The Methodists in Canada
- 1766 – Arrival of Laurence Coughlan, in Newfoundland and marked the beginning of the work there amongst the Protestant English and Irish settlers.
- 1771 – William Black, born in England but raised in Nova Scotia, commenced evangelizing in the Maritimes, his work falling under the supervision of British Wesleyans in 1800. In 1855 this body formed the Wesleyan Methodist Conference of Eastern British America
- 1774 – Barbara and Paul Heck, brought Methodism from New York to Upper Canada. They were United Empire Loyalists. Paul took up arms for the British and his farm was confiscated in Vermont and he and his family fled to Montreal.
- 1791 – William Losee, of the Methodist Episcopal Church (U.S.A.), established on Christmas Day in 1784, began work in among British immigrants to Upper Canada.
- 1828 – the Methodist Episcopal work in Canada had formally severed ties with the U.S.A. In 1833 most of it joined with the British Wesleyan to form the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada, adding to itself the Methodist people of Lower Canada in 1854. That part of it which absented itself from the union re-formed into the Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada(1834), eventually growing into the second largest Methodist body in Canada.
- 1874 – In turn the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada and the Wesleyan Methodist Conference of Eastern British America united in 1874, annexing as well the Methodist New Connection Church in Canada (itself an amalgam of several small groups), thereby forming the Methodist Church of Canada.
- 1884 – Methodist Church of Canada joined with the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada, together with the Bible Christian Church of Canada and the Primitive Methodist Church in Canada, bringing to birth the Methodist Church (Canada, Newfoundland and Bermuda.) This latter most union made the Methodist Church the largest Protestant denomination in Canada.
- 1925 – the Methodist Church united with 70% of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and 96% of the Congregational Union of Canada to form The United Church of Canada.
Canadian Methodism distinguished itself on several fronts.
Canadian Methodist Missions:
Methodists were committed to missions among aboriginals. The “first nations” had been exploited since the days of the fur trade, the exploitation manifesting itself in alcohol-abetted destitution. Eager to avoid paternalism, the Methodists sought to put mission leadership in the hands of aboriginals themselves. Peter Jones, Chief of the Mississaugas, was ordained the first aboriginal itinerant. Egerton Ryerson, soon to be the best-known Methodist minister, represented Canada in the Society for the Protection of Aboriginal Inhabitants of the British Dominions. Missions overseas paralleled those in Canada. In 1873 the Wesleyans were the first of the Canadian Methodist “family” to begin working in Japan, concentrating on evangelism, medical assistance, post-elementary education and theological training for Japanese ministers. By 1884 Canadian Methodists had established a theological college in Azabu, supported by the Women’s Missionary Society’s efforts in training Japanese women for church work. Canadian Methodist missions commenced in China in 1891 amidst circumstances that were uncommonly dangerous.
Wealth of the Canadian Methodists:
In the meantime the social position of Methodists was changing in Canada. Earlier the Church of Scotland and the Church of England had formed social elites inaccessible to Methodists, the latter being poor and frequently despised. Zealous in evangelism and ardent in their pursuit of godliness, however, their sobriety, industry and thrift fuelled their social ascendancy. Some Methodist families became wealthy: the Goodherams from grain and railways, the Masseys from farm implements, and the Flavelles from meatpacking. By mid-18th century they were able to challenge the Anglican monopoly on education and political power.
Canadian Methodists and Education:
From this position Methodism was able to make its unparalleled contribution to the public good, a system of high-quality public education. Insisting that education subserved not only the evangelical cause in particular but also the human good in general and the social good more widely still, Methodism’s educational architect, Egerton Ryerson, undid the Anglican Church’s exclusive control over education. Ryerson implemented the system operative in Canada today: high quality education available to all, without a religious or doctrinal means test. In addition the Methodists built Victoria College, offering instruction in arts and sciences, later expanding it under principal Samuel Nelles to a full-fledged university by adding faculties of law, medicine and theology, eventually moving the institution from Cobourg to Toronto in order to federate it with the University of Toronto.
Ministering to the poor and to those that are imprisoned:
Aware of John Wesley’s legacy, Canadian Methodists dedicated themselves to the alleviation of human distress on any front, their vision here being no less than social transformation. They exerted themselves on behalf of convicts and ex-convicts, prostitutes and impoverished immigrants, all the while campaigning for better housing, improved public health, unemployment insurance, pensions, compensation for injured workers, the eight-hour work day, humane working conditions and homemaking skills. Salem Bland and James Woodsworth were the most visible exponents of the Social Gospel movement in Methodism, the latter eventually leaving the ministry in order to co-found the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. The prosecution of social justice, it was thought, would largely eliminate the sources of social disharmony. At the same time leaders such as Samuel Chown continued to uphold the necessity of personal regeneration.
Concern for education and social transformation naturally gave rise to a commitment to publishing. Books, magazines and pamphlets were produced in ever-greater numbers; even by 1884 the circulation of Methodist-backed publications stood at 160,000, excluding the materials produced for overseas missions. Under William Briggs and Lorne Pierce, Methodists became instrumental in promoting a Canadian literary tradition, producing vast quantities of Canadian fiction, poetry, history and textbooks for schools.
Since 1925 much smaller denominations such as the Wesleyan Church, the Free Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Bible Methodist Church (extensions of American bodies), and The Salvation Army have endeavoured to maintain the spiritual tradition of Wesley. Collectively, however, these groups do not have the influence in public life that the Methodists exerted prior to church union.