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A Profusion of Spires

A Profusion of Spires: Religion in Nineteenth-Century Ontario

Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 291
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  • Book Info
    A Profusion of Spires
    Book Description:

    John Webster Grant traces the development of religion in Ontario from before the arrival of European settlers until the end of the nineteenth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7041-9
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. The Ontario Historical Studies Series
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  6. 1 Spirits of the Land
    (pp. 3-19)

    To think of Ontario as it was when it became a Canadian province more than a century ago is to conjure up a picture of church-centred communities whose inhabitants wholeheartedly professed the traditional doctrines of Christianity, regularly said their prayers, and participated in a variety of communal religious activities with a fervour seldom approached today. This inherited memory of ‘old-time religion’ is substantially accurate, but the situation thus described had come about as the result of a long process of religious acculturation and was always subject to significant exceptions. In the long run it also proved to be unstable, for...

  7. 2 Uprooted Traditions
    (pp. 20-35)

    Events soon dispelled any expectation that the ancestral spirits might retain undisputed possession of the land. Even at the time of the British conquest European Christianity had a foothold in what was to become Ontario, for in 1749 French settlers had begun to establish themselves on the south – later the Canadian – bank of the Detroit River. Assumption parish in Windsor, founded in 1767 for those settlers and their Wyandot neighbours, maintains to the present the longest continuous Christian witness in the province. With the outbreak of the American revolutionary war, Montreal and Niagara became bases from which colonists...

  8. 3 Foundations
    (pp. 36-51)

    The memories, convictions, devotional habits, and aspirations that the first generation of immigrants brought with them to Upper Canada constituted some of the raw material out of which an Ontario religious tradition would begin to take shape. As yet this religiosity lacked cohesion, being merely the sum of the religious baggage of individual settlers. Much of it was latent, and all of it was fragile. Whether it would be strengthened or further dissipated would depend to a great extent on the effectiveness of the religious leadership that could be made available to the province. The task would not be easy....

  9. 4 Varieties of Pioneer Religion
    (pp. 52-67)

    Providing leadership was only the first step toward eliciting religious commitment. John Stuart, on his appointment to Kingston, reported to the spg that he was obliged to teach his parishioners ‘the first principles of religion and morality’ before pressing them to become members of his church. Strachan at York in 1812 came to the same conclusion: ‘The majority had little or no sense of religion, the congregation must be made by the zeal and abilities of the clergyman.’ Nor was the people’s desire for such instruction by any means universal. William Case, carrying Methodism to the western section of the...

  10. 5 Atlantic Triangle
    (pp. 68-84)

    The War of 1812, soon largely forgotten in other parts of Canada, left an indelible mark on the Upper Canadian mentality. Most immediately, it changed colonists’ perceptions of the United States and thereby – by a peculiar but well-understood Canadian logic – their perceptions of themselves. The loyalists of an earlier era had abandoned their homes but not, at least in their own minds, their nationality. They were British Americans, Americans loyal to the Crown but none the less Americans. Those who had chosen the other side in the revolution were traitors and enemies, but it can seldom have occurred...

  11. 6 Religion on the Hustings
    (pp. 85-100)

    A striking feature of Upper Canadian life prior to the War of 1812 was the virtual absence of political agitation or even political interest. There were a few individuals who held power, many who did not, and even a few outspoken critics of those in power; but occasional ripples of discontent did little to distract most inhabitants from the more urgent tasks of clearing the forest and establishing the basic structures of community life. As late as 1822 Robert Gourlay, who had managed to get himself thrown into jail for his caustic comments on the authorities, could write that politics...

  12. 7 New Measures
    (pp. 101-117)

    While political parsons were wrangling over the clergy reserves, the religious life of Upper Canada was showing signs of considerable maturity and sophistication. In townships back of Lake Ontario and in the Huron tract, to be sure, pioneer conditions persisted into the 1830s and beyond; writing from one of the newer settlements, Featherstone Lake Osler graphically described a service held in a barn where accommodation was so limited that many worshippers could follow the proceedings only by peeking through cracks in the hayloft. Older sections of the province, some of which had been settled fifty or even eighty years previously,...

  13. 8 Echoes of Europe
    (pp. 118-134)

    What is the theological basis of authority in the church, and by whom is it legitimately exercised? Such questions, which have always lurked beneath the surface of ecclesiastical controversies, had not been examined systematically for many centuries. In the 1830s they were suddenly thrust into prominence throughout western Christendom by three apparently unrelated movements: ultramontanism in the Roman Catholic Church, the Oxford or Tractarian Movement in the Church of England, and a militant Scottish evangelicalism that ultimately led to the disruption of the national church and the formation of the Free Church of Scotland. Not long thereafter, the mass of...

  14. 9 Affairs of State
    (pp. 135-151)

    By 1840, to all appearances, tolerable compromises had brought an end to ill-tempered controversies over the clergy reserves and the provincial university that had distracted Upper Canada for more than a decade. No one was satisfied with the terms of those compromises, but arguments too often repeated had grown wearisome, and the province needed time to recover from the wounds of 1837. Besides, the balance of forces that had already compelled mutual concession seemed unlikely to be upset quickly. The Church of England had too few adherents in Upper Canada to give it a credible claim to exclusive recognition. The...

  15. 10 Mission Accomplished
    (pp. 152-169)

    By 1867 Ontario had many of the attributes of a mature society. Railways now ran where stage-coaches had bumped along rutted roads. A network of telegraph lines spanning the continent had just been connected with Europe by submarine cable, and daily newspapers relayed its messages to the public without delay. Wheat farming, increasingly efficient technologically, was nevertheless being challenged by manufacturing as the province’s economic mainstay. Entrenched privilege had given way to state-assisted enterprise, alarms of rebellion to the respectable banalities of responsible government. Surplus wealth was accumulating, and with it greater attention was being paid to literature and the...

  16. 11 The Activist Temper
    (pp. 170-185)

    One of the most conspicuous features of Ontario religious life during the last decades of the nineteenth century was the multiplication of voluntary organizations fostering particular interests or catering to particular segments of the population. Religious institutions subsidiary to or even independent of formal church structures were, of course, by no means novel. The evangelical coalitions of the early nineteenth century had found their most effective instruments in ‘benevolences’ such as temperance and missionary societies, and ultramontane confraternities and Anglo-Catholic guilds were already familiar in the province by mid-century. During the late nineteenth century, however, there was a veritable epidemic...

  17. 12 The Beckoning Vision
    (pp. 186-203)

    The multifarious group programs that appeared toward the end of the nineteenth century were intended not merely to provide work for idle hands, or even to sustain youthful interest, but to mobilize all sorts and conditions of persons for concerted action to transform the province, the nation, and ultimately the world. Mission bands, which some Ontarians will still recall as among the more innocuous exposures of childhood, were part of a general thrust to convert the world to Christ. Sunday schools following the International Lessons devoted one Sunday in each quarter to missions and another to temperance; the latter sometimes...

  18. 13 Strains in the Fabric
    (pp. 204-220)

    Contention over religious issues had been a constant feature of Ontario life from the earliest days of settlement, witnessing to the importance of religion to the inhabitants of the province but also souring relations among and sometimes within ecclesiastical bodies, complicating politics, and occasionally erupting into violence. By the end of the nineteenth century the obsolescence of some of these quarrels was making possible a large measure of practical co-operation and even talk of union among the Protestant churches that dominated the province. At the same time, resistance to social and theological innovation was opening up new areas of disagreement....

  19. 14 The Anatomy of Ontario Religion
    (pp. 221-238)

    How one identifies the dominant patterns of Ontario religion will depend on the time-line one chooses. If the period since European settlement alone is considered, centre stage will inevitably be occupied by the religious systems of the West and especially by a limited spectrum of Christian beliefs. If one takes into account the entire span of human settlement in the area now embraced in the province, the hegemony of these systems will seem an incident of a day in comparison with the unchallenged sway of native traditions that endured over millennia. In this volume, which is concerned mainly with the...

  20. Notes
    (pp. 239-275)
    (pp. 276-276)
  22. Index
    (pp. 277-291)