On July 1st, 1867, the British North America Act went into effect and the Dominion of Canada was born, consisting, at the time, of the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, but which would eventually grow to include all the provinces and territories under the sovereignty of the British Crown in continental North America. Four months later, on the Feast of All Saints, a man who had called for the confederation of British North America decades before the political realities of the 1860s spurred our statesmen into action on the matter, went to his eternal reward. That man was the Right Reverend John Strachan, the first Anglican Bishop of Toronto. For much of the half century prior to Confederation Strachan had been the spiritual and intellectual leader of Upper Canada. He was also the very embodiment of Toryism in its pure, undiluted form. A much watered-down version of this same Toryism inspired and drove the Fathers of Confederation, a fact that the Liberal Party has always resented, which resentment has been behind their relentless efforts to undo Confederation and re-make the country into their own, warped, image. In these efforts, they have been all too lamentably successful.
John Strachan was born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1778, while the American Revolution was underway. (1) When he was fourteen, his father died in an accident at the local granite quarry of which he was the overseer, and the support of his mother and sisters fell upon him. He was able, through tutoring and teaching, to both provide that support and to fund his own studies in divinity at the University of Aberdeen. After a number of disappointments in his efforts to improve his situation in Scotland, he was told that an academy had been founded in Kingston, Upper Canada with the intention that it would grow into a college, and that the principalship of the school was offered to him. He accepted the offer and crossed the Atlantic only to discover that the school was just theoretical. Nevertheless, he found a patron in the Hon. Richard Cartwright, the United Empire Loyalist from Albany, New York who had rebuilt his family’s fortune as a businessman in Kingston, and served as a judge and legislator in the province. Cartwright made Strachan the tutor of his eldest sons, and soon other leading Loyalist families put their sons under his tutelage as well.
One of the Loyalists who sent his sons to study under Strachan was Dr. John Stuart, the founding rector of the Anglican parish in Kingston that would eventually evolve into St. George’s Cathedral (the basis of the fictional St. Nicholas’ Cathedral that features in Robertson Davies’ Salterton trilogy). It was Dr. Stuart who persuaded Strachan to seek ordination in the Church of England. Strachan had come from a family that was mixed religiously, and while the theology he had been taught in Aberdeen was that of his mother’s Presbyterianism, he was more drawn to the non-juring, Scottish Episcopal Church of his father, and would become a staunch advocate of the beliefs, practices, and rights of that Church’s English counterpart. In 1803 he was ordained a deacon in the Church of England, by Dr. Jacob Mountain, the first bishop of the diocese of Quebec, which at the time included all of the Anglican Churches in what is now Quebec and Ontario. The following year he was ordained a priest. His first assignment was to the mission church in Cornwall.
His entering into Holy Orders ought not to be considered a change in careers. He certainly did not see it that way himself and, if anything, his educational efforts increased after his ordination. This is entirely in keeping with his philosophy of education, in which the Church was the institution best suited to provide a sound education on a solid religious foundation. Accordingly, one of the first things he did upon taking up the ministry in Cornwall was to establish a grammar school which quickly achieved distinction. His student roster resembles a Who’s Who of the next generation of judicial, executive, legislative, and ecclesiastical leadership of Upper Canada. The school was basically a traditional, British, parochial grammar school – a classics based curriculum, daily prayer services, and an emphasis on character formation, especially the instillation of a sense of civic and religious duty – but with a larger role for what we would today call STEM classes. The non-existent academy that had lured him to Canada he thus ended up creating himself.
It was during his ministry in Cornwall that he met and married Ann, the daughter of the local physician, and the young widow of Montreal businessman Andrew McGill. He also became a close friend of his wife’s brother-in-law from her first marriage, James McGill, and convinced him to bequeath his large estate for the purpose of founding of a college. This, of course, is how McGill University came to be. Strachan was named a trustee of the college in McGill’s will and was intended by McGill to be the school’s first principal, although his commitments in Upper Canada ultimately prevented him from taking this position in Lower Canada.
In 1812 Strachan accepted the post of rector of the Anglican parish in York. At the time the future city of Toronto was just a small town, but an important one, being the capital of Upper Canada. Sir Isaac Brock, the Lieutenant Governor of the province, appointed him the chaplain to the military garrison stationed at York at the same time that he assumed the rectorship. This was immediately prior to the outbreak of war. The grasping and covetous Yankees, believing that all of North America was destined to belong to their republic, declared war on the British Empire on the assumption that her preoccupation with the Napoleonic war in Europe, would render British North America vulnerable to their plans of conquest. At the cost of much bloodshed, they were proven to be mistaken as the Canadians took up arms and fought alongside the Imperial army and such Indian allies as the Ojibwas and the Iroquois Confederacy to repel the invaders who arrogantly saw themselves as liberators. In all of this, Strachan played a major role, not only through his role as military chaplain and by using his pulpit to promote patriotic Loyalism, but as the main organizer of the “Loyal and Patriotic Society of Upper Canada”, to raise support for the relief of the wounded, widows, and orphans. He also had the unfortunate task of having to negotiate terms in 1813 when American forces overwhelmed the defenders of York and forced the Imperial troops to retreat to Kingston. He was able to secure the release of the starving, sick, and wounded militia men who had been taken prisoner, but was unable, due to the inability of the American general to control his men, to completely prevent the burning and looting of York. (2) Had he not already been a man of strong Loyalist, royalist, and Tory principles, firmly and fundamentally opposed to liberalism, republicanism, and everything else the United States stood for, this experience would have made him one, and it steeled him in these convictions.
After the war Strachan found himself fighting the forces of liberal, secular, American republicanism in the domestic form of the subversive Reform movement – the movement from which the Liberal Party of Canada, eventually sprung. The Reform movement, created by pamphleteers and yellow journalists, had as its initial goal the transformation of Canada into a Yankee style republic, but when they found that this would not sell – the republican revolution attempted by William Lyon Mackenzie in 1837 received little support and was easily defeated (3) – they moderated this into a demand for “responsible government.” This consisted of a two-fold transfer of power – first, from the Imperial to the provincial government, second from the executive branch of the provincial government to the legislative assembly. Even in this modified version, the Reformers, like the American Revolutionaries before them, followed in the footsteps of the seventeenth century Puritan Whigs, who had usurped the authority, rights, and privileges of the Crown because they saw the concentration of power in the elected assembly which they were able to control as the easiest path to shoving their radical agenda down everyone else’s throats. “Responsible government” is a nonsensical phrase – unfettered democracy is, and always has been, the least responsible form of government, and the well-spring of all tyranny. (4)
Strachan had been appointed to the Executive and Legislative Councils of Upper Canada in 1815 and 1820 respectively. He was not the first or only clergyman to serve in this capacity, but his presence there was regarded as intolerable by the Reformers. Nor did the fact that many of his former pupils also served on these Councils reconcile the Reformers to his presence.
When Upper Canada had been separated from Lower Canada in the late eighteenth century, the Crown had set aside land for the support of “Protestant clergy” with the obvious intent of establishing the English parochial system in the former. Strachan was a strong believer and defender of the original intent of the Clergy Reserves, whereas the Reform Movement took the position that the legislature should confiscate the land, sell it off, and use the proceeds to support – secular – education. Others did not go as far as this, but wanted the Reserves divided between the Church of England and the Presbyterian Kirk of Scotland. Still others wished to divide the Reserves further, including the non-conformist and enthusiastic sects as well.
Strachan, as we have seen, was a pioneer in the development of Upper Canadian education. This was related to his support for the re-creation of the parochial system because he believed firmly that schools administered by the Church, with a sound, orthodox, religious foundation for learning, were the best way to elevate and refine a culture, and civilize a society. He held this to be true of higher education as well and in 1827 around the time that he was made Archdeacon of York he obtained a Royal Charter along with an endowment of land for King’s College, an Anglican university of which he would serve as the president. The Reformers demanded that the university be confiscated and secularized.
The Reformers won in each these battles and it is worth noting that similar struggles were taking place in the United Kingdom at the same time. The Warden, the first of Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire, tells the story of a saintly clergyman, whose income as warden of an almhouse supported by a land bequest dating back centuries, comes under attack by a newspaper editor bent on reform, who makes up for what he lacks in the way of brains and information with an overabundance of self-important ideals. While the story is fictional, Trollope drew from real situations and people in writing his novels, and there are obvious parallels between this and the Clergy Reserves fight in Upper Canada. Not long after the battle for King’s College in Canada, liberal reformers in Britain successfully used their strength in Parliament to force secularizing reforms on Oxford University, diverting much of its endowments from their intended purposes in theological education, and weakening the school’s ties to the Church by making religious services and subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles optional. (5) This helps to illustrate the sad point that George Grant made in Lament for a Nation that our vulnerability to Americanization despite our Tory Fathers best efforts to shield us against it is largely due to liberal rot having already set in throughout the British Empire, including the mother country herself.
At the heart of each of these three conflicts can be seen the same basic clash of ideals. The Reformers were motivated by a liberal ideal that had first been enunciated by the Anabaptists and one extreme branch of the Puritans and which later was enshrined in the Constitution of the American republic, the doctrine of separation of Church and State. This is a false ideal from the perspective of both sound theology and sound politics. The reasons why it is bad theology are too long to get into here. (6) Politically it is unsound because it reduces religion to a matter of personal choice and hinders if not outright prevents its being the force for social and civil good that it is supposed to be. Strachan understood this and fought for Church establishment on sound, orthodox, principles. He lost each of these battles – he resigned his positions on the Executive and Legislative Councils, was forced by the legislative assembly to sell the Clergy Reserves, and saw King’s College confiscated by the legislative assembly and secularized into the University of Toronto. In both cases the legislative assembly grossly exceeded their authority thus illustrating what I said earlier about democracy being the well-spring of tyranny for the confiscation of endowed property and the perversion of educational institutions into the opposite of what their founder intended constitutes a form of tyranny. They got away with it because the Imperial government, not wanting to risk another American revolution so soon after the first one, was unwilling to check the provincial legislature when it stepped out of bounds. Nevertheless, while the Reformers defeated Strachan’s vision of Church establishment, they fell short of achieving their own goal of separation of Church and State which goes beyond mere non-establishment. (7)
Strachan’s response to these losses is most admirable and shows tremendous character. After the legislative robbery of King’s College, he raised the funds to create a new Anglican university, Trinity College, for which he obtained a second Royal Charter! In 1839 the Church of England in the Canadas had grown sufficiently that is was deemed appropriate to divide the Diocese of Quebec and form the Diocese of Toronto of which he was consecrated the first Bishop. He continued to promote the growth of the ministry of the English Church, and despite the loss of the Clergy Reserves was successful enough to warrant the formation of two more Dioceses out of his own, the Diocese of Huron in 1857 and the Diocese of Ontario in 1862. Even before his efforts to create an established, parochial, system failed, he had the foresight to plan for a day when the Church would have to govern and support itself apart from Royal patronage, and in 1851 formed the first Diocesan Synod, setting the precedent that would be followed by the Anglican Church throughout the Dominion of Canada.
If Bishop Strachan, the orthodox Churchman who stood for “Apostolic Order and Evangelical Truth” can see the huge leap away from both that the Anglican Church of Canada is planning on taking in its next General Synod, he is undoubtedly spinning in his tomb, beneath the High Altar of St. James, the parish he pastored in Toronto the building of which, having to be rebuilt due to fire, re-opened as his Cathedral upon his return from his consecration at Lambeth Palace in 1839. This is all the more true if he can also see how Papa Doc and Baby Doc Trudeau have done their worst to turn the Dominion of Canada that had just come into being prior to his departure from this life into a crummy, Communist, Third World, dunghole and how the educational system of Canada, that he put so much thought and effort into, and which at its height produced such minds as Marshall McLuhan, George Grant, Harold Innis, Robertson Davies, Northrop Frye, Donald Creighton and Eugene Forsey has so decayed that it is now churning out unreflective morons who buy wholly in to the militant “wokeness” that has come to infest our country and fail to recognize it for what it is, a cruel totalitarianism that is far closer in spirit than anything else in Canada today to the regime against which we and the rest of the British family of nations bravely went to war in 1939. Whereas Bishop Strachan fought for Canada’s soul, today’s progressives have sold it.
Happy Dominion Day
God Save the Queen!
(1) For the biographical details included in this essay I consulted Alexander Neil Bethune, Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan, D. D., L.L.D., First Bishop of Toronto, Toronto, Henry Rowsell, 1870. The author had attended Strachan’s Grammar School in Cornwall, later became a divinity student under him, was appointed chaplain by Strachan upon his elevation to the episcopacy, then later archdeacon, and was chosen and consecrated by Strachan as coadjutor bishop in his final days, and thus ultimately succeeded him as bishop of Toronto.
(2) The following year, the Yanks experienced payback when the Imperial forces burned the city they had built on the marshy territory between the Potomac River and Tiber Creek. However, since most Americans rightly consider the swamp gas that is still emitted from the goings on in that city to be the source of a major part of their woes, perhaps we should think of this not so much in terms of payback but as doing them a favour.
(3) Mackenzie went into exile but later returned and was elected to the legislative assembly. His attempt at violent revolution ought to have barred him from even running for public office. Ideally, the ban would have extended to his descendants as well. His grandson and namesake, became Canada’s longest-serving Prime Minister and was also Canada’s third or fourth worst Prime Minister after the two Trudeaus, and possibly Pearson, depending upon which you consider to be worst, the treasonous betrayal of your country to both the Americans and the Soviets simultaneously (Pearson) or sabotaging our system of king/queen-in-Parliament and granting near dictatorial power to the Prime Minister’s Office (Mackenzie King). Any one of the notorious Black Donnellys of Kingston, even if they had been guilty of ten times the crimes of which their neighbours accused them before lynching them in 1880, would have made a better Prime Minister than any of these contemptible, lowlife, creeps.
(4) The most responsible form of government, is the traditional mixed king/queen-in-Parliament system, which still survives in Britain and Canada although badly damaged by the efforts towards democratic absolutism of liberals in both countries in the seventeenth and twentieth centuries respectively. The Whig Interpretation of History maintains that this system emerged from the triumph of the Puritans over the Stuarts in the seventeenth century, but this is nonsense. It is the Stuarts who were the champions of the balanced, responsible, Westminster system against the Puritans and the Whigs who sought to subvert it. Also nonsense is the Liberal “Authorized Version” of Canadian history which re-writes our story from one of noble Loyalism into a version of the American struggle for independence. That the majority of Canadian historians teach the Liberal version lends it no credibility. It is merely more evidence that the Liberal Party of Canada operates like the Communist Party of North Korea, where only the Kim-approved official version of Korean history is allowed to be taught. Which is one reason why aspersions cast by the Canadian Historical Association on the “academic merit” of the work of others ought to be treated as nothing more than a laughable joke. For real Canadian history the best writers were Donald Creighton and W. L. Morton.
(5) See the second volume of Edward Meyrick Goulburn’s extensive biography of John William Burgon, for an account of how Burgon, later the Dean of Chichester Cathedral but at the time the vicar of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin – the position held by John Henry Newman before his defection across the Tiber – fought, heroically but unsuccessfully, against these reforms. The biography was published by John Murray of London in 1892.
(6) I shall, Deus Vult, address this issue in full in a later essay. The orthodox view of the matter is that the Church and State are distinct kingdoms, under God, with their own sphere of authority. As members of the Church, baptized kings like other Christians, are subject to the authority of the Apostolic ministry, as members of the State, Bishops, like other subject-citizens, are subject to the authority of the king. Bishops govern the Church through the ministry of the keys, kings govern the State through the ministry of the sword. Church and State are complementary and distinct, but not separate. See George Hickes, The Constitution of the Catholick Church and the Nature and Consequences of Schism, 1716, especially the 42 propositions in the section found on pages 62 to 129, as well as the section on Church and State, Part V, found in the second volume of William Palmer’s A Treatise on the Church of Christ Designed Chiefly for the Use of Students of Theology, London, J. G. & F. Rivington, 1838.
(7) Liberal writers such as Michael Harris and Warren Kinsella have sometimes claimed that separation of Church and State is a Canadian value. If this is not just a simple matter of confusing our history and tradition with that of the United States, then they presumably have the outcome of the battles over the Church Reserves and King’s College in mind. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that non-establishment is the full equivalent of separation of Church and State, which it is not. This still would not make the separation of Church and State a Canadian value. By Canada, the Liberal writers mean the Dominion of Canada, the country founded by the Confederation of British North America. The above battles affected only Upper Canada – Ontario. They did not affect the other provinces of British North America, not even Lower Canada – Quebec – in which the Roman Catholic Church was firmly established and remained so until the Quiet Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s. Quebec’s controversial Bill 21, just passed, does indeed seem to have created a separation of Church and State, but only in the province of Quebec. Warren Kinsella in a recent column condemned it as fascist. Whether he is right or wrong is a subject for another time, although I will say that in my opinion Quebec would have been better off going the route of undoing the Quiet Revolution and re-establishing the Roman Church than taking the path of complete secularization. I merely wish to point out the extremely amusing irony of the self-contradictory position Kinsella has taken.
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