Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan
Chapter XV


Departure of Sir Peregrine Maitland.—His successor .Sir John Colborne.—Continued Agitation on the Clergy Reserves and University Questions.—Revolutions in Europe, and Political Changes in England.—Breaking out of the Cholera in 1832.

IN the summer of 1828, there was a new Election in Upper Canada; and the hustings cry was the Clergy Reserves and the University. The position maintained by the Church of England, headed by Archdeacon Strachan, was declared to be dangerous to the civil and religious liberties of the Province; and the University, as constituted by its Charter, was considered as throwing the benefits of a superior education exclusively into the hands of the members of the Church of England.

The fallacy of these assertions it is not necessary for us now to controvert; nor is it incumbent upon us, at this distant period, to shew the unreasonableness of disputing the right of the Crown and Parliament of Great Britain to dispose of their own property,—acquired by conquest when there was scarcely a settler in the Province,—in such manner as, in their wisdom, would be now and hereafter most advantageous.

But unreasonable and untenable, or not, such was the cry rung from end to end of the Province, by aspirants for seats in the Legislative Assembly. The passions and prejudices, as well as the selfish feelings of the people, were vehemently appealed to; and even their fears were worked upon by pourtraying the civil and religious despotism which a “Dominant Church” would be sure to establish.

All those arts, in short, were sedulously and dexterously employed, which persons conversant with electioneering tactics, can so well understand. They had a marked success^in the present instance, and a sweeping majority were returned adverse to the views of Churchmen, and of Conservatives generally, on tl\ose two questions.

The Lieutenant Governor of the Province, Sir Peregrine Maitland, was spared the discomfort of meeting this formidable opposition; for about the close of the year 1828, he was transferred to the Government of Nova Scotia; and, as the latter was an older colony, it was regarded as a promotion. We need but briefly advert again to Sir Peregrine Maitland. He was personally an excellent man, and had very good abilities and much acquired knowledge; but he was of too quiet a spirit for the turbulence of the time that had arrived ; and it needed more energy of character, and a more free and popular manner than nature had endued him with, to guide through the troubled waters the little vessel of state entrusted to him.

He was succeeded by one with more vigour, but less ability; of more popular manners, though with a less clear, or discriminating judgment,—Major General Sir John Colborne. He was every inch a soldier; and events proved that he was rarely at fault, when called upon to discharge the duties of the profession to which he had given his best years. He was a man, too, of pure and honourable mind; with decided religious impressions; and most anxious for the welfare and advancement of the Church of England to which he belonged.

He came to the country with some opinions and prejudices, which the course of events very speedily induced him to change. He was not long in discovering that the alleged grievances of the political party now in the ascendant, existed mainly in their own imaginations; and that the selfish exactions and domineering arrogance of the “Family Compact,” as they were termed, were more a fancy than a reality.

His favourite idea, in regard to the establishment of the Church, was to mark out parishes where there was a sufficient population, and appropriate to each a suitable endowment in land; assigning to their respective incumbents, besides, a small stipend in money, derived from the general proceeds of the Reserves. In regard to the residue of this property, he was disposed for any compromise that would bring peace to the public mind, without .too great a sacrifice of what might be deemed vested interests.

On the subject of the University, he did not dissent from the justice and expediency of appropriating the endowment by which it was to be maintained; nor did he appear to desire that the Charter should be more open than it was. But he differed from many,—and from Archdeacon Strachan amongst the number,—as to the expediency of pressing the immediate establishment of this highest seat of learning; when, as he contended, the means provided for an essential preliminary education, were so very unsatisfactory. None of bur Grammar Schools, at the time, enjoyed a very high reputation; and he considered that steps should at once be adopted for elevating the standard of education, and so ensure qualified pupils for the curriculum of a University. This led to the establishment of Upper Canada College,—at first, more pointedly to designate its object, named Minor College; and this Institution he got into operation in a marvellously short period after its first inception. In one year, indeed, after his arrival in Canada, all the arrangements for its practical working were made, and. the staff of Masters on the spot.

At first, it was thought he desired the abolition of the Grammar Schools, and that this collegiate institution should be made to supersede them all,—new Colleges of the same character to be elsewhere established, as circumstances might require. But this idea was strenuously controverted, as likely most seriously to limit the opportunities of obtaining a liberal education in a country of such vast extent as Canada. Moreover, whatever soundness there might be in the arguments of Sir John Colborne upon this point,—and we admit that they were not without force,—it would have been cruel to the people of Upper Canada, suddenly to have abolished the District Grammar Schools.

The carrying out of his favourite project by establishing Upper Canada College, necessarily retarded the inauguration of the University; and all that was done for many subsequent years, was to quarrel over the details of its Charter, and have it modified, if possible, into such a shape as would meet the popular demands.

The year following, 1830, proved a year of revolutions in the older world. The King of France was dethroned, and the dynasty of the Orleans succeeded to that of the Bourbons. The latter was too feeble and antiquated to meet the spirit of the times; and the former had hardly the enjoyment of even one generation of royalty. But the revolutionary spirit did not stop with France; it speedily penetrated across its north-eastern borders into the Low Countries; and, in a few months, these were divided into the two kingdoms of Holland and Belgium. There were shakings of other nations, and threatenings of other crowns; but the ferment passed gradually away, and events relapsed into their old courses.

England did not altogether escape the general commotion. There was a new Parliament consequent on the death of George IV. and the accession of the new King, William the Fourth; the ancient Tory domination was overthrown, and the Whigs succeeded to office. There was a promised Reform of Parliament; and the Country,—wiser than their continental neighbors,—was content to await the constitutional means of redressing its grievances. In the exhibition of these the Church did not escape; there were undefined complaints of exorbitant and unequally distributed wealth; and there was the affirmation,—not altogether groundless at the time,—that the Church was not faithful to her trust, and afforded not that evidence of zeal and piety injier Clergy, without which the grand end of her establishment was not answered.

The apprehension was felt that this disquiet in England, and the murmurings especially against the Established Church, would seriously damage its position here; and give strength, and perhaps success, to the opposition it was encountering. It is true that this was just now in some degree abcated. On the demise of George IV. a new Parliainent must be elected in Canada; and the new House, as respected Conservative tone and friendliness to the Church of England, was a decided improvement upon the last.

From the force of these apprehensions, the Bishop of the Diocese, Dr. Stewart, was strongly urged by Archdeacon Strachan and others to proceed to England; as, from family connexion, he had influence with several of the Ministry, and it would be desirable in discussions that might arise upon Colonial Church matters,—heated and out of tone as the public mind was,—to have some influential person upon the spot to furnish information, and afford explanations where there might be doubt or difficulty. It was arranged that the writer of this Memoir should accompany the Bishop to England, having given to those topics of controversy much attention and study. They sailed from New York on the 24th March, 1831, but did not arrive in London until the 30th April.

No measure, adverse to the Church in Canada, was initiated by the new Government; and, from the political lull in the Colony, no such measure was forced upon their attention. Lord Goderich, at that time Colonial Secretary, was personally most friendly; and was desirous of being furnished with a scheme, by which a suitable support could be assured to the Church in Upper Canada out of the Clergy Reserves property, so as to leave the Crown in possession of a reasonable portion to be applied to other religious interests. This was made out with much care, and very well received. Much consultation was had, too, with Lord Goderich in regard to the University, on the exclusiveness of whose charter he had been so much assailed; and his Lordship made a proposition which I strongly advised the Bishop to accept. This was, to divide the University endowment; giving one-half to the Church of England, with her present Charter unchanged; and the other half to the Province for the establishment of a University entirely satisfactory to the Colonial mind. Others of more weight and experience offered different advice; and much ito the disappointment of Lord Goderich, the Bishop felt himself obliged to decline the proposal. Events have shewn that it would have been wise to have accepted the offer of Lord Goderich.

This plan having failed, his Lordship on the 2nd of November of that year, transmitted a Despatch to Sir John Colborne, suggesting certain modifications of the Charter. These were discussed from time to time, and were at length substantially adopted. It was now provided that “the Judges of His Majesty’s Court of King’s Bench should be Visitors of the College, in the place and stead of the Lord Bishop of the Diocese; that the President of the University, on any future vacancy, should be appointed by His Majesty, without requiring that he should be an incumbent of any ecclesiastical office; that it should not be necessary that any member of the College Council, or any Professor, should be a member of the Church of England, or subscribe any articles of religion, other than a declaration that they believe in the authenticity and Divine inspiration of the Old and New Testaments, and in the Doctrine of the Trinity; and that no religious test or qualification be required of any person admitted or matriculated as scholars within the College, or of persons admitted to any degree or faculty therein.”

About this period, the Archdeacon indulged himself in a little respite from the harrassing and manifold toils and anxieties of his office, by making a trip to Halifax. This he briefly describes iir a letter to a friend in Scotland:—

“I have just returned from a long journey; having gone as far as Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, distant from York 1400 miles,—not indeed so much as this, in a direct line, but in the way I found it necessary to go. I took with me my eldest daughter, Elizabeth, to shew her a little of the world. First, we went to New York, 600 miles; thence to Boston, 260; thence by sea to Halifax, four or five hundred miles. At sea we were all sick, and the ship was like a hospital. At Halifax wc remained eight days, chiefly with Sir Peregrine Maitland, who was formerly our Governor, and has been transferred to Nova Scotia. This Province has a strong resemblance, in its rocky coast and vast heaths, to old Caledonia.

“As I was nearly as sick as my daughter in coming from Boston to Halifax, 1 determined to try the other route, for there is but one other. Accordingly, I proceeded across the country to Annapolis on the Bay of Fundy. On my way, I stopped two days with the Bishop of Nova Scotia ; who is a good Tory, as all sensible men are. He has a fine family, and is quite the gentleman and no fanatic. Having finished our visit, we came to Annapolis Royal,—once the capital of the country, when the French were in possession. It lies at the head of a most beautiful and extensive basin, communicating by a narrow throat with the Bay of Fundy, and capable of containing all the fleets of the world. It is, nevertheless, falling into decay; as it has Halifax on the east, and St John’s on the west, to contend with; and both these possess greater advantage as depots for the surrounding country.

"We crossed the Bay of Fundy, 36 miles, in a most miserable steam-boat, and reached St John’s late in the evening. Here we were detained two days, and on reaching Eastport, the first town in the United States we come to, we found that the packet had sailed to Boston. Not easily baflled, I found a ship for Portland, 113 miles from Boston; and as the land road was wretched, I was induced to commit myself again to the waves. We had bad weather, were detained by wind and storms five days in a wretched vessel, and at last got to Portland in a tempest of wind and rain. Finding the road good from this place to Boston, and quite sick of the sea, we went by land to that city. This is one of the finest 1 have yet seen in the United States, and the society is more English. I remained there a few days, and was very much pleased, receiving great hospitality. From this the way home is direct and without difficulty.”

Nothing occurred, specially affecting the interests of Church and State in Canada, for some time; but in the summer of 1832, the Province was visited by a scourge unknown in all its previous history, and the cause of distress and sorrow far and wide. This was the Asiatic Cholera, which broke out in Quebec in the month of June, conveyed in one of the emigrant ships; and there, and in Montreal, it was attended with an unprecedented mortality. It soon reached Kingston and York, and it careered westwards to the extremity of Upper Canada. Its ravages, and the panic it created, are thus graphically described by the Archdeacon, in a letter to a friend abroad, dated the 22nd September, 1832:—

"We are just beginning to breathe from the Cholera. Next to Quebec and Montreal, this place suffered most; some indeed say that it has been more fatal here, than in any other place on the continent The stream of emigration has been very great this season ; upwards of 50,000 have already landed at Quebec; and four-fifths of this number direct their course to Upper Canada,—the majority of them reaching this place. The journey from Quebec (600 miles) is so long and tedious, that it exhausts the little pittance they had on landing; so that a great portion of them arrive here penniless. The terrible disease attacked them as they journeyed hither; many died on the way; others were landed in various stages of the disease; and many were seized after they came among us. In short, York became one general hospital. We had a large building fitted up comfortably for the reception of the Cholera patients; but the cases were so numerous that many could not be conveyed to it, and remained at their own houses, or lodgings. It is computed that one in four of the adults of this town were attacked, and that one-twelfth of the whole population died. Our duty, as you will understand, throws us, Clergymen, into the very midst of such calamities; as at no time, more than during such contagious sickness, do people require the consolations of religion. Unfortunately, my assistant in the parish was attacked a day or two after the disease appeared among us, and became so nervous that I could hot send him to the Cholera hospital The whole fell, therefore, upon me; and often have 1 been in the malignant Ward with six or eight expiring around me. The foulness of the air, too, was at times overpowering; but I have always, by the blessing of God, found my nerves equal to the occasion, and it seems as if this summer I was stronger than us lal, and fully equal to the increase of labour thrown upon me. The disease has how almost entirely ceased ; but it has left many blanks in our society, and, what is still more painful, about one hundred widows and four hundred children,—all strangers in a strange land, and dependent upon the charity of those amongst whom the Providence of God has thrown them.

“We are building a magnificent Church, 149 feet by 80; which, on a pinch, will accommodate three thousand people. The foundation stone was laid by His Excellency, the Lieutenant Governor, on the 7th June last, and now the roof is being put on.

“The University remains in status quo; it is so easy to do evil, and so difficult often to do good. I shall soon get too old to care anything regarding it; however, I have done my duty by it and by the Church.”

York was full of the praises of Archdeacon Strachan for his wonderful energy and kindness during the melancholy period of the Cholera visitation; and so strong was the feeling of admiration for his exertions, that at a meeting of several of the inhabitants, it was resolved to present him with a piece of plate as a memorial of their respect and gratitude. This was a handsome silver vase of the value of £100; and, graven on the tripod, it is recorded that it was presented as a “Memorial of their respect and gratitude, for his fearless and humane devotions to his pastoral duties during seasons of great danger and distress from the visitation of an apalling pestilence.” A suitable address accompanied this presentation; and the following extract from the Archdeacon’s reply deserves a lasting record :—

“The great exertions which I was enabled, through the Divine blessing, to make during the raging of the pestilence, and which have called forth this spontaneous expression of your friendly attachment, were, I believe, far easier to me than they would have been to many of superior merit, but of weaker nerves and less physical energy.

“Not that I was insensible to the danger to which I was exposed, in my frequent communication with the sick and dying; but being in the discharge of a most important duty,—a duty which, in my opinion, admits neither of choice nor deliberation, of which our holy Church requires the immediate performance, 1 committed myself to God, and proceeded undismayed by any apprehension as to personal consequences.

“The ways of God are often dark and mysterious; but an abiding confidence in His moral government, through Christ, will teach us that all things work together for good to them that love God. And reflecting persons must feel, that such awful visitations as we have experienced, by drawing out the lively exercise of the Christian virtues, unite the truly religious more closely even in this world, and produce in their minds a growing inclination towards the life to come.”

Towards the close of the summer of 1832, the Bishop of Quebec, (Dr. Stewart,) held a visitation of the Clergy of the Diocese both at Kingston and York. There was a good attendance at each place; and his Lordship delivered a charge, dwelling chiefly upon the acts and results of his recent visit to England. The visitation sermon at York was preached by the Archdeacon; and the lull in controversial strife gave him the opportunity of expressing some kind sentiments in regard to the various other religious bodies of the Province.


Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus