mother Country, . . . yet, in a political sense, and as regards temporalities, and everything that is understood by a legal establishment, or as conferring special privileges above all other religious communities, we are in a dissimilar position . . . . . Politically considered, we exist but as one of many religious bodies."


When Canadian confederation took place, in 1867, there were, in the ecclesiastical province of Canada, four dioceses, Nova Scotia (1787), Quebec (1793), Fredericton (1845), and Montreal (1850); and, in the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, three dioceses: Toronto (1839), Huron (1857), and Ontario (1861). Shortly afterwards three others were created: Algoma (1873), Niagara (1875), and Ottawa (1896). With the coming of western Canada into the confederation and the growth of the population there, the Church began to give especial thought to the vast country beyond the lakes. Up to this time there was but one diocese there - the see of Rupert's Land, created in 1849, and covering all western Canada. But the development of the Anglican Church on the prairies and in British Columbia had begun long before that date. The first Church of England service, and the beginnings of Indian and Eskimo mission work in western Canada, both date from 1820 to 1823; and about 1830 there came to the west the Rev. William Cochran, who has been termed the "Apostle of the Red River". Cochran, not content with ministering to the settlers, strove to Christianize the nearest Indian tribes, and rendered distinct service to the church far beyond the Red river . In 1849 the Rev. David Anderson, consecrated in Canterbury Cathedral, arrived in the Canadian west as the first bishop of Rupert's Land; his vast diocese extended from Labrador to the Rocky mountains , and from the American border to the limitless north. On his arrival he found six churches and seven clergy under his care; when he resigned in 1864 the numbers had greatly increased, and St. John's Cathedral and St. John's College, at Winnipeg, had come into being. The second bishop of Rupert's Land was the Rev. Robert Machray, whose episcopate was long and fruitful. For nearly forty years he contributed largely to the progress of western Canada in the realm of education, as a church-builder and in missionary achievement. In 1869 a conference of clergy and laity resolved itself into a diocesan synod at St. John's, Winnipeg, and within the next few years new dioceses were formed: Moosonee (1872), Athabaska (1873), Saskatchewan (1874), Mackenzie River (1884), Qu'Appelle (1884), Calgary (1888), Yukon (1891), and Keewatin (1901) - all during Machray's life - and later, Edmonton (1913), and Brandon (1914). These with the see of Rupert's Land constitute the ecclesiastical province of Rupert 's Land. Over this province Bishop Machray presided as archbishop and metropolitan, and a still higher honour came to him, when, as president of the newly-formed General Synod of the Church of England in Canada, he was termed "Primate of all Canada". One of his fondest dreams for his vast constituency was fulfilled when in 1902 the "Missionary Society of the Canadian Church" was called into being, taking over the great field that the "Church Missionary Society" of the Mother Church had so generously cared for with its gifts of men and means.


The first episcopate in British Columbia was that of British Columbia (1859), and later episcopates were Caledonia (1879), New Westminster (1879), Kootenay (1899), and Cariboo (1914).


The consolidation of the Church in this vast dominion was no easy task, but energy and vision were still left for its distinctively missionary endeavour. Its sacrifices and toils for the Eskimo and Indians are worthy of all praise. It also sent some of its sons and daughters to Japan and China and to other parts of the foreign field. Not the least important missionary force has been the Women's Auxiliary of the Missionary Board; and one of the strongest and most hopeful of the Church's organizations is "The Brotherhood of St. Andrew", in which groups of men and boys are under vow to pray and work for the spread of Christ's kingdom.


The Anglican Church has fostered education everywhere. King's College (transferred from Windsor to Halifax ) and Trinity College, Toronto, have meantime suspended their university powers, the former being federated with Dalhousie University, and the, latter with the University of Toronto. The arts course at St. John's Winnipeg, is affiliated with that of the University of Manitoba. Bishop's College, Lennoxville, Quebec, still carries on its arts course, and confers its arts degrees. The Church's theological colleges are as follows: King's, Halifax; Bishop's, Lennoxville; Trinity, Toronto; Wycliffe, Toronto; Huron, London; St. John's, Winnipeg; Emmanuel, Saskatoon; St. Chad's, Regina; and the Anglican Theological College of British Columbia. One feature of the Church's service must not be overlooked. It has established and carried on very successfully a large number of boarding-schools for boys and for girls; they are to be found to the east and west, and have contributed largely to national and church life.


Unlike other Canadian communions, the Anglican Church has remained a unit. No doubt within it there are those who may be characterized as "Broad," "High," or "Low," but it has proved itself wide enough to include all within its membership. Though there are many Anglicans who look forward with hopefulness to the reunion of the various parts of the Christian Church, the Church of England in Canada has felt itself bound by the "Lambeth Quadrilateral". In this fourfold condition of union laid down by the representatives of the Mother Church are included (1) the acceptance of the authority of the Holy Scriptures, (2) the creed called Nicene, (3) the divinely instituted sacraments of baptism and the holy communion, and (4) the historic episcopate. In the recent conferences looking towards church union in Canada, agreement on the first three seemed possible, but not yet has any satisfactory solution been found for the fourth.


See C. W. Vernon, The old Church in the new Dominion (London 1929), and L. Norman Tucker, "The Anglican Church and its missions", in A. Shortt and A. G. Doughty (eds.), Canada and its provinces, vol. xi (Toronto, 1913).

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., pp. 62-65.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College