Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

John Graves Simcoe
Chapter IX - The Churches and Education


THE best security that all just government has for its existence is founded on the morality of the people, and that such morality has no true basis but when based upon religious principles, it is, therefore, I have always been extremely anxious, from political as well as more worthy motives, that the Church of England shall be essentially established in Upper Canada." Thus wrote Governor Simcoe to Henry Dundas on November 6th, 1792, after he had been for a few weeks at Niagara. The first clause in the loose sentence would pass without challenge, and the second, although vague and indeterminate, has elements of truth, but the deduction falls somewhat flat upon the mind raised to expectancy by the fine statement of the premises. It seems far-fetched and unreasonable to argue that because just government is founded on morality and morality upon religious principles that, therefore, the Church of England should be essentially established in Upper Canada. Simcoe could thus write, feelingly and with absolute sincerity, and could at the same time entertain vigorous, wise and prudent plans for the government of the province. The establishment of the church was a scheme apart, founded upon preconceived ideas.

But in urging it Simcoe was instant in season and out of season. He wished to assimilate the government as nearly as possible to that of Great Britain, and as an established clergy was a component part of the one it must of necessity be imported into the other. He held the view that "every establishment of church and state that upholds a distinction of ranks, and lessens the undue weight of democratic influence must be indispensably introduced into such a colony as Upper Canada. When we reflect that the Canada Act was largely influenced by Simcoe, we can trace his hand in the clauses which created the Clergy Reserves and made possible hereditary titles in the legislative council. This view, now that we have passed the period of agitation and strife which it occasioned, seems odd and perverse, but Simcoe drew from the facts of the American Revolution the conclusion that too great a freedom in the matter of forms and institutions had brought about that dire and lamentable result. In his government, church and state were to go hand-in-hand ; the people were to fear their rulers, the rulers were to be just and considerate to the people.

Reviewing the elements of the population: Germans of Lutheran descent, Moravians, Calvinists, Tunkers, Methodists, the blood of Puritan New England, one wonders how a man of Simcoe's penetration could think his established fold adaptable to such motley and contentious factions. But, to tell the truth, Simcoe was no statesman, not even a shrewd politician ; he was a soldier first, last and always, with a military love of fixed orders and implicit faith in duty as the one law needful. Now it was to be the glory of Upper Canada that freedom in its integrity, both political and religious, should there abide, and that bureaucracy, militarism, and the rule of a governor with an eye single for sedition and political heresy should be cast forth. The influence of Simcoe, and those who followed in his pathway, postponed only for a little the responsible government and religious freedom that was potential in the disposition and desire of the people.

When Simcoe reached Niagara in the autumn of 1792, there were three clergymen of the Church of England in Upper Canada. The first to arrive was the Rev. John Stuart. He was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania! in 1730. His father was a Presbyterian, but the son decided to join the Church of England, and was ordained in England in 1770. For seven years he was missionary to the Mohawks at Fort Hunter. During the war he was subjected to injustice and indignity at the hands of the rebels. His house was plundered and his church turned into a stable. In 1780 he made up his mind to emigrate to Canada, and lie arrived with his family at St. Johns, Que., on October 9th, 1781. Alter a sojourn in Montreal, where he conducted a success-tul day school, he moved to Cataraqui, as Kingston was then called, in 1780. Here he established himself, ministering to the Loyalists, refugees like himself, and to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quints, to whom he could preach in their own language. The next to arrive, in August, 1797, was the Rev. John Langhorn, who laboured in Ernestown and Freder-icksburgh. He was paid £150 a year by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. To Niagara the Rev. Robert Addison had been sent by the society just mentioned. He arrived there in the autunm of 1792, shortly before the governor.

Over these scattered pastors it was Simcoe's desire to have a bishop appointed. Before he had left England he had urged the importance of the action, and had offered to give up £500 of his own salary annually if the consideration of cost was to prevent the creation of the new see. His request was at last met, and the first anglican bishop of Canada, the Rev. Jacob Mountain, arrived m Quebec on November 1st, 1793. His jurisdiction extended over both provinces, and it was not until the summer of 1794 that he visited Upper Canada, and was welcomed by the governor at Niagara on August 9th. He found that there was but one Lutheran chapel and one or two Presbyterian churches between Montreal and Kingston. At the latter place he found a "small but decent church," and in the Bay of Quintd district there were three or four log huts wherein at various points Mr. Langhorn met his parishioners. At Niagara there was no church ; the services were held sometimes in the chamber of the legislative council, and other times at Freemasons' Hall, which is described as a house of public entertainment.

Roving through the country, the zealous bishop found a few itinerant and mendicant Methodists, "a set of ignorant enthusiasts, whose preaching is calculated only to perplex the understanding, to corrupt the morals, to relax the nerves of industry, and dissolve the bands of society." The population he found to be largely composed of dissenters, but he was of the opinion that if a proper number of clergymen were at once sent into the country, these would rapidly give their adherence and thus would the province be saved to the church. The outcome of his earnest representations was that £500 was set apart annually for the building of churches, which was expended during the following years at Cornwall, York, and Niagara. But the pitiful stipends of the clergy were not materially increased ; the home government pointed out that " the act respecting rectories included tithes, so that no additional grant was needed," and trusted that a small salary from government and an allowance from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel would be sufficient for the comfortable maintenance of the incumbents. That the incumbents were comfortable is open to doubt, living as they did in a country thinly populated by people as yet struggling for a bare existence, where even the necessaries of life were both scarce and expensive. But upon their foundation of self-denial and zeal was based the great power of the Church of England in Canada. To weld the connection between church and state Bishop Mountain was given a seat in the legislative council on May 20th, 1704, and was appointed an executive councillor on .January 25th, 1706.

While Simcoe was thus looking forward to the establishment of the Church of England in Upper Canada, there were forces at work which in the end rendered his schemes fruitless. There was the deep spring of dissent in the hearts of the people which was by and by to swell into a torrent, not to be dammed or bridged; and there was everywhere, growing more and more powerful, the influence of the ministers and preachers who lived the pioneer life and guided their small flocks in the wilderness. Whenever the governor became officially aware of the presence of these sectaries, and the persons who ministered to them, he treated them with lofty scorn. After his customary fashion lie faced their position with petulance and represented their motives as base and unworthy, themselves as disloyal and contumacious.

During the session of 1706 a petition was presented from the eastern district asking for the repeal of the Marriage Act. It was signed by all the magistrates in the eastern district and by many of the inhabitants. If the views therein expressed had been set forth in the most abject manner they would not have received favour with the governor, but instead of a proper humility pervading the document, it was composed in a manner which irritated him. There was something jaunty and in effect flippant in the phrases. It was couched in argumentative terms, and to his mind there was no basis of argument. It was marked with honest yet homely similes, out of place when dealing with so grave a matter. But above all it showed republican tendencies. The authorship was in doubt, but it was alleged that it had been indited by one Bethune, a Presbyterian minister, who, while writing such reprehensible stuff, was actually in receipt of the king's bounty to the extent of £50 a year. It was also hinted that the document proceeded from Montreal and dangerous men there who had the ruin of the country at heart. This monstrous petition only asked the privilege that now is considered everywhere as the plainest right—that ministers of every denomination should be permitted legally to solemnize marriage. Simcoe, a most stubborn son of the church, stamped upon the request, and it took years of agitation upon one side and gradual broadening of principles upon the other before 1830 saw the repeal of the burdensome Act. In conversation "he thought it proper to say that he looked upon the petition as the product of a wicked head and a most disloyal heart"; he considered it an open attack upon the national church, and opined that the next attempt would be upon the sevenths set apart for the established clergy. Indeed, it was not long before the Clergy Reserves began to receive attention from the same quarter.

While Simcoe was trying thus to hedge the infant church from harm, the obscure sectaries were taking root, watered and pruned and nourished by the pioneer exhorters—Methodists and others, who roved throughout the province and preached everywhere, after their own forms and in their own manner, the gospel of Jesus Christ. These zealots, their personality and their methods, are one of the most picturesque features in the country where all men had taken on some quality of native ruggedness, power and simplicity from the earth, very near to which they lived and reared their young. Like Orson, who was nourished by bears, the people had been habituated to the wilderness. They required for their religious awakening and the continuance of their spiritual life some power full of elemental force and vital energy. As their needs were so were they filled.

The itinerants came and set up their altars wherever a willing human heart could be found, beneath the primeval maples, between the fire-blackened stumps of the new clearing, or under the rude scoop-roof of the first log shanty. They travelled about sometimes on horseback, sometimes on foot, roughly garbed, their knapsacks filled with a little dried venison and hard bread, sleeping in the woods, often fighting sleep when the snow lay thick on the ground, keeping at a distance a frosty death by hymns and homilies shouted to the glory of God in the keen air. Their stipends were almost naught, their parish coterminous with the trails of the savages or the slash roads of the settlers, their license to preach contained in one inspiring sentence in a little leather-covered book, their churches and rectories wherever under the sky might be found human hearts to reach and native hospitality. They met the opposition which they frequently encountered each in his own way, but no threats of hanging or stripes could push them from their appointed path. Sometimes the force was met by force, and the bully felt the power of the evangelist in the stroke of a fist hard as granite, launched with unerring swiftness ; sometimes his ribs were crushed in an ursine grasp and he felt himself held high and hurled beyond the circle of the camp-fire ; sometimes he was appealed to in a way that won all the manliness in his heart, and caused him to choke with shame at a merited disgrace. As settlements increased their circuits became smaller, their people reared churches and the hardness of their lives was softened, but their zeal was unquenchable. Fanatics they undoubtedly were, yet they were cast as salt into the society of that day to preserve it on the one hand from ecclesiastical formalism, and upon the other from the corruption of the lawless and ignorant.

The first Presbyterian minister to reach Upper Canada was the Rev. John Bethune. Like his contemporary, Mr. Stuart, he had suffered for the royal cause in North Carolina, where he was the chaplain of the loyal militia. During the war he was captured and imprisoned, lost whatever he had gained in the colony, and after peace was declared he left for the country where he could express his attachment for the king's government without fear of insult or vengeance. He arrived in Montreal in 178G, and gathered about him the adherents of his faith. After the short sojourn of a year he left the city for the new settlements on the St. Lawrence, which contained many Scottish Presbjterians. Here he carried on a successful work for many years. He was the only minister not belonging to the Established Church who received any financial aid from the government. From this source he had an annual stipend of £50, paid him by Governor Simcoe at the instance of Lord Dorchester. He it was who in a sturdy way agitated for the repeal of the Marriage Act, and lie was probably the author of the petition against it which so incensed the governor. His opposition to the Act was, however, legal, and did not include the overt course adopted by the Rev. Robert Dunn, of Newark, who took upon himself to perform marriages in contravention of the Act. This brought down upon him the power of the government, and he was duly prosecuted. There is no record of the result, whether he was punished or not, or whether those he married complied with the law or braved the world with the insufficient blessing of Robert Dunn. He was the second comer to the Niagara district; he arrived in 1781 from Scotland, and quickly reared a church with the help of all denominations about Niagara, a fact which Simcoe deplored as it delayed the erection of a building for the Church of England. Mr. Dunn did not long maintain his connection, as he lost faith in the doctrines of the church. He entered business and was lost in the wreck of the Speedy on Lake Ontario. His forerunner had been the Rev. Jabez Collver, who came to the county of Norfolk in 1783, and took up land there, one thousand acres, it is said, granted by the government, which appears at least doubtful. He laboured long and zealously in the district, having a stronger faith than his contemporary, Mr. Dunn.

Missionaries of the Church of Rome had visited the Indians and ministered spiritually to them for many years before the conquest. At the time of the division of the province they were labouring at Detroit amongst the western tribes, and the first resident priest in Upper Canada was the Rev. Mr. McDonnell, who came to the county of Glengarry, where were settled a number of Scottish adherents to the Roman Catholic faith. The government welcomed Mr. McDonnell, and showed him the greatest courtesy upon his arrival. De la Rochefoucauld observes in the governor a preference for the Roman Catholic clergy as instructors for the Indians. The duke ascribes it to the urgency of Simcoe in fostering monarchical principles. "The policy of General Simcoe," he says, "inclines him to encourage a religion, the ministers of which are interested in a connection with the authority of thrones, and who, therefore, never lose sight of the principle to preserve and propagate arbitrary power."

While Simcoe sought by all the means in4his power to provide for the spiritual needs of his growing nation of pioneers, he also gave great attention to the means of education, which were deficient. In January, 1701, he wrote to Sir Joseph Banks, the president of the Royal Society: "In a literary way 1 should be glad to lay the foundation stone of some society that I trust might hereafter conduce to the extension of science. Schools have been shamefully neglected—a college of a higher class would be eminently useful, and would give a tone of principle and manners that would be of infinite support to government." The first settlers had for some years been without schools, whatever instruction had been given was by the parents to their children in the intervals of work.

The first school in the province was opened by the Rev. Dr. Stuart at Cataraqui in 1786, and in the years between that date and Governor Simcoe's arrival several other schools were established. There was one at Fredericksburgh, taught by Mr. Johnathan Clarke, in 1786, and two years later he opened one at Matilda. At Hay Bay Mr. Lyons had gathered a few scholars around him in 1789, and a Baptist deacon, Trayes by name, had also begun to teach at Port Rowan. At Napanee Mr. D. A. Atkins opened his school in 1791, and the Rev. Robert Addison, probably the best equipped teacher in the province settled at Niagara in 1792, and supplied that growing town with educational advantages. Two years later the Rev. Mr. Burns, a Presbyterian, opened another school at Niagara, and in 1797 Mr. Cockrel established a night school at the same place, which he soon handed over to the Rev. Mr. Arthur, and himself removed to Ancaster to open still another school.

From the nature of things, there could be no uniformity in the tuition offered at these schools. The masters, when they were not ministers of the Church of England, may have had but an elementary training. The scholars were not numerous, but gave evidence of zeal by tramping miles through the bush and facing the stress of weather. Winter was the studious season in the province, and many a man who rose to prominence, fought his life battles nobly and went to his fathers, toiled at his tasks by day over the rough wooden desks in the log school-house and at night by the light of the fire that roared in the rubble chimney. Books were scarce; those for sale in the general stores of the period were principally spelling hooks and primers; arithmetics were few and correspondingly precious. A tattered copy or two of Dil worth's spelling book and of the New Testament comprised the equipment of many of these schools. The Rev. Mr. Arthur announced upon opening his night school that "if any number of boys offer, and books can be procured, a Latin class will be commenced immediately."

From Kingston eastward and from Niagara westward to the boundaries of the province the people were without schools during the years of Simcoe's governorship. He desired the establishment of a system of education for the same reason as the establishment of the church—that the province might be kept loyal upon religious principles, and that government, both of church and state, might be conformable ill all things to the British Constitution. He, therefore, warmly urged the great need for provision for higher education, for the establishment of a university in the capital city of the province. In this capital he imagined a society gathered together that would form a bulwark against the inroads of republicanism and democratic tendencies. There would dwell the governor, the bishop, the judges, the officers of the Houses and of the civil establishment, the officers of the garrison, and thither would come the legislators to be affected by this body of loyal opinion which they would carry to the four corners of the province. There would be trained the sons of the best families for the church and the higher offices of the government, and no temptation would be offered them to wander to the American seats of learning where their morals would become corrupted and their loyalty overthrown. The church recruited from such a vigorous source would be more successful, he thought, than when manned by English parsons who, "habituated to a greater degree of refinement and culture," could not understand nor influence their parishioners.

The definite plan that Simcoe laid before the secretary of state was moderate. He asked for £1,000 per annum for the purposes of education. Of this amount £100 were to go towards the maintenance of each of two grammar schools at Kingston and Niagara, and the remainder was to be demoted to the university. He wished the professors, with the exception of the medical professor, to be clergymen of the Church of England. The home government did not adopt the plan, and Dundas wrote that he thought "the schools will be sufficient for some time." Simcoe replied that the measures he had proposed were important for the welfare of the country, and would chiefly contribute to an intimate union with Great Britain. He then allowed the subject to drop, so far as extraneous aid was concerned, and gave what attention he could to the small beginnings of education within the province. Rut when his arm was strengthened by the appointment of a bishop he again turned his attention to the foundation of a university, but again without result. Almost the last word penned by Simcoe in Upper Canada refers to this endowment "from which, more than any other source or circumstance whatever, a grateful attachment to His Majesty, morality, and religion will be fostered and take root throughout the whole province."

One unexpected result of the governor's desire to improve the schools was the coming of a man who filled for many years the public eye of Upper Canada, so strong was his character and so great his influence. Dr. Strachan, the first bishop of Toronto, was not a contemporary of Simcoe's in the province. His advent must have been the outcome of a series of misunderstandings. Dr. Strachan himself believed that the governor, wishing to obtain "a gentleman from Scotland to organize and take charge" of the proposed university, placed the negotations in the hands of Mr. Cartwright and Mr. Hamilton. They "applied to friends in St. Andrews, who offered the appointment first to Mr. Duncan and then to Mr. Chalmers but both declined." Mr. Strachan accepted the proposed appointment, and arrived at Kingston, after a tedious voyage, on December 31st, 1799, only to find the expected position a myth. It is a pointed illustration of the extreme slowness of communication in those days that, although General Simcoe had been away from Canada for three years, Mr. Strachan left St. Andrews in the expectation of still finding him in the country.

As this statement is autobiographical, and was, therefore, held as truth by Dr. Strachan himself, it has been printed constantly without comment. In the very nature of things it appears incorrect. There never was a time when Simcoe felt that the foundation of a university was within sight. In February, 1796, the year of his departure, he wrote to Bishop Mountain "I have no idea that a university will be established, though I am daily confirmed in its necessity." If the time had come to arrange for a principal he would have again urged, as he did in April, 1795, that the officers of the institution should be Englishmen and clergymen of the Church of England. Mr. Strachan was a Scotsman and a Presbyterian. There was not even a minor vacancy, as the school at Kingston was taught by the Rev. John Stuart. The obscurity cannot be cleared, yet in the event no more propitious choice than this Scottish Presbyterian lad could have been made by Simcoe to further his darling plans regarding the mother church. He developed into the prelate whom the governor would have upheld loyally in his own sphere.

Amongst the items which Simcoe sketched in his early memorandum of August 12th, 1791, as desirable for the furtherance of good government in the colony, the tenth was, "a printer, who might also be postmaster." The first printer in Upper Canada was Louis Roy, who set up his press at Niagara some time during the winter of 1792-3. The first copy of his paper, The Upper Canada Gazette or American Oracle, was issued on April 13th, 1793. Some doubt has been expressed as to whether the printed copy of the governor's speeches at the opening and closing of the first session of parliament is synchronous with the event. Was there a printing press in Niagara at that time ? The date of the issue of the first copy of the Upper Canada Gazette gives an affirmative reply to this question. In order to print a copy of the paper early in April the heavy press and founts of type must have been transported from Montreal before the close of navigation in the summer or autumn of 1792. No transportation of heavy articles was undertaken in winter until years after that date. It may be concluded that the printer and the printing plant arrived some time before the session of 1792, and that the first printed document issued from the press in Upper Canada was the aforesaid copy of Simcoe's speeches. This assertion is supported by the wording of a letter written by Simcoe on July 4th. 1793, in which he says that Mr. Roy "has long been employed as king's printer." He would hardly have used these words if the service had covered but three or four months.

The proclamations issued by the governor in July, 1792, when he took up the government, were printed by Fleury Mesplet, of Montreal, who submitted his accounts for the work on October 5tli, 1793. He was the printer who had been arrested by Haldimand's orders for sowing strife and discord in the province. He is described as a printer sent by congress, in 1774, to publish and disperse seditious literature. At the time of which I write his press was loyally occupied in multiplying the proclamations of the government. Simcoe, maybe, had his former escapade in mind when he roughly checked his assumption of the dignity of king's printer for Upper Canada. That officer was Louis Roy, who received a salary and free rations with accommodations for himself and his paraphernalia. His service does not appear to have been entirely satisfactory as he had to be censured for delay m printing the statutes of the first parliament. The delay he ascribed to sickness; and on December 5th, 1793, it was stated that the work would then be completed. It is probable that there was a change m the office during the next summer, and Mr. Roy was replaced by Mr. G. Tiffany.

The Upper' Canada Gazette was a folio of fifteen by nine and a half inches. It was printed upon good stout paper, obtained in part from Albany until the governor ascertained the fact, when the printer was reprimanded for using paper from the United States and cautioned not to do so again. The price of a subscription to the paper was three dollars per annum, and advertisements not exceeding twelve lines were to be paid for at the rate of four shillings Quebec currency.

The governor took an intimate interest in everything in the province, and the printer did not escape his notice. He had occasion to censure him for certain libellous articles and schooled him in the character that his paper should assume. He desired him to establish for the Gazette a character that should be founded on truth; he wished him to print all news, and to give the source from which his information was obtained, and added naively; print such news " preferably as is favourable to the British government if ic appears true." In February, 1796, Mr. Tiffany had to be checked in a plan that seemed extravagant to the governor's mind. He wished to publish a monthly magazine ! But the printing of the provincial statutes was far in arrears and Simcoe thought it of greater importance that these should be printed and promulgated. He was advised to print in the Gazette articles upon agricultural subjects, and was told that the gentlemen of the government at Niagara would assist him in making proper selections. It was pointed out to him that he had a salary as printer principally for printing the Gazette regularly, and that he should do so. In 1799 the Gazette was removed to York, and Mr. Tiffany's connection with it ceased; he remained in Niagara and began to publish the Constellation, a paper that had but a short life.

Simcoe was not able to carry out his project for establishing a public library in the province, and books were rare and correspondingly precious. The Rev. Mr. Addison had a private library that is said to be in part preserved in the rectory of St. Mark's, Niagara. The governor would not consent to be separated wholly from books, and likely brought copies of his favourite authors with him. On April 25th, 1793, he made a present of a copy of "Yonge on Agriculture " and other books dealing with the subject, together with ten guineas as a premium, to the Agricultural Society of Upper Canada. These books were evidently from his own library. But while the houses of the government may have been supplied with books, the cabins of the settlers were almost destitute of them. Perhaps a well-worn copy of the Bible had escaped many perils to find at last a resting-place in the first shelter at Niagara or upon the shores of the Bay of Quints. This, with the Book of Common Prayer, would often form the library of the Loyalist, sometimes augmented by a copy of Elliot's "Medical Pocket Book," Stackhouse's "History of the Bible," or "Ricketson on Health," books that have served their day and found the limbo of printed pages. The first shops retailed only necessaries, and the stock of books was limited to almanacs, spelling books, primers, Bibles and Testaments.


Return to our 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