Christian Faith Motivated Early Canadian Leaders
A short collection of “hip-hip hooray” for a few of my favourites whose Christian faith motivated them in creating Canada;
First – Cheer for the early pioneers of the Salvation Army who in the late 1800’s were beaten and jailed in Canada for their radicalism, but who created a shelter for pregnant women that my own birth mother would stay at. The Salvation Army’s Christian advocacy in 1905 created Canada’s first immigration policies, parole system and shaped our nation’s social services, even giving me my first home.
Next a cheer to Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley, who had made a fortune with his apothecary but confronted the stewardship question: What is the purpose of whatever power and influence I find in my hands?” His journal records that screaming children in a Gagetown murder led him to activism. The “rum inspired murder” of the children’s mother so haunted him, historians marked the crime as the catalyst for his entrance into public life.
Running on a temperance platform, Tilley eventually became premier of New Brunswick. Worried that Canadian provinces would fall one by one under the rowdier influence of the United States, he went on to help write the British North America Act and to enter into negotiations for a new union.
On Day 2 of discussions about what to call the proposed United Canada, Tilley, practicing his morning routine, read from the Bible and, that day, he happened to read Psalm 72, which teaches that power on Earth should reflect the rule of God. When reading Verse 8, “He shall have dominion from sea to sea,” he believed he’d found the name for the new Canada.
The Bible was read into the minutes of our founding conference and “Dominion” was agreed upon. Sir John A. Macdonald’s letter establishing our name to Queen Victoria explained that Dominion was “a tribute to the principles they earnestly desired to uphold.”
So it was that our first prime minister laid his hand on the Bible to be sworn in as member of the Privy Council; to this day, every prime minister has done the same, making the visible acknowledgment that God is the ideal for how nations-builders care for this land. Much like the Bible verses inscribed in stone over the public entrances to the Houses of Parliament, with the surrender to “Dominion,” we said yes to the power of the divine on our land.
Hip hip hooray to Toronto’s Elizabeth McMaster, who in 1875 declared, “she was led by the Spirit of God to found the Hospital for Sick Children and that having accepted the work as from God, she could never resign it.”
A letter dated Oct. 19, 1878, in which she was negotiating with a heating contractor explained, “We get our money only as the Lord sends it, and that only in answer to believing prayer. The Lord seldom sends us a surplus, but has never left us want any necessary thing. We consider it right to make this statement to you before you commence work, that you might either work, trusting God for the money, as we do, or not at all. We’d like to hear from you by Wednesday noon . . .”
Who would think that on such a financing principle the hospital would flourish — and bring into being the first milk pasteurization plant in Canada, and go on to establish 400 life-giving research projects in 75 fields? Let Elizabeth remind us to prayer for faith filled Christians who inspire the next cures for Canada’s health care needs.
And cheers also for a 19th-century theologian, Orientalist and academic, Benjamin Davies, who created the Classics Department at Montreal’s McGill University because he believed that a learned clergy was “Canada’s chief asset in establishing a moral climate for a new nation.”
Cheer too for Nellie McClung, who argued in Britain that Canadian women deserved to be declared legal “persons.” Motivated by biblical commands of equality, she explained, “How very glad I would be to exercise my religion in a peaceable, blameless, mellow way, to sing hymns, read my Bible, teach dainty little dimpled darlings in Sunday school, carry jellies to the sick, entertain strangers, and let it go at that. Then I would have the joy of hearing people say, ‘She is a very sweet woman.’ But here is the trouble. God demands our love, not just our amiability.”
The great reality of God in our lives and our land, and our ongoing attempts at integrating faith and citizenship, is why millions of Canadians will celebrate Canada Day at their churches this 150th anniversary. We’ll be at the source of what fuels us to love our neighbor and sacrifice for a better tomorrow.
Hip Hip Hooray for God keep our land, Glorious and Free!