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Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan
Chapter XIX

Consecration as Bishop of Toronto.—Union of the Provinces.—Settlement of the Clergy Reserves Question in England.

EARLY in the summer of 1839, Archdeacon Strachan proceeded to England, and in August following was consecrated Bishop of Toronto,—a Diocese comprising the whole of Upper Canada. At the same time the Hon. and Rev. Dr. Spencer was consecrated Bishop of Newfoundland,—the islands of the Bermudas being associated with that episcopal charge. The sermon on the occasion was preached by the Rev. Edward Scobell, and was published by desire of the Archbishop of Canterbury. From this we make the following interesting eftracts:—

“We see with joy the increasing exertions which the Church is now making, both in its ministry and laity,—for the Church is of the two,—to the glory of God. The root of Jesse seems more manifest as an ensign among the people. The sound is going out more into all lands; and going out more loudly, clearly, and efficiently. The Church seems moving again in her native strength. She sends out her boughs to the sea, and her branches to the river. And this appears in no way more gratifying than in the appointment of Bishops to the Churches of our Colonies in foreign lands. Without a Bishop, a Church’s arm, if Church it can be called, is cramped and shortened. Without a Bishop, a Church has no power, present and at haud, of ordination ; in most, if not in all cases, a vital requisite. It has no controlling power, no adjusting, concentrating, untiring energy. It is virtually divided and individualized; a body without its guiding eye; a pillar truly, but a pillar of cloud, and not of fire, —not a burning and shining light, as it should be.

“Go forth, Bight Reverend Fathers, in the Divine, the evangelical, the invincible resolution of the great Apostle of the Gentiles, to the Churches to which you are appointed. Go forth; and let that spirit be in you which was in Christ Jesus,— meek, patient, charitable, bold, persevering; full of Christian love, full of holy consolation ; and then, like him, ye shall assuredly go forth, conquering and to conquer.

“And although a vast and trackless ocean shall roll between us, yet the Church in Christ is never divided in spirit The Church here shall have saintly communion with the Churches of your distant dominion. The mother in her mansion will not forget her daughter in the wilderness. Prayer shall be made unceasingly in the Church for you. And if we never meet again in this world; if that be the counsel which God will bring to (>ass; may we assemble at last around the great white throne, and our names be found written in the Lamb’s book of life.'’

The Bishop of Toronto reached his home on the 9th November, 1839, and his return was welcomed with great joy and affection. Two days earlier, on his way to Toronto, he made a short stop at Kingston, and received there a warm Address from the Clergy of the town and neighbourhood, headed by Archdeacon Stuart. They congratulated his Lordship upon his selection to fill the high and responsible office to which he had been called; recognizing in this the valuable services he had rendered the Province by his zeal in the cause of general education, and the benefits he had conferred upon the Church in the training and instruction of so many who are now serving her with zeal, ability, and success. “With such pledges given through a period of nearly forty years,” it was well said, “we cannot fail to augur well for the future prospects of the Church under your Lordship’s oversight.”

In the address which was presented to him at Toronto, a few days after his arrival, there was all the warmth and cordiality which would naturally result from the Bishop’s pastoral connexion with the place for five-and-twenty years ; from a review of the many public services and acts of private kindness which, in that long interval, he had performed. The Bishop, in reply, adverted to the noble efforts exerted by his congregation in restoring the church so recently destroyed; and expressed his admiration of the zeal and liberality which, in little more than six months from starting actually upon the work, had brought it almost to completion. In the warmth of his feelings he declared that, with every acknowledgment of devotion and energy elsewhere, he repeated now what he had been proud to affirm when far away,—that there were “no people like his people!” He was, indeed, excusable in the utterance of such praise; for, on the 22nd .December, he was installed in the new church, now the Cathedral of St. James, erected upon the ruins of the fine and substantial structure which was destroyed by fire on the 7th January, hardly twelve months before. In the course of his sermon upon the occasion, his Lordship said:—

“I cannot let pass this opportunity of noticing the present appearance of the interior of the church; and which I consider to be wonderfully improved. There is more light, and a better distribution of sound, than in the old church; and the substitution of a gracile style of pillar, has contributed to relieve the obscurity so much felt before. The rest of the interior is literally restored; so much so, that each person’s pew, as it originally existed, was readily found. And when the short time that has elapsed since the conflagration occurred is considered, it must forcibly strike every one that great praise is due both to the architect and the builder, for the successful result, by which, under Divine providence, the congregation of St. James is again enabled to assemble under one roof, and with one heart and voice to return thanks to the Almighty for his manifold mercies, and to implore his blessing for the time to come.”

In the parish of the Bishop of Toronto, all was joyous and hopeful; but his home was the house of mourning.

About three weeks before his return, his youngest daughter, Agnes,—for many years very delicate,—died at the age of seventeen. When he left for England, it was with great anxiety on her account; but not without hope that the remedies suggested on the submission of her case to a distinguished medical man in London, would, with the natural elasticity of youth, triumph over the disease. But it was otherwise ordered; and the loss of this child clouded much the joy of the Bishop’s return. In a letter written to me immediately on his arrival, after speaking of the comfort and satisfaction he felt at the welcome he received, and the bright prospects of a useful administration of the charge committed to him, he says, “But dear Agnes haunts me at every step: the image of this blessed child is before me, wherever I go.” And we wonder not at these vivid and painful memories; for she was one of the sweetest, gentlest little creatures living; guileless as an infant, and always patient and cheerful under the lingering sufferings she had to endure.

The political atmosphere, too, was lurid and stormy. Mr. Poulett Thomson (afterwards Lord Sydenham) had been sent out to effect the union of the Provinces,—the grand panacea, it was believed at home, for our political ills; that which would bring discordant materials into harmony; and, by producing community of interests, bind in union antagonistic races. In view of the opposition it was sure to provoke in both Provinces, it was necessary that a master-mind, backed by enormous influence, should work the measure through its intricacies and bring it to a triumphant issue.

When this project was advanced so long ago as the year 1822, it met with so much opposition that it was at once abandoned; and amongst those who, at that time, argued strongly and ably against it, was Dr. Strachan. As the population of either Province then stood respectively to the other,—Lower Canada possessing the largely numerical majority, and an immense preponderance of the Roman Catholic persuasion,—the apprehension was not unnaturally entertained, that there could not, by amalgamation, be any real union. The laws of each Province were different, and their respective creeds were essentially at variance; and it was thought that by attempting to bring them into a closer political affinity, there would follow an exasperation of mutual jealousies, and a real widening of the breach between them. Dr. Strachan contended for a general union of the Provinces, such as has now been effected; and he published a pamphlet upon the subject, strongly urging this confederacy of all the Colonies of British North America. He argued.that combination on a scale so limited as the mere union of Upper and Lower Canada,—where the elements to be consolidated were in such direct antagonism,—could have no good practical effect; whereas, if it was felt necessary that the isolation now existing should be remedied, let there be such a coalition as would bear down all party, sectional, or national prejudices.

The present project, backed by Imperial authority, was introduced to the House of Assembly by message on the 7th December, 1839. The question was ably debated in both Houses; and, in opposition to the earnest protests of some of our leading men, was carried in each by large majorities.

On the 6th January, 1840, a message was sent down by the Governor General on the subject of the Clergy Reserves, proposing a plan for the final settlement of that long vexed question. The bill for the reinvestment of this property in the Crown, passed by our local Legislature the previous summer, was not favourably received by the Imperial Government, who contended that no settlement of the question permanently satisfactory to the Colony could be made, except within the Colony itself. The present proposition was, that the Reserves should be sold, and the proceeds,—including those of all past sales,—vested in the Executive Government, and out of the annual interest should be paid all stipends heretofore assigned to the Clergy of the Churches of England and Scotland, or to any other religious bodies or denominations of Christians in the Province. It was further proposed that out of any income in excess of such payments, one-half should annually be paid to the Clergy of the Churches of England and Scotland in the Province; and that the residue of such annual fund should be divided among the other religious bodies or denominations of Christians then recognized by the laws of the Province.

The Bishop of Toronto published, on the 15th of the' same month, a strong protest against the proposed Act, in the form of a Pastoral addressed to the Clergy and Laity of the Diocese; as being calculated to deprive the Church of England in Canada of nearly three-fourths of her lawful property,—to render the Clergy stipendiaries and dependents on the Colonial Government,—and to foster and perpetuate endless division and discord. He advised the general adoption of petitions against this measure to the Imperial Government, and he assured them that the same course would be pursued to a large extent by the friends of the Colonial Church in the mother country. He felt a conviction that, these united remonstrances would have their influence, and ensure to the Church a much more favourable settlement than was now proposed.

After a spirited debate in the House of Assembly, in which all the leading members took part, the bill was carried by a majority of 28 to 20. In the Legislative Council, the question was also very ably debated. The Hon. R. B. Sullivan spoke eloquently and forcibly in favour of the measure; and was replied to by the Bishop of Toronto and the Hon. P. B. DeBlaquiere. After a long and animated discussion, it was passed in the Council by a majority of 13 to 5.

This was regarded by the Governor General as a settlement of this harassing question ; and, in his speech at the Prorogation, he said :—

“By the Bill which you have passed for the disposal of the Clergy Reserves, you have, so far as your constitutional powers admit, set at rest a question which, for years past, has convulsed society in this Province. In framing that measure, you have consulted alike the best interests of religion, and the future peace and welfare of the people, for whose service you are called upon to legislate; and I rely on your efforts proving successful, notwithstanding any attempt which may be made to renew excitement, or to raise opposition to your deliberate and recorded judgment”

The sanguine expectations of his Excellency were not, however, realized; and the result shewed that the opposition which the Bishop and other members of the Church felt it tlicir duty to offer to this spoliatory measure, was neither unjustifiable nor fruitless.

The subject was taken up by the Imperial Parliament the ensuing spring, and the House of Lords proposed the following questions to the Judges :—

“1. Whether the words, ‘a Protestant Clergy,’ in the 31 Geo. III., ch. 31, includes any other than the Clergy of the Church of England ; and if any other, what other!

“2. Whether the, effect of section 41 of above be not entirely prospective, giving power to the Legislative Council and Assembly of either Province, as to future allotments and appropriations; or whether it can be extended to affect lands which have been already allotted and appropriated under former grants.

“3. Whether the Legislative Council and Assembly of Upper Canada, having enacted that it shall be lawful for the Governor, by and with the advice of the Executive Council, to sell, alienate, and convey in fee simple, all or any of the Clergy Reserves; and having further enacted in the same Act, that the proceeds of all )>ast sales of such Reserves shall be subject to such orders and directions as the Governor in Council shall make and establish for investing in any securities within the Province the amount now funded in England, together with the proceeds hereafter to be received from the sale of all or any of the said Reserves, or any part thereof, did, in making such enactments, or either of them, exceed their lawful authority!”

On the 4th May, 1840, the Judges delivered their reply in the House of Lords,—all the Judges except Lord Denham and Lord Abinger having met to consider the questions proposed to them by the House. To the first question they answered,—“We are all of opinion that the words 'a Protestant Clergy’ in the 31 Geo. III., ch. 31, are large enough to include, and do include, other Clergy than the Clergy of the Church of England”; and when their Lordships asked, “If any other, what other”? the Judges answered, “The Clergy of the Church of Scotland.”

To the second question the Judges said, “We are all of opinion that the effect of the 41st section of the statute is prospective only; and that the power thereby given to the Legislative Council and Assembly of either Province cannot be extended to affect lands which have been already allotted and appropriated under former grants.”

In answer to the last question, the Judges said,—“We all agree in opinion that the Legislative Council and Assembly of Upper Canada have exceeded their authority in passing an Act to f provide for the sale of the Clergy' Reserves, and for the distribution of the proceeds thereof/ in respect of both the enactments specified in your Lordships’ question; and that the sales which have been, or may be, effected in consequence, are contrary to the provisions of the Statute of Geo. III., and therefore void.”

In their answer to the second question, the Judges sustained the view affirmed by leading Churchmen in Canada many years before; and in the month of March, 1838, the writer of this memoir, as editor of the “Church” newspaper, recorded it as his persuasion “that if this special point were submitted to the Judges of England, such would be their unqualified award.” The delegation to the Provincial Parliament of the power to “vary or repeal,” clearly excluded them from any legislation upon.appropriations of Clergy Reserves already made. They might henceforward “vary” the proportion of reservation; or they might stop all further allottment of land for such object.

Adopting the opinion of the Judges as the basis of legislation, the Bishops of the United Kingdom, supported by leading members of the House of Lords and Commons, were determined to bring this vexed question to a settlement; and accordingly on the 7th August, 1840, an Act was passed to provide for the sale of Clergy Reserves in the Province of Canada, and for the distribution of the proceeds thereof” The decision, in substance, was that the moneys invested in England from the sale of one-fourth of the Reserves authorized by Act of Parliament in 1827, should be divided between the Churches of England and Scotland in the proportion of two-thirds to the former and one-third to the latter; and that the whole of the unappropriated lands,—amounting to about 1,800,000 acres,— should be sold, and the proceeds divided into two equal parts; one-half to be given to the Church of England and Scotland in the proportion above mentioned; and the remaining half to be applied by the Governor and Executive Council for the purposes of public worship and religious instruction in Canada.

The following declaration in the “Church” newspaper of 3rd October, 1840, Expressed no doubt the sentiments of Clergy and Laity generally through the Province,—“Now that a settlement of the question has been definitively made, we shall feel it a duty to inculcate obedience to it as the law of the land, and to render it as beneficial as possible for the object intended. It is with all well-disposed persons a subject for congratulation that a topic of grievance has thus been removed, and most heartily do we hope and pray, that it will not soon be followed by another equally groundless and disquieting.”

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