Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
March 2005

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


Clergy Reserves


Clergy Reserves, the name applied to those lands set aside in Upper and Lower Canada under the Constitutional Act of 1791 "for the support and maintenance of a Protestant clergy." It was laid down in the Act that these should be "equal in value to the seventh part" of all the lands granted, which meant that they were to be one-eighth in value of the whole. Actually, however, there was set apart for the Clergy Reserves one-seventh of the lands granted. Out of these lands, or the proceeds of their sale, the provincial governments were authorized to erect and endow parsonages and rectories "according to the establishment of the Church of England"; and this provision was interpreted to mean that the phrase "a Protestant clergy" signified the clergy of the Church of England. In Upper Canada, where the majority of the population belonged to other denominations than the Church of England this interpretation caused trouble from an early date. In 1822, the Presbyterians, acting on the opinion of the law officers of the Crown that the Church of Scotland, as an established church under the Act of Union between England and Scotland, was entitled to share in the Clergy Reserves, demanded and received some support from the Reserves. Other denominations, also demanded a share, on the ground that the Reserves were intended for the support of "a Protestant clergy"; and the question became a bone of contention in Upper Canada. William Lyon Mackenzie once expressed the opinion that the Clergy Reserves, were the most important single cause of the Rebellion of 1837. In addition to the religious grievance, they provided an economic grievance. They were allotted in such a way that, with the Crown Lands and other lands held out of cultivation, they interrupted the continuity of settlement and made difficult the expansion of roads. The province became a sort of chequer-board in which the black squares represented unimproved lands. This economic grievance, added to the religious, no doubt explains the feeling which the Clergy Reserves roused.


Sir John Colborne set the match to the powder-magazine by endowing, in 1836, in Upper Canada, forty-five rectories "according to the establishment of the Church of England"; and when Poulett Thomson, afterwards Lord Sydenham, came out to Canada as governor in 1840, one of his first acts was to attempt to remove the religious grievance. He persuaded the Assembly of Upper Canada to pass an Act providing for the sale of the Clergy Reserves and the distribution of the proceeds among the chief Protestant denominations. This Act was disallowed by the British government; and for fifteen years the Clergy Reserves question continued to be a stumbling block in Canadian politics. The left wing of the Reformers came to demand their complete secularization, and successive administrations came to grief over their failure to settle the problem. Finally, in 1854, the LiberalConservative government known as the MacNab-Morin administration put an end to the long struggle by "stealing the clothes of the Whigs", and passing a measure for secularization. The Church of England and the Presbyterians, however, retained the endowments that had been granted to them.


See C. Lindsey, The Clergy Reserves (Toronto, 1851).

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., p. 82.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College