Bible Buttons: Canadian Evangelical Attempts at Unity and Influence at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century

By James Tyler Robertson, PhD


The years 1899-1902 are an in-between time in Canadian religious history worth considering. This was a time of nation building under the moniker of Canada as a “Dominion” — a purposefully biblical term introduced by Leonard Tilley in 1866 after his reading of Psalm 72. The idea Canada should be a God-honouring Dominion from sea to sea undergirded most evangelical social reforms and national goals at this time.[1] Completed over a decade earlier, the railroad assisted in nation-building aspirations by uniting and growing numerous evangelical cross-country ministries. However, these home missions were also plagued by regionalisms, polity issues, and theological differences which frustrated national and denominational cohesion.  In the wake of Confederation, church building and ecumenical conversations were on the rise, but this was still two decades before the formation of the United Church of Canada.[2] This was a time of Protestant superiority in politics, yet Catholics remained the largest Christian body and their control over Quebec granted them political influence that undermined Protestant growth. Darwinism and Biblical Criticism were well-established in numerous universities and relatively well-known, but it would be several more years before the Fundamentals would be published and divide denominations like the Baptists and Presbyterians.[3]

Historically, American evangelicals have been viewed as more successful than their Canadian counterparts in the creation of a national culture influenced by evangelicalism. The “Bible Belt” — a term for the social, political, and theological influence evangelicals hold over a large swath of the American populace — does not exist as a cultural entity in present-day Canada.[4] However, this was not true of Canada at the dawn of the twentieth century. Evangelical Christianity was the dominant Protestant perspective and evangelicals were actively shaping a similar cultural influence to form a properly Christian Dominion. This article examines the sort of issues they addressed to secure an ongoing evangelical legacy over Canada and the success of such endeavours.

Kenneth Draper notes at this time a “diffusion of authority away from clergy and ecclesiastical institutions” was taking place. Many evangelicals labelled this diffusion as irreligion, believing such shifts indicated spiritual laxity was growing amongst average Canadians. Evangelicals grew concerned their role in society would be usurped by darker forces if they did not address certain issues. Draper sees more complex phenomenon occurring because the undermining of traditional ecclesiastical structures created new space for “the emergence of an activist, religiously motivated laity.”[5] English-speaking evangelicals were facing a myriad of similar challenges around the globe. As David Bebbington notes, the “late nineteenth century posed a variety of questions to evangelicals about their role in society.”[6] Canadian evangelicals were addressing their role in society in ways that were connected to their co-religionists around the world, but unique to the Canadian setting. While Canadian evangelicals were not overly innovative in their presentations of the faith, the struggles they faced were unique to Canada.

To understand the uniqueness of early twentieth-century Canadian evangelicalism, this article notes the fairly recent ascent of evangelicals to the level of cultural mainstream as an important characteristic. The relative novelty of this societal prestige was exciting, but it also occurred just as Higher Criticism and Darwinism were entering the global Christian conversation. From inception, evangelicals in Canada needed to be conversant in the academic realm and this shaped their beliefs on a variety of topics from interpretation to immigration, from missions to social care. Canadian evangelicals also needed to contend with the ubiquitous power of Catholicism and its unique influence over Canadian society. While evangelizing Catholics was a perpetual goal of most evangelicals, their inability to dislodge adherents from the Church of Rome threatened Protestant hegemony and, it was argued, national progress. Finally, the advent of the railroad and the incumbent wealth it brought were addressed as evangelicals attempted to exert their voices in an increasingly industrialized nation.  Their attempts to unify Canadians under the Dominion banner revealed new socially focused emphases believed necessary for evangelicalism to flourish in the coming century.

In all these themes was a pressing sense that, if left unaddressed, the Dominion could derail spiritually.[7] An examination of Canadian evangelical concerns at the dawn of the twentieth century reveals a desire to show a relevant faith which could speak to the ideological, material, economic, and religious challenges of the day in ways that were both modern and Canadian.

Canadian Evangelicalism in the Nineteenth Century

When John Stark—past president of the Home Mission Board of the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec—spoke at a Woodstock Baptist church on a crisp Monday evening in 1901, he was filled with optimism. Speaking to the annual convention of his fellow Baptists, Stark extolled the virtues of denominational pioneers of the past, hoping to inspire future pioneers within earshot. For him, the dawning of the twentieth century brought novel challenges and opportunities unseen in the rich history of the Christian faith. Stark broke the preceding century of Canadian Baptist activity into two parts: the first half comprised tales of godly but limited expansion. The second half witnessed a metaphorical explosion of Baptist missions achieved with “kaleidoscope suddenness.”[8] Despite such promising growth, Stark remained concerned about the spiritual future of Canada and his denomination’s role within it.[9]

Defining a twentieth-century Canadian evangelical creates tensions unique to this nation.[10] Throughout the early nineteenth century the term “evangelical” came to be more closely identified with those in the Methodist, Congregationalist, or Baptist camps in Canada.[11] Stark’s comments about the modest growth of Baptists in the first half of the nineteenth century exposes this unique element of Canadian religious history. Into the 1850s, traditionally evangelical denominations like the Methodists and Baptists came under constant scrutiny regarding their polity and teachings. Frequently Anglican clergy charged them as disloyal agents of American Republicanism attempting to overthrow British systems in the Canadas and Maritimes. To avoid running afoul of powerful Church of England clergy, many Methodist and Baptist missionaries simply focused on the rural inhabitants of Canada living far removed from Anglican influence.  Stark noted this and lamented the impact this choice had on later Baptists: “who can doubt, that if our fathers in the first half of this century had … devoted their energies to establishing, strengthening and fortifying the large centres of population with the same enthusiasm that they did to the evangelization of the country districts, that we would be occupying a position much in advance of that which we hold today.”[12]

However, by the second half of the century, Methodist reformers had made deep inroads into politics, Anglicans no longer held a monopoly over higher education, Quebec had joined Confederation, Baptists were no longer dependent on American missionary agencies, and the Clergy Reserves had been sold, granting substantial money to Methodists and Presbyterians. Arguably, of all evangelical groups the Methodists benefited the most from these societal changes.[13] Writing in 1900, J. Castell Hopkins argued that greater equality between denominations “coupled with the growth of popular democracy” and an influx of immigrants made up “more of Dissenters than of Churchmen rendered the progress of the Methodist denomination during this period the most marked.”[14] According to William McDonald, denominational growth was not ascribed to such human reasons but was, “spiritual in nature.” For him, Methodism’s consistent success could be attributed solely to “the power of the Gospel manifested in a real, religious experience [and] the importance it attaches to conversion.”[15] This perspective sought to root Methodism’s growing success in the denomination’s earlier revivalist theology, and prove God’s blessing of their missionary endeavours in young Canada.[16] However, twentieth-century Methodist spirituality was to grow beyond the confines of the rural citizenry and, thanks to the money it received from the Canadian government, evolve from rural circuits to respectable brick and mortar churches in all major cities.[17] As the nineteenth century entered its second half, the Methodists were no longer the underdogs but had “achieved the status of cultural mainstream” to become the largest Protestant denomination in the land.[18] The aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats” proved true as the Baptists were also able to enjoy the benefits of mainstream status and grow to become the fourth largest Protestant denomination in the nation.[19] While American evangelicalism  had risen meteorically, especially in the wake of Revolutionary War, Canadian evangelicalism had a much later and much slower ascent.[20]

The eventual mainstream status and numerical influence inspired others who, in the early half of the nineteenth century, would not have fit the criteria of a Canadian evangelical. Anglican voices like that of Dyson Hague (1857-1935)[21] and William Griffith Thomas (1861-1924), or Presbyterians like William Caven (1830-1904) and George Monro Grant (1835-1902) can be added rightfully to any discussion about Canadian evangelical thought at the dawn of the twentieth century.[22]  These men were committed to the personal nature of religion in ways their denominational predecessors had not been. This is not to say that nineteenth-century Anglicans and Presbyterians were opposed to personal faith. Rather, early nineteenth-century teachings from these denominations opposed evangelical emphasis on the individual which they believed was informed by American politics more than genuine Christianity. Due to shifts in the Canadian political and social climate, later leaders were able to embrace certain tenets of evangelicalism that could have been career ending only a few decades earlier. The struggle for a colonial identity in the first half of the nineteenth century was, as Michael Gavreau notes, “a complicated and ambiguous process” stymied by issues like distance from the Imperial centre, ongoing American influence, financial insecurity, disparate populace, and the Anglican Church’s push for establishment to ensure loyalty throughout the colony.[23]

By the 1900s, an industrialized, financially stronger, more united, and independent Canada rendered such delineations mostly obsolete. Influential thinkers like Grant and Hague could blend their respective denominations’ historic focus on practical and serious Christianity and suspicion of overt individualism with a belief in the positive social ramifications of personal faith. Such unions tempered early antagonisms as evangelicals and so-called churchmen found common ground and ushered in a “more cosmopolitan spirit [embracing a] modern tendency toward a pulpit which is able to treat…every branch of social life as well as of theological theory or dogmatic principle.”[24]

One of the best examples of this cosmopolitan trend is the Anglican priest Dyson Hague. Despite belonging to a highly liturgical tradition, Hague frequently stated a familiar evangelical refrain that “personal realization is worth a lifetime of mere formal or hereditary religionism.” A devoted author, educator, and eventual contributor to The Fundamentals, Hague believed in the historic prestige of his denomination, and believed in its unique ability to unite the various factions of Christianity. However, he was also bold enough to note that his denomination “has lost so much simply because her clergy and her people in so many cases have been wanting in common sense, in Christian earnestness, and in the love of God.”[25] The realities of Canadian religious history reminded his numerous and various audiences they “must not suppose that it is the correct thing to take it for granted that we are Christ’s because we repeat the creed and worship in church. There must be definite, personal, creative experience.”[26] This was not cause to leave the Church of England but to realize the historic wrongs and failures and address them for the sake of Christian unity and Canadian development. His hope to win all dissenters back into the church was to show love “not merely by … forcing down our theories of the Church, but by so living in the Life of Christ, and preaching Christ as to make her as attractive as a light to groping travellers.”[27] Hague is an example of the measured optimism of the age because he believed in his church’s ability to effect real change and usher in what he labelled as a Utopian vision of the Church of England as “the church of the future, the centre of unity, and the Protestant Catholic Church of Christ.”[28] While this was obviously not a goal shared by any outside Anglicanism, his desire to dismiss the denominational divisions of previous times in light of the new century were indicative of the age. The individualism so condemned by Anglicans of the past had evolved into a celebration of personal faith amongst thoughtful mainline clergy like Hague.

This ecumenical and political journey to a more inclusive Canadian religious landscape was important but it also slowed evangelical influence over crucial nineteenth-century social institutions like higher education. Unlike their American counterparts, it would be the middle of the century before Methodists or Baptists could find schools that supported their faith. It would not be until Egerton Ryerson (1803-1882) entered politics that Methodists could gain control of Canadian education. Thanks to such developments and scholars like Grant, academic rigour could be wedded to the liveliness of personal faith in ways not always present in the early days of Canadian evangelicalism.[29] The timing of this ascent not only slowed Canadian scholastic output, but it also coincided with the ascent of challenging academic theories with the potential to undermine many elements of the ancient faith.

Biblical Criticism, Darwin, and Canadian Progress

Even previously independent evangelicals like the Baptists were seeing the wisdom of unity for the sake of missions during this time.[30] Building on the theme of post-1850s evangelical growth, Alexander Sutherland pronounced the “divine enterprise of missions, which even half a century ago was a mere side issue, has now become the main question.”[31] He predicted that one of the most marked features of the twentieth century would be an ecumenical “spirit and practice of cooperation” that would strengthen Canadian faith from coast to coast. Such a cooperative drive would emulate the great movements of early Christianity in which “the evils of rivalry and competition were almost unknown.”[32] While the importance of international missions was part of such writings, home missions were lauded with equal fervour. John Stark lamented numerous urban Canadians were “just as ignorant of God and salvation as the heathen in India or Africa” despite living in close proximity to a church.[33] The late nineteenth-century problem was not a lack of churches — as it had been in the first half of the century — the problem was the ineffectual and contrary messages these churches were espousing. The Program for the Methodist Young People’s Summer School in 1902 agreed and stated their solution plainly: “The Bible and Missions cannot be separated.”[34] However, could home or foreign missions move forward in a spirit of unity if even biblical interpretation was divided?[35]

Sutherland addressed this divisive issue by acknowledging “Higher Criticism has entered the arena” of thought and belief.[36] The challenge Higher Criticism posed to biblical authority concerned many evangelicals around the world. Canadian evangelicals entered the realms of higher education and political influence contemporaneously to Criticism and Darwinism entering academic halls in Europe and America. There was little time for average evangelical leaders to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their new prestige before it was time to address these potentially cataclysmic challenges. Aaron Hughes notes that three schools of thought emerged from these academic debates: one the was more apologetic but ultimately Christocentric in nature; one focused on the term religion itself by contrasting Christianity with other world religions; and one historicized biblical teachings within the larger corpus of Ancient Near Eastern writings — the first of these three examples being the most dominant within the Canadian evangelical academy.[37] No response did much to lessen the “considerable turmoil” Criticism and Darwinism created across the nation but this article will focus on the more progressive/apologetic responses and how they impacted a variety of elements within Canadian society.[38]

By the 1900s, this field of study had been part of various Canadian University curriculums for decades. Sutherland was among those who believed such scholarship removed “later blotches of local color [sic] which… lessened the fidelity of the original portrait of truth.”[39] By 1901 many educators saw benefit in the scientific analysis of scripture. Higher Criticism, when understood, revealed deeper truths about scripture and strengthened faith. Sutherland was indicative of the later nineteenth-century ideological shift from the linguistic study of the Bible to a more historical pursuit. From reciting and/or translating to the deep examination of literary themes present within the texts. For Sutherland, Criticism could “render invaluable service by introducing a more rational and scientific exegesis of the scriptures than has been obtained in the past.”[40] He believed a scientific approach better revealed the origins and worldviews of biblical writers which could help modern Canadian Christians correct outdated or problematic thinking.

The only threats posed by higher criticism came from arrogant scholars who, in order to advance their own careers, “ascended the judgment seat, and summoning Moses and the Prophets, Christ and His Apostles to the bar, call upon them to answer for having deceived the world.”[41] As the new century dawned, concerns the veracity of scripture would be undermined proved unfounded as “one by one the tidal waves have receded, and the ‘impregnable rock of Holy Scripture’ stand unmoved.”  Despite the concern of Christians in the previous century, Sutherland assured his fellow Methodists that anti-religious rationalism “has risen and culminated and declined”[42] The ongoing presence of Criticism even in the present age would seem to suggest Sutherland was optimistic to the point of naïveté. However, his denomination did weather the storm as Phyllis Airhart notes, “Methodism…appeared to come through the controversies over evolution and higher criticism relatively unscathed.”[43]

Similar to the challenge Higher Criticism posed to biblical authority, Darwinism was creating tensions for the Christian understanding of creation. Those opposed to Darwin believed he negated human dignity by removing people as the pinnacle of creation. Instead of being the image bearers of God, humans were relegated to a level of evolutionary development equal to that of birds, butterflies, or apes. However, in a lecture to fellow ministers, J.G. Low argued Darwin provided scientific insights into creation which could help attuned Christians better understand their faith.[44] He encouraged his listeners to remember “that God works in Grace as in Nature, by the slow yet sure laws of evolution”[45] Like Sutherland’s belief that even Criticism could elicit new and transformative views of the Bible, Low found in Darwin’s theory “a much more worthy concept of” the Divine that aligned the God of the Bible with the scientific tenets of the day. In Darwinism, Low saw a patient God at work on human sanctification over countless generations, rather than “a bungling workman constantly destroying his own constructions and making fresh ones.”[46]

He was not the first to promote the natural world as a teacher of theological insights. In his 1899 biography of Rev. James Evans, Egerton Young highlighted how Indigenous views on nature impacted Evans’ views of nature’s Creator. Although few today would be surprised to note that neither Evans nor Young viewed Indigenous cosmology with an overly generous spirit, the lessons remained. While it was “interesting and profitable to study God not only in the sacred volume” Evans’ desire to connect the Bible to the worldviews of the Indigenous peoples of the North also showed him God’s presence in “the great book of Nature.”[47] The first inhabitants of Canada were not the only non-European sources of wisdom in these debates. Immigration was a dominant concern in Canada at that time and Low weighed in on the matter from the realm of Higher Criticism. He argued the “educated Hindoo [sic], or Persian, or Arabian of today” could offer insights into translations which vexed British/Canadian scholars. For him the desire for literalism in many biblical scholars came from a laudable goal to provide the most accurate readings of the Bible. However, the British worldview meant that such literalisms achieved the opposite of their intent and distorted original meanings. His solution was to “read those Oriental writings as Orientals would read them. Taken in that way all such passages are full of exquisite meaning and sentiment, but taken in their dry, hard-and-fast, bald, literal sense they become absurd.”[48] While immigration was a divisive issue, Low’s argument for courting educated immigrants from the Ancient Near East to benefit Canadian understandings of the Bible demonstrates one way in which these academic debates were seen to impact every facet of the Dominion.

Despite their different objectives and audiences, these writings had several elements in common. They each dedicated substantial space demonstrating how the faith could be intelligently defended in light of recent scientific advances. They each sought to inspire the faithful of Canada into a renewed vision of mission, undergirded by the belief in the authentic and transformative power of the Bible. Despite focusing on different areas, each reveal the belief that Christianity was a modern faith, capable of speaking into every realm of Canadian national progress; a theme we will return to in subsequent sections.[49] Finally, each author assumed a sophisticated readership invested in learning Canadian stories.

Prophetically, Low argued social progress in education and commerce would usher in an age when ministers would no longer be Canadian society’s de facto academic elites, called upon to answer with authority on intellectual matters. Low warned: “The storms of secular learning are beating most violently on the ark of Christ’s Church,” but saw the true danger in those “timid or reckless pilots who handle the craft as if the waters were smooth!”[50] Clergy were being called to renegotiate their roles within the increasingly learned and civilized nation of Canada. Economic growth and national stability meant Canadian evangelicals were facing an increasingly educated and cosmopolitan laity, capable of weighing their ministers’ words with intellect and acumen. Many Canadian pastors would, “find among his parishioners many of both sexes who are far better informed than himself in some of the branches of secular learning.”[51]

The battle for non-sectarian and public education in Canada was an old one. Queen’s University came into existence in 1841 because King’s College was considered oppressively Anglican.[52] This monopoly made it impossible for non-Anglican, British North American youth to find the level of education a civilized nation needed to provide. Fifteen years after opening its doors, Queen’s “had to form a Medical Faculty, because medical students in Toronto could not get degrees, without submitting to sectarian tests.” The creation of public universities led to advances in education and policies which helped Canadians progress irrespective of creed or confession. Low’s comments about the level of education in both sexes are notable. Queen’s proudly opened its doors “for women, because [non-Anglican] Canadian women had to expatriate themselves in order to become qualified as medical missionaries.”[53] A large part of the Canadian evangelical identity was built upon the idea that, in the first half of the preceding century, Methodists and Baptists had championed the rights of personal faith against substantial Establishment odds. Their efforts had resulted in profound advances in education for Canadian men and women, the increase of international medical and evangelistic missions, a growing network of universities across the nation, political reforms which aided the common person, and the numerical success of several evangelical Canadian denominations. Low and others called their audiences to honour the historical evangelical trend of progressive education in service to the betterment of all Canadians.

Those who ignored this call would decrease in relevance because, in Low’s words: “the New Philosophy has come to stay.”[54] The Endeavour Herald of 1899 extolled its readers to be likewise flexible in their presentations of the Gospel for “[v]ariety is essential to success.” Rather than viewing this as a betrayal of historic faith, the anonymous author argued predictable worship and familiar sermon themes created a faith in systems and modes of worship, rather than in vibrant and engaging Christianity. Such juxtapositions between traditional/intellectual/cold faith and lively/personal/warm faith were a standard motif in much evangelical ecclesiology. Repeated worship practices following predictable rhythms created spiritual “ruts… as deep as graves, and all spirituality is buried in them.”[55] By the 1900s, evangelicalism’s role within Canadian education meant universities were capable of creating lively and engaging faith informed by, not antagonistic to, careful academic study.

Rather than eschewing Darwinism or Criticism, Canadian evangelicals could celebrate these ideas as “wonderful progress” which “greatly modified our conceptions, both of God and of His mode of working.”[56] Granted, this was not a view embraced by all evangelicals and issues around the Bible and science would forever prevent true ideological unity within evangelicalism. Even the desire to reconcile the biblical and scientific worldviews seemed, for evangelical like Low, to be the incorrect because “[r]econciling suggests compromise, a patching up of differences, a truce between hostile forces, and so leaves a false impression.” Rather, in the works of Darwin and the various European scholars of literary theory he saw God equally at work as in the theology of his Christian ancestors. Carefully he weighed the differences between philosophy and theology to arrive at this conclusion:

Philosophy, which is the sum and substance of all the sciences, is the study of God as manifested in His works. Theology is the study of God as manifested in Christ. Now, if both manifestations be of the one God, there can be no hostility. What apparent contradictions there may be are due to our misconceptions. In both God veils Himself as well as reveals.[57]

Likewise, George Monro Grant reiterated the importance of education in his introduction to Low’s work: “let there be the utmost freedom for scholarship and thought,” so that Christians could be bold in their faith.[58]

None of these scholars were advocating for a simplistic faith devoid of intellectual rigour, but a genuine belief in the power of experiential faith supported by historical Christian doctrine. George Monro Grant cited advancements in science, archaeology, and literature as spirits of the age, but spirits which had brought much good to the human race. He noted these advancements challenged biblical authority, traditional views of creation, and were “prone to discard even the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation.” However, he also reminded evangelical readers that Christianity “has been in touch with life for nineteen centuries” and would not be laid aside like “an outworn garment.” He, and the others we have been examining, were counselling leaders to adapt “to the growth of the twentieth century, with its wide horizon and complex civilization.”[59]

In 1901, these were not the opinions of a small collection of intellectuals. Phyllis Airhart notes those “who calmly insisted that evolution and theology were compatible outmatched in numbers and influence those who argued the reverse.” By the dawn of the twentieth century, many evangelicals could look at Darwin not as a challenge to faith but as “almost a fashionable creed, equated with progress, advance and improvement.”[60] Those who could not, or would not, engage with the advances of the age were seen as opponents to progress. While many would consider certain schools of Baptists or the later arrival of Pentecostal teaching as the greatest opponents to these progressive views of the Bible, those are issues of later decades. In the time period under consideration in this article, the chief ecclesiastical opponents of progress for Canadian evangelicals were their Catholic neighbours.

Catholic Influence

 Arguably, the greatest difference between Canadian evangelical growth and that of their co-religionists in the United States or Britain was the impact of Catholicism. While Catholics were numerous south of the border and in Britain, Canadian Protestants remained numerically inferior to Catholics from the time of the British takeover in the 1750s to the present age. Evangelical belief in the importance of thoughtful faith condemned Catholicism as antithetical to Dominion goals. As Robert Choquette notes: “The Dominion of Canada was to become an English-speaking Dominion of the Lord where Catholics and French Canadians were to be kept in their assigned roles.”[61] Evangelical frustration mounted as Catholics proved remarkably resilient and capable of rejecting such assigned roles. If unifying Christian voices was required for Canada to develop as a God-honoring nation/Dominion, Catholics remained the perpetual ideological, ecclesiastical, theological, and political thorn in the side of evangelicals.

The dawn of the century saw evangelicals venerating their denominational heroes from the past as sources of inspiration moving forward. In the Baptist calendar of 1901—a book designed to record “[i]nteresting events in the history of the baptists in all ages and in many lands”[62]—Rev.J. Denovan recorded that Catholics, more than the daunting environment or isolated nature of British North America, were the greatest obstacles to missionary endeavours. Denovan’s readers were called to remember the “earnest, self-sacrificing devotion of those sainted persons who planted the first New Testament churches” throughout the Maritimes and both Canadas. They did this to marked success “even in the face of dominant prelacy and Popery.”[63]  That dominance was due to the British government’s Quebec Act of 1774 which constitutionally guaranteed French, Catholic rights to all inhabitants of the newly acquired British colony. This, it was argued, established an uneven balance tilted in French, Catholic favour, even as more Protestants entered the land following the Revolutionary War. Denovan supported his earlier stance by quoting famed Baptist R.A. Fyfe’s argument that their denominational missionaries “were the first anti-Roman Catholic missionaries to Canada, as they were the first missionaries to the heathen, and it is to be regretted that their trials and labor are so little known.”[64]

Evangelicals’ emphasis on personal faith brought them into conflict over the Catholic Church’s hierarchical structure. Remembering Dyson Hague’s and The Endeavor’s comments about structural formality being the enemy of true faith reveals the depth of critique many had for a Catholic Church deemed too authoritarian. For numerous evangelicals the Church of Rome placed too much emphasis on structure, sacraments, rituals, and superstitions rather than on personal spiritual development, biblical faith, and a direct relationship with God. It also meant that a substantial amount of the Canadian populace remained opposed to the modern trends the Dominion was embracing. Reporting on the progress of both his denomination and the nation of Canada, J. Castell Hopkins noted that, thanks to their attachment to Rome, “the habitant is still the cheerful, irresponsible, excitable, moral and religious peasant of fifty and a hundred years ago.”[65] Many evangelicals were embracing advancement and equipping their people to understand issues like Darwin or Higher Criticism but the Catholic Church’s rejection of these tenets revealed not only their own thinking, but effectively negated individual Canadian Catholics from  seeking similar intellectual enlightenment. J.G. Low lamented the Catholic tendency to long “for the voice of some strong, masterful dictator” when speaking to fellow Protestant ministers. Rather than facing the challenges of the modern age, like he and his fellow evangelicals were doing, Canadian Catholics “feel a crying need for such an authority…and so they flee to her.”[66] This was more than sectarian bragging, this was seen as a diametrically opposed view of Christian progress. For him, the dictatorial ecclesiology Securus judicat orbis terrarum (the verdict of the whole world is conclusive) forced individual Catholics to bow to the judgments of Rome — judgments which did not value the Canadian setting — in the name of Christian unity. This teaching, introduced by Augustine during the Donatist Controversy of the fourth and fifth centuries, taught Canadian Catholics to prefer church teachings over their own perspectives for fear of destroying Catholic unity. In essence, issues like Higher Criticism revealed a chasm between evangelical understandings of autonomy and the Catholic doctrine of authority in the realm of spiritual development and unity; with the former struggling for unity in diversity and that latter finding unity only in conformity.

Such authoritarianism was not merely the bane of ecclesiology, but of the political world as well. Returning to the Endeavor Herald, the “collapse of three great Roman Catholic powers (Austria, 1866; France, 1870; Spain, 1898)” proved not only the inefficacy of Catholic governance, but also “augured the dawn of a new era. Never since the days of the Reformation had there been such an open door” for Protestant missions.[67] Despite this missionary potential, the article also exposed the Canadian government’s own misguided policy as it pertained to Catholic political influence. Despite evangelical vitriol against Catholics and their stubborn refusal to help Canada advance, the politicians of Canada continued to indulge them. One of the trademarks of the Victorian Era was ecumenism and a desire that all subjects of the crown, be they “rich and poor, old and young, male and female, noble and plebeian. Anglican and Dissenter. Catholic and Protestant” share in the blessings of British civilization.[68] Such inclusion was recorded by Biographer Joseph Watson in the 1902 publication of A Queen’s Wish. According to Watson, it was one of Queen Victoria’s final wishes that all her loyal colonies receive a Royal visit to thank them for assisting the British cause in the South African War (1899-1902). After her death in January 1901, her grandson, Duke George (later King George V) of Cornwall and his wife Duchess Victoria Mary took up the journey to honour Her Majesty’s wish.

Throughout Watson’s book—which acted as much as an advertisement for the Canadian Railroad as it did an account of the travels[69] — the future Royals touted the long-standing relationship between French Canadian Catholics and the British Crown at almost every scheduled stop. One speech from the duke noted the “Crown has faithfully and honourably fulfilled its engagement to protect and to respect your faith” and in return, he praised the Catholic leadership for fulfilling “its obligation not only to teach reverence for law and order, but also to instil sentiments of loyalty and devotion into the minds of those to whom it ministers.”[70]

Loyal Canadian evangelicals had a different take on the matter. For them, the Catholics were not loyal citizens, but a source of perpetual suspicion and potential violence.[71] As the Dominion sought to expand westward in early post-Confederation days, one of the chief opponents to this national goal was the Metis leader Louis Riel. While Riel’s indigeneity played a significant role in Canada’s rejection of his concerns, his Catholicism was also utilized by Ontario Orange Orders and politicians to justify dismissing and killing him.  Alexander Sutherland’s retelling of this part of Canadian history overtly accused the Roman Catholic Church of spurring Riel on in hopes of undermining Canada’s western goals. He wrote:

It is significant that, as the agitation went on, Riel was in the habit of delivering his inflammable harangues at the church doors on Sundays after the celebration of Mass. It is not too much to say that at any time a word from the Roman Catholic hierarchy could have stopped the whole agitation. But that word was never uttered, and by ominous silence the revolt was tacitly if not openly encouraged.[72]

Thus, from early missionary obstacles to the rejection of intellectual and spiritual freedom, to outright sedition, evangelicals blamed Catholics for hindering almost every attempt they were making to advance the Dominion. In praying for Baptist missionaries, John Stark labelled most of the regions he was praying for with geographical designations like the “far West” or “cold North” but, when it came to Baptist missionaries in Quebec, he asked for God to aid their ministry in “dark Quebec.”[73] Entering into the twentieth century, most evangelicals still viewed the French and Catholic Quebec as a dark and unenlightened place that posed a threat to Canada due to its sizeable population, financial security, and location between Ontario and the Atlantic provinces. If the adage, “A society only moves as fast as its slowest member,” was true, then the Catholic inhabitants of Canada were the greatest obstacle the Dominion faced as it marched into the modern age of the twentieth century.

The Railroad and Social Care

By January 1902, illness forced George Monro Grant to retire from his post as president of Queen’s University. For Grant, the end of his illustrious career in education, the gravity of his illness, and the dawning of a new century invited reflection about the past and pondering about the future. In 1872, Grant had joined Sanford Fleming to travel across Western Canada to study “the feasibility of a Canadian Pacific Railway.” His detailed account of that trip revealed an initial skepticism about whether such a grand endeavour was even possible. After surveying potential routes, witnessing first-hand the grandeur of the Rockies, and the vast wealth of the Prairies, Grant “never doubted the future of Canada.”[74] Despite supporting both the railroad and Confederation for the advancement and unification of Canada, his final message contained concerns about what such success meant spiritually.[75]

Grant established the stakes for the young scholars in attendance that day by stating Canada would become “a huge ‘city of pigs,’ to use Plato’s phrase”  or “a land of high-souled men and women” depending on the teachings and actions of the faithful.[76] While the railway assured the future material success of Canada, he reminded his hearers “[a] nation is saved by ideas” not material success.[77] Economic success could inflict upon Canadians a less visible but more insidious problem which “does not show…on the streets” like other vices evangelicals were combatting. The true threat to the Canadian people in a time of economic growth was “the vulgar and insolent materialism of thought and life.” Grant stated his concerns plainly: “wealth may ruin but it cannot save a nation.”[78] While he diverged on issues like the Temperance movement, Grant is indicative of the evangelical impulse to become involved in wide-ranging social causes out of spiritual concerns for the Dominion.[79]

Grant asked his students in the final sentences of his speech:

“Which of the two attracts you, my young friends? The power of wealth or the power of ideas? The seen or the unseen? Which are the true foundations and forces of national life? Which will you serve? According to the answer which the mass of Canadian students give will be the future of Canada.”[80]

Previous to these rhetorical questions, Grant had lambasted the average Canadian for being morally weak and entirely too interested in material advantage. Such a vice — while not as clear as alcohol or gambling — revealed the true foundations of the Dominion were crumbling. Such moral weakness could render missionary endeavours impotent to convict “fanatical Soudanese [sic] and Arabs that the Christian faith is something beyond [their] faith.” Attachment to materialism meant Canadian Christians were not attuned to the “spiritual forces beyond their horizon” and were betraying the faith for the proverbial thirty pieces of silver.[81] Christians possessing such a carnal view would be unable to speak with any kind of authority to adherents of other religions, many of whom demonstrated greater spiritual depth, and the dream of a Christian Canada would be jeopardized.

In such speeches given by Stark, Grant, and others was an evangelical cosmology which took for granted that the seen world was supported by unseen — and more powerful — spiritual forces. The connections between the material and spiritual world were the backbone of evangelical thought, theology, missions, and social action. Borrowing an engineering metaphor, the more wealth Canada generated the greater weight was placed on the invisible spiritual structures that truly upheld the Dominion. Thus, if the spiritual structures were crumbling — as Grant argued they were — Canada would collapse under the weight of its own success into spiritual degradation, moral vice, irreligion, and the forfeiture of all godliness which underpinned the Dominion.

Because each Canadian “is unconsciously moulded, in his innermost fibres, by the life of the state of which he is a member” such a collapse was more than a national disaster; it would create a series of personal spiritual disasters even the most ardent of believers would be powerless to reverse.[82] Avarice, left unchecked, would condemn average Canadians to a somewhat pre-determined fate. If they lived in a region that did not benefit from the material blessings of the railroad they would remain in perpetual poverty or, if the opposite were true, they would become too enamoured of worldly wealth and lose their souls to the pleasure of this world. Since those in the latter exerted more political influence, they would ensure that Canada became a nation of industrialists forever titling future governmental policies in favour of worldly benefit.

Methodist William McDonagh concurred, indicting the Canadian railroad as the bane of Sabbath observance. According to McDonagh, train shipments were operating seven days a week in an attempt to continue Canada’s upward financial trajectory. Such economic objectives brought increased independence and substantial material benefits but, from the Sabbatarian perspective, it also brought “all their filth of Sabbath breaking [across the nation and]…wiped out our Sabbath law” The spiritual damage this work ethic created far outweighed any material benefits, according to McDonagh, and he argued such Sabbath breaking created a nation in which “murders and drunkenness are in full blast.”[83] While McDonagh’s belief in the train’s influence over murder rates was dramatic, and beyond Grant’s specific concerns, both were arguing that materialism threatened the God-honouring qualities of the nation. While such evangelical calls to give heed to Divine Law were not unique to Canada, McDonagh’s attack on the railroad is.

The Baptists agreed with this stance but had different motivations for doing so. The 1900 Baptist Yearbook voiced concerns that even supportive government policies could threaten genuine faith. While excited about the home mission opportunities the railroad provided, a government offer of free rail passes to church dignitaries elicited the following response: “this Convention disapprove[s] of the entire system as contrary to the principle of a Free Church in a Free State, and that a copy of this resolution be sent to the Minister of Railways.”[84] While the blessings of the railroad were known and celebrated, concern remained that the powerful in the nation not hold any control over Christian groups. Favours, like the offer of free transportation, would inevitably limit the efficacy of the Gospel to shine a light on the negative impacts of material growth.

McDonagh’s Sabbatarianism, Grant’s missionary concerns, and the Baptists’ rejection of industrial influence over a free church are a few examples of the large-scale social movements present in much of the English-speaking evangelical world at this time. Possessing strong evangelical roots, numerous groups formed that asserted their beliefs in the sanctity of public life and united into coalitions capable of effecting sweeping political and social reforms. While wide-spread social reforms were a hallmark of this time in Canadian religious history,  John Webster Grant reminds us that such reforms were “increasingly identified with the Kingdom of God” but ultimately “social harmony would be buttressed by the solidity of individual character.”[85] The Endeavour Herald continued a discussion about the new century in measured tones and reminded readers that Christianity’s role in the public sphere was to focus on piety over policy. To this end, an editorial appeared in 1899 which taught the following:

We are not fit to lay down the new principles for the organization of society. The time has not come, but we can pray for the time. We can anticipate it so far as light is given each in his own little sphere, and above all things we must lift up our hearts for that mighty out-pouring of the Spirit, in the quickening of saints and in the conversion of sinners, without which it is impossible to take any great forward step in morality[86]

Others were arguing much the same and the implementation of socially focused personal faith was destined to shape twentieth-century Canadian Christianity in some unique ways.

Writing in 1909, George Bryce noted the excellence of social service agencies, but argued that “the Christian Church has its unique place to fill in the matter of social service.”  For Bryce, even the political philosophy of Socialism was not opposed to Christianity. Echoing Grant’s earlier concerns about materialism, Bryce argued the church “must [also] make the same demands for a real change of life among capitalists as it does among the laboring-men.” If workers were being admonished for excessive drinking or missing church, why was the church not also admonishing capitalists for their greed?  The Church needed to recognize how the “good things to be found in Socialism” dealt with the unfair distribution of wealth and the social ills this caused. Bryce also counselled Socialists to “realize that their creed is an insufficient one” because, unlike genuine evangelical Christianity, it could not effect true internal change.[87]

The social care of Canadians struggling with unemployment or addiction provided a chance for the church “to grasp a great opportunity.” What was needed, according to Bryce, was “ministers [who] are learning that it is theirs not to hold services but to serve.”  The Church could not simply interpret the Bible academically but would serve the nation best when it began to “interpret the love of God into social service.”[88] This was also viewed as an antidote to any present or future fears about Canadian irreligion. Bryce pointedly stated “‘What reason has the Christian Church for existing?’ many persons are now asking” before reiterating his claim that, in social service, evangelical Christianity had a definitive answer: “to have a part in that shaping of a better world.”[89]

Thus, we return to the social element found within individual Christian responses to the Gospel.  Hague, Low, Bryce, Grant taught that inspiration for missions was to be found in each Canadian’s experience with the risen Christ as revealed in scripture.[90] Changing that message or negating such teachings transformed the church into a useless social organization with no lasting value. However, a faith focused solely on piety and doctrine, with no social conscience, abandoned Canadians’ social setting to the shifting morals of politicians, capitalists, and lawmakers. Instead, Canadian evangelical Christianity in the twentieth century could celebrate the commerce and success of the young nation, but always with a careful eye on the systemic issues such wealth created.[91] To truly serve the nation, Christians needed to be equipped by their leaders in matters of personal salvation and care for their neighbour. In the words of Hague, “every believer is called to win souls,” and every preacher must “continually impress his people with the idea that everyone believing and professing Christ is called to be a missionary.”[92]  This was the way to strengthen the invisible pillars of the Dominion: through committed Christians exercising their faith in the public sphere and, if necessary, uniting to prevent rampant materialism from winning the day. Evangelical leaders called the faithful in their midst to serve their fellow Canadians in word and deed and, in so doing, save their neighbours and the nation.


John Stark asked his fellow Baptists to take seriously the issues of irreligion he saw growing at the dawn of the twentieth century. If these root issues were not addressed, “what may we expect at [their] ripening?”[93] It is fair to conclude that the evangelical goals for influence, more than the irreligion that vexed so many of them, was the ripened fruit of their labours for a substantial part of the twentieth century.

Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregationalists were able to successfully navigate challenges to their respective polities and theologies to form the United Church of Canada in 1925. Despite a significant number of Presbyterians rejecting this union, the United Church would provide care for Canadians during the Great Depression, navigate two world wars and continue to grow, becoming the largest Protestant Canadian denomination in the post World War II period (almost rivalling Catholic numbers). The attachment to academic and logical defences of the faith helped fund seminaries across the nation and made it increasingly the religion of the middle class in Canada. The United Church held to its values of practical assistance and remained an outspoken critic of various governmental policies as well as a champion of various social issues. Due to a variety of issues related to busy schedules in the middle classes, ongoing challenges to the Christian cosmology, divisions over changing sexual ethics in the 1980s, connection to Residential Schools, the growth of curiosity in other faiths, and aging congregations, the United Church eventually declined in numbers and influence, but this did not begin until the 1970s. The loss of its earlier revivalist temperament also opened a space for Pentecostals to become the younger and more vibrant evangelical voice in Canada by the 1980s.

French Catholics would remain the perpetual Canadian Christian “bogeyman” for the entirety of Canadian history. As well, the diversity within Catholicism grew in the late nineteenth and throughout the twentieth centuries as more English-speaking Catholic immigrants arrived, toppling the dominance of French Catholics. This presented numerous obstacles for Catholic leadership and increased Protestant evangelical anxiety. After World War I, English-speaking Catholics were able to win some begrudging respect from their Protestant fellow citizens for their involvement in the war and their willingness to denigrate their French co-religionists on some political issues. Despite the United Church and Quebec Catholic leaders teaming up to denounce conscription during the last years of the second world war, and some shared positions on social issues like same-sex marriage, these came to pass much later than the time period studied in this article. Not until the advent of Vatican II (1962-5) would Protestants and Catholics truly begin to embrace a cooperative spirit on the nation’s stage. However, in present-day Canada, tensions between both the French and English populations as well as between Protestants and Catholics remain extant and show little sign of dissipating.

The involvement of evangelicals in social care initiatives during the early 1900s reflected an understanding of the Canadian Dominion as committed to the material and spiritual concerns of its citizens. These initiatives laid the foundation for the modern social welfare system in Canada, socialized medicine, and the Social Credit Party and guided Canadians through a period of transition from a rural, agrarian society to an urban, industrialized one. Overall, the involvement of evangelicals in social care during the early 1900s was driven by concern that rampant materialism would doom the Dominion, even if evangelicals celebrated the wealth and unity the railroad brought. While the so-called Social Gospel would be a divisive element within America’s evangelical climate, these concerns were muted in the Canadian iterations. Despite strong cross-border connections with American evangelicals, Canadian evangelicals had a strong legacy of social assistance and subsequent generations found it easier to unite their faith with active social care.

Ultimately the evangelicals examined in this article were very successful in advancing their influence over Canada in the twentieth century. It is true they were never able to fully combat Canadian regionalisms, but various home mission endeavours were instrumental in creating unifying patterns of thought and belief that brought a semblance of national religious cohesion. While the United Church did provide some advancements in this regard, the dominance of Catholics, the vast geography of Canada, and the small population proved too daunting for the lasting cohesion many evangelicals in the early 1900s were building. It could be argued that Stark’s concerns about irreligion proved accurate, but most of these matured slowly and became the issues of much later generations of Canadian evangelicals. While many today label Canada a post-Christendom land, the evangelicals this article has examined were instrumental in laying solid foundations for Christianity to carry on decades after their departure. They displayed Herculean efforts to show the relevance of the evangelical message for Canadians, and their notions of the Canadian Dominion only began to dissipate in the later 1960s; that is an impressive feat. While American evangelicals have been able to maintain a vast geographical, socio-political Christian culture known popularly as the Bible Belt, Canadian evangelicals were unable to duplicate such longevity. However, there remains within post-Christendom Canada strong pockets of dominant evangelical cultures in places like Three Hills, the Fraser Valley, and Carleton County. Rather than focusing on Canadian evangelicals’ inability to construct a Bible Belt, perhaps the best way to understand their legacy is in the ongoing presence of these Canadian “Bible Buttons.”

James Tyler Robertson, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Christian History and Director of Distributed Learning at Tyndale University. He is the author of the book Overlooked: The Forgotten Origin Stories of Canadian Christianity which explores the Canadian context of the Christian faith. In addition to this, Dr. Robertson teaches the development of Christianity around the world, with a focus on the development of the faith during the Reformation and into the Modern Age. He is the pastor of two Baptist Churches and lives in Hamilton.

Author Copyright.

James Tyler Robertson, “Bible Buttons: Canadian Evangelical Attempts at Unity and Influence at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century,” Northwest Institute for Ministry Education Research. (retrieved Date Accessed). Peer reviewed.


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[1] Phyllis Airhart adds, “The prospect of creating a distinctly Canadian character was a unifying idea which fostered a sense of destiny. A pervasive sense of national righteousness provided inspiration for the moral and spiritual crusades of evangelical Protestantism.”Airhart, Phyllis D. “Ordering a New Nation and Reordering Protestantism, 1867-1914.” As Found in The Canadian Protestant Experience, 1760-1990. Edited by George A Rawlyk, 98-138. (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s, 1990.), 101.

[2] After discussion of the union of the four Presbyterian church branches in 1875. If these people, who share common theology, polity, structures, and rules took too long to unite, Grant questioned: “How long will it take to effect the union of Christendom, or to create an organized church of Canada! We must have patience, patience, patience, always of course combined with faith. The church of Canada will come.” Grant, George Munro. Thanksgiving and Retrospect; an Address to the Students of Queen’s by the Principal, on January 6th, 1902, in the Convocation Hall of the University. (Kingston: Unknown, 1902.), 228.

[3] “In 1909 God moved two Christian laymen to set aside a large sum of money for issuing twelve volumes that would set forth the fundamentals of the Christian faith” Torrey, R.A. The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth Volume I. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003 re-print from the 1917 version.), 7.

[4] For more on the formation of the American Bible Belt and Evangelical culture see Leigh Heyrman, Christine. Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt. (New York: Random House, 2013.)

[5] Draper, Kenneth L. “Finishing Badly: Religion, Authority, and Clergy in Late-Victorian London, Ontario.” In The Churches and Social Order in Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century Canada. Edited by Michael Gauvreau and Oliver Hubert. 151-174. (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s, 2006.), 153. “Secularization has not necessarily destroyed Canadian Christianity. Rather, it has helped to de-Christianize the elite but not necessarily the rank and file. Thus secularization has significantly weakened the churches, especially the mainline ones.” Rawlyk, George. “Religion in Canada: A Historical Overview” In The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 131-142. Vol. 538, (March 1995.), 131.

[6] Bebbington, David. The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody. (Grand Rapids: IVP, 2005.), 215.

[7] These concerns formed the backdrop as Stark challenged his audience by asking rhetorically: “If such be the tendencies that mark the roots of the century, what may we expect at its ripening?” Stark, “Progress,” 46.

[8] Stark, John. “Some Conditions of Baptist Progress in Home Missions—Past and Future.” As Found in The Baptist Year Book for Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and the North-West Territories and British Columbia, 1900. Anonymous Editors, 44-53. (Toronto, W.K. McNaught, 1901.), 46.

[9] This theme was also displayed in other denominational works from that period. As an example, the following Methodist writings also demonstrate awareness of the struggles in the former half of the preceding century and used the struggles of the early 1800s to spur their adherents onto similar achievements: “Most of those men dropped, worn out with toil,’ into humble graves, and their monuments, if they ever had any, have crumbled, but they left to posterity an example of indomitable pilgrimage an unquenchable faith that in the mere recital must have the clang of armor [sic] in it to the Church which has now concluded to settle down’.” Methodist Review from March 1901, 228.

[10] D.G. Hart’s examination of American evangelicalism reminds us the term “evangelical” can be as limiting as it is illuminating. Citing motives ranging from expediency to publishing opportunities, he argues that evangelicalism’s amorphous identity has inspired scholars to apply the term haphazardly. Hart correctly states, “historians, sociologists, and pollsters could write books and articles that made much bigger claims about the doings of American religion” than if they confined their studies along narrow “denominational or congregational lines.” Hart, D.G. Deconstructing Evangelicalism: Conservative Protestantism in the Age of Billy Graham. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010.), 177.

[11] Groups like the various Holiness or Anabaptist groups, Moravians or Salvation Army could equally claim an evangelical heritage but, in Canada, the denominations noted above were the most numerous and influential evangelicals.

[12] Stark, “Progress,” 49. To be fair, a generous donation from William McMaster was also noted as one of the key reasons Baptists were doing well in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

[13] “A union of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada, numbering 675 ministers, 73,557 members, and of the Methodist New Connection, numbering 113 ministers, 7,449 members, with the Wesleyans in Eastern British America numbering 223 ministers, 20,950 members, took place in 1874, forming a united body of 1,000 ministers and 100,000members. The resulting body took the title of the Methodist Church of Canada…The benefits of this union were so marked that nine years later a more comprehensive union of all the Methodist bodies in the country took place, namely, the Methodist Church of Canada, with 1,216 ministers and 128,644 members ; the Methodist Episcopal, with 259 ministers and 25,671 members ; the Primitive Methodist, with 89 ministers and 8,090 members; the Bible Christian, with 79 ministers and 7,398 members—total, 1,633 ministers, 169,803 members,” Withrow, W.H. Religious Progress in the Century. (Toronto: Linscott Publishing, 1900.), 260. He also noted elsewhere: “Methodism numbers one-fifth of the entire population, and in Ontario, the largest and most populous province, it claims one-third of the people.” Withrow, Religious, 258.

[14] Hopkins, J. Castell. Progress of Canada in the Nineteenth Century (Toronto: The Progress of Canada Publishing Co., 1900.), 358. By “churchmen” he meant members of the Church of England and, to a lesser extent, the Church of Scotland as both were considered established churches in the colony of British North America at that point.

[15] The Young People’s Wesley, 199. Ironically, McDonald’s point for writing this article was to express the growth of Methodism in the century since Wesley’s passing. Although working in Canada, the vast majority of his North American data and commentary comes from exploring American Methodism. This is another example of Canadians favouring American information above their own.

[16] There remained a tangible desire to maintain connection to these earlier, revivalist roots. In the Annual report of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Church of Canada in 1901 there is a report offered about work among the Indigenous peoples of present-day Manitoba and British Columbia: “there are conversions just as wonderful, and progress just as real …[as] in the palmiest days of the old-fashioned ‘missionary meetings.’” Annual report of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Church of Canada : Seventy-seventh annual report of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Church … from June, 1900, to June, 1901. (Toronto: Methodist Missions Room, 1901), xii.

[17] Todd Webb gives a full and illuminating treatment of the development of Canadian Methodist sensibilities from a much wider perspective in his work: Transatlantic Methodists: British Wesleyanism and the Formation of an Evangelical Culture in Nineteenth-Century Ontario and Quebec. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s, 2013.

[18] Gauvreau, Michael. “The Empire of Evangelicalism: Varieties of Common Sense in Scotland, Canada, and the United States.” In Evangelicalism: Comparative Studies of Popular Protestantism in North America, the British Isles, and Beyond, 1700-1990. Edited by Mark A. Noll, David W. Bebbington, George A. Rawlyk. 219-252. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.), 220. Read also, “In Canada as a whole the Roman Catholic Church maintained its numerical supremacy and, in 1891, had nearly two million adherents, or 41.21 per cent, of the population, as compared with the Methodist 17.54 per cent., the Presbyterian 15.63 per cent, and the Church of England 13.37 per cent.” Hopkins, “Progress,” 503.

[19] By 1901, the Baptists recorded a membership of 292,189. In order, the Methodists were the largest 916,000, followed by the Presbyterians at 842,000, followed by the Anglicans at 680,000. These were the big four of Protestantism at the dawn of the twentieth century. For more on this see,Airhart, “Ordering,” 102-4. Stark also recognized their historic strongholds in the countryside but, in the yearbook of 1900, argued that the cities needed to be won if the denomination was to grow: “the rural districts must be retained, and the cities must be gained.” John Stark, Baptist Yearbook 1900, 49.

[20] For more on the development of post-Revolutionary War Canadian Society see Norman Knowles. Inventing the Loyalists: The Ontario Loyalist Tradition and the Creation of Usable Pasts. (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1997).

[21] Dyson Hague contributed several articles to the Fundamentals previously mentioned.

[22] Presbyterians: “strong-minded and sincere men, formed a body of learning and religious zeal which did much to advance the denomination, numerically, from three hundred and sixty thousand in 1851 to four hundred and sixty thousand in 1861 and to five hundred and seventy thousand in 1871.” Hopkins, Progress, 365.

[23] Using the expulsion of Rev. Henry Hayden of the Rawdon parish of Nova Scotia from the 1820s, Gauvreau notes one of the main reasons the popular and controversial preacher was let go “was clearly designed to prevent the emergence of an Evangelical ‘party’ in [the] diocese.” Gauvreau, Michael. “The Dividends of Empire: Church Establishments and Contested British Identities in the Canadas and Maritimes, 1780-1850.” In Transatlantic Subjects: Ideas, Institutions, and Social Experience in Post-Revolutionary British North America. Edited by Nancy Christie. 199-250. (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008), 202.

[24] “It is probable that the most instructive feature of the three decades following Confederation has been the tendency toward denominational unity and friendship…A more cosmopolitan spirit has entered into the majority of Canadian Churches, and the country as a whole has not remained outside the stream of modern tendency toward a pulpit which is able to treat, or which aims at treating, of every branch of social life as well as of theological theory or dogmatic principle. Meantime unity has been in the air.” Hopkins, Progress, 501-2.

[25] Hague, Dyson. The Church of England the Centre of Unity. (Halifax: Morton & Co., 1892.), 11.

[26] Hague, Dyson. St. Andrew’s Work, The Best Work in the World: Some Thoughts About Personal Work for Souls, and the Methods of Winning Others to Christ by Individual Effort (Halifax: Publisher Unknown, c.a. 1902),  29. Like Grant, Dyson Hague was a champion of education but he also succinctly articulated the shortcomings of education in evangelization: “there is no known or knowable series of arguments that will dispel all manner of doubts from the human understanding.” Hague, Andrew, 59.

[27] “The best way to win dissenters into the Church is to shew love. If that fails to shew more love. If that fails to shew more love still. The best way to make our Church the unifier is not merely by insisting upon episcopal ordination, and forcing down our theories of the Church, but by so living in the Life of Christ, and preaching Christ as to make her as attractive as a light to groping travellers.” Hague, Unity, 83.

[28] Hague, Unity, 85.

[29] Note both the themes of individualism already discussed in this paper as well as the celebration of missionaries as uneducated. That is not meant as a disparaging comment because their lack of education, coupled with their successes, were seen as evidence that God was with them. “These were years when individualism was supreme. The voice of God came to men to whom college halls were strangers, [telling them to preach the Gospel]” McEwen, J.P. “Forty-Ninth Annual Report of the Baptist Home Mission Board of Ontario and Quebec.” As Found in The Baptist Year Book for Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and the North-West Territories and British Columbia, 1900. Anonymous Editors, 55-71 (Toronto, W.K. McNaught, 1901), 55.

[30] E.O. White’s Baptist Calendar notes that, in 1900, the Baptists – a staunchly independent collection of like-minded and primitive believers – held the “First National Baptist Convention of Canada” in Winnipeg from July 5 to the 13th. White, Baptist Calendar, 28.

[31] Sutherland, Alexander. The Twentieth Century and Missions (Toronto; Methodist Mission Board, 1901), 12.

[32] Sutherland, Missions, 28.

[33] Stark, “Progress,” 49.

[34] McLaughlin, J.F., Stephenson, J.C. Programme for Methodist Young People’s Summer School. (Toronto: Unknown, 1902.), 8.

[35] Earlier missionary endeavours focused on people reading the Bible and, in the case of Indigenous people, translating the scriptures into their language. The following example from Egerton Young describes James Evans’ work in the far north in the early 1800s: “The school consists now of fifty scholars. Twenty-two of them are reading the English reader and the New Testament. We have lately commenced reading the translation of seven chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel in the native tongue. Fourteen are studying arithmetic.” Young, Egerton R. The Apostle of the North Rev. James Evans. (London: Marshall Brothers, 1899.), 35. However, in the wake of Higher Criticism, there were academic questions around the efficacy of this model. It was not enough to derail such methods, but there was still a sense that the challenges to biblical authority could undermine missions if the missionaries were not well-educated in various academic theories, even if they never introduced those theories to the people they were evangelizing.

[36] Sutherland, Missions, 5.

[37] For more on this topic see Aaron Hughes. From Seminary to University: An Institutional History of the Study of Religion in Canada. (Toronto: University of Toronto, 2020).

[38] Hughes, Seminary, 68.

[39] Sutherland, Missions, 5.

[40] Sutherland, Missions, 7.

[41] Sutherland, Missions, 5.

[42] Sutherland, Missions, 4.

[43] Airhart, “Reordering,” 108.

[44] The following quote demonstrates Low’s unambiguous support of evolutionary theory: “when we trace the evolution of the Church of Christ from the ‘mustard seed’ of the day of Pentecost to its vast extension today—when we remember that God works in Grace as in Nature, by the slow yet sure laws of evolution, and when we dwell upon the parting word of the risen Lord to His  ‘Lo, I am with you alway even unto the end of the world’ — we have cause to pronounce with increasing faith and fervor: ‘I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.’” Low, Old Faith, 160.

[45] Low, G.J. The Old Faith and the New Philosophy: Lectures Delivered Before the Canadian Summer School for the Clergy, in Port Hope, Ont., July, 1899 (Toronto: William Briggs, 1900), 160.

[46] Low, Old Faith, 133.

[47] Young, Egerton R. The Apostle of the North Rev. James Evans (London: Marshall Brothers, 1899), 154.

[48] “The educated Hindoo, or Persian, or Arabian of today would be amused at our learned commentators stumbling over such phrases as ‘God rested on the seventh day,’ They would be inclined to ask us, ‘Have you no poetry in your composition, no imagination, no fancy? Must everything be said in your logical rule-of-three way before you British gradgrinds can take it in?’ We must learn to read those Oriental writings as Orientals would read them. Taken in that way all such passages are full of exquisite meaning and sentiment, but taken in their dry, hard-and-fast, bald, literal sense they become absurd.” Low, Old Faith, 135.

[49] Note that biblical interpretation had real-world ramifications, like the observance of the Sabbath: “for if contrary to all canons of interpretation. Nothing but a pure fancy, without any foundation for the statement, like much of the Higher Criticism.” McDonagh, William. Sunday Our Sabbath: Proved from Scripture and History to be God’s Rest Day. (Toronto, William Briggs, 1901), 10.

[50] Low, Old Faith, 11.

[51] Low, Old Faith, 15.

[52] “On account of the sectarian attitude of the province in the thirties and forties of this century, [Queen’s] was originated by the Presbyterian Church, on the model of Edinburgh University, and was from the first ‘open to all on the same terms.’” Grant, George Monro. The University Question (Unknown, ca. 1900), 213.

[53] Grant, University, 217. “All forms of educational monopoly and stereotyping are fatal to that spirit of freedom, alertness and expectation which must characterize a progressive civilization, in which the achievements of the present and the aspirations of the future, though in close touch with the past, are ever going beyond it.” Shortt in Grant, University, 222.

[54] Low, Old Faith, 133

[55] Anon., The Endeavor Herald. Vol. XI No. 11 (Toronto, December 1899), 408.

[56] Low, Old Faith, 44

[57] Low, Old Faith, 23.

[58] Grant writing in the introduction for Low, Old Faith, 10.

[59] Grant writing in the introduction for Low, Old Faith, 5.

[60] Airhart, “Reordering,” 111.

[61] Choquette, Robert. Canada’s Religions (Ottawa: University of Ottawa, 2004), 232

[62]  White, E.O. A Perpetual Baptist Calendar and Remembrancer for the Twentieth Century Commencing 1901: Interesting Events in the history of Baptists in all ages and in many lands (Toronto: Henderson & Co., 1901), cover page.

[63] [63] Denovan, J. “Introductory,” in Baptist Calendar, 7.

[64] Denovan, J. “Introductory,” in Baptist Calendar, 7.

[65] Hopkins, Progress, 514.

[66] “Some in their alarm are longing for the voice of some strong, masterful dictator. They see such a one in the Vatican, and they repair in their distress to the Church of Rome, because she avers ‘‘Securus judicat orhis terrarum’. That is enough for them. They feel a crying need for such an authority — no other party makes such a claim — and so they flee to her.” Low, Old Faith, 17. He goes on to state that “the unchanging church of the East [meaning the various Orthodox Churches] takes pride in receiving no wisdom beyond the 10th century” and remains, in Low’s words, “in a state of arrested development.” Low, Old Faith, 17.

[67] “Not long since, five Protestant ministers gathered for conference at Madrid, Spain. Pastor Fliedner in his address stated that the collapse of three great Roman Catholic powers (Austria, 1866; France, 1870; Spain, 1898) augured the dawn of a new era. Never since the days of the Reformation had there been such an open door.” Anon., Endeavor, 410. Italics part of the original quote.

[68] “It is a glorious era v – this Victorian Age from 1837 to 1901. We all share in this blessing. We all bow our heads as the Union Jack falls to half-mast over the bier of Her Majesty.” Anonymous. “Victoria the Well-Beloved,” 217.

[69] “Even forty years ago when the King as Prince of Wales visited the Dominion, he was able to traverse only a portion of the country — from Montreal to Toronto — by rail, and the Colony was split up into four disjointed provinces, whereas the Queen’s grandson found it a great homogeneous self-governing State with the most perfect transcontinental railway system in the world.”  Watson, Joseph. The Queen’s Wish: How It was Fulfilled by the Imperial Tour of T.R.H. the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (Toronto: William Briggs, 1902), 340.

[70] Watson, Wish, 343. “[The Roman Catholics of the Diocese of St. Boniface] thanked God for the religious liberty enjoyed under the British flag.” Watson, Wish, 370.

[71] Officially, Catholic leaders advanced different understandings for obvious reasons. In The Queen’s Wish, the Archbishop of Quebec stated that “the Catholic Church belonged [in Canada]…the honour of having forged between the English Throne and the French-Canadian people solid bonds which neither adversity nor bribery could sever.” Watson, Wish, 341

[72] Sutherland, Methodism in Canada, 287. To be fair, Sutherland noted that had Riel’s Catholic mentor, Bishop A.A. Tache been present, the events would have been quelled.

[73] Stark, Progress, 53. Italics added for emphasis. On the theme of missions, Wish also notes the desire to meet Indigenous Christians and takes time noting which version of Christianity the so-called converts practiced. Although this is not stated outright, there is a sense that there is some missionary competition taking place between Western Catholics and Methodists: “On returning to [Vancouver] at dusk their Royal Highnesses received addresses from the Indian ‘converts,’ Methodist and Roman Catholic.” Watson, Wish, 388. This is a possible example of the tensions between Methodists and Catholics

[74] Grant, Thanksgiving, 226.

[75] Grant as advocate for Confederation: “There was my first principle of political action; British North America must unite and must resolutely and patiently cultivate a union of hearts and of interests.” Grant, Thanksgiving, 224.

[76] Grant, Thanksgiving, 231.

[77] Grant, Thanksgiving, 232

[78] Grant, Thanksgiving, 231.

[79] It is worth noting that Grant did not support Temperance movements for both moral and financial reasons: “[Temperance concerns] have been intensified by the remedies zeal without knowledge urges and by immoral proposals to abolish it without compensating those who  under the sanction of law have invested their all in a lawful business.” Grant, Thanksgiving, 232.

[80] Grant, Thanksgiving, 232.

[81] Grant, Thanksgiving, 232.

[82] He would go on to say: “To preach that men should live noble lives and cultivate heroic characters, while the preacher himself is satisfied with belonging to a dependent, ignoble community that has no thought but of selfish pleasure or money-making and no passion save for party triumphs, is not to fulfil the function of a prophet of Israel.” Grant, Thanksgiving, 221.

[83] McDonagh, Sabbath, 48.

[84] Anon., “Baptist Year Book,” 24.

[85] Grant, John Webster. A Profusion of Spires: Religion in Nineteenth-Century Ontario. (Toronto: Ontario Historical Society, 1988.), 194.

[86] Anon., Endeavor, 397.

[87] Bryce, Social, 22.

[88] Bryce, Social, 25.

[89] Bryce, Social, 23.

[90] Defining of the real evangelical experience of personal faith that is not cold religion but a vibrant and visible faith: “So is it with the soul today that finds Jesus. Jesus becomes a different being. He is loved instead of being respected or admired. He is trusted; He is looked to; He is lived in. Truly, and with deep humility the soul can say: He is my dearest Friend. I feel towards Him as to no other one on earth or heaven. And along with this the life is changed. Old loves have died away; old sins lost power; old haunts no longer have attractions; old ambitions fail to sway. A life transformation has taken place.”  Hague, Andrew, 14.

[91] “Wealth may ruin but it cannot save a nation.” Grant, Thanksgiving, 232.

[92] Hague, Andrew, 28.

[93] Stark, “Progress,” 46.

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