restricted access Emigration, Transatlantic Communication, and Methodist Identity in Nineteenth-Century Ontario and Québec
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PART FOUR P+++++++p IDENTITIES Emigration, Transatlantic Communication, and Methodist Identity in Nineteenth-Century Ontario and Québec Todd Webb P+++++++p On March 20, 1855, readers of the Watchman, one of the leading newspapers of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Britain, had the chance to peruse a report from “Theophilus,” identified as “our correspondent” in the British North American colonies of Lower and Upper Canada—present-day Québec and Ontario. At first glance, the article appeared to be a celebration of the present and future connections between the Methodists in the two Canadas and Britain. Theophilus described the efforts of his fellow Canadian Methodists to raise£10,000 that year for the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (WMMS) in London, England. The leading Canadian laity had mastered the lessons taught by their metropolitan counterparts—“the Farmers, Healds, Smiths, Woods, and Chappels” of British Wesleyanism, whose “zeal hath provoked many here for the fame of their doings long ago reached us.” Theophilus also wrote—thirty years before the fact, as it turned out—about the completion of a transcontinental railway linking eastern British North America with the colony of British Columbia. “When that takes place,” he stated, the Canadian Methodists could expect visits from “Wesleyan Missionaries” on their way from Britain to “China or Australasia, or somewhere else on the other side of the globe, where they can find . . . souls without salvation. I am sure such visitations will be welcome.” Having already learned from the British Wesleyan example, Canadian Methodism was set to become the great conduit of communication between the church in Britain and its missions in the East. The transatlantic links between the British Wesleyan and Canadian Methodist communities seemed to be on the high road to perfection. And yet, while applauding the current and future connections between Canadian Methodism and British Wesleyanism, Theophilus also raised some troubling points about the overall relationship between the colonies and the 230 Todd Webb metropole. He pointed out, rather tartly, that “many of the people of Britain, and professing intelligence too, blunder sadly when they speak of us.” He wondered, “Does Canada know more of England than England does of Canada?”1 In other words, how exactly did colonies such as Lower and Upper Canada fit into the British Empire? And, more specifically, to what extent had settler groups, such as the Methodists, managed to overcome the various challenges to political and cultural integration posed by geographical distance? In one form or another, these questions exercised the minds of British colonists throughout the nineteenth century.2 Strange to say, finding answers to those questions has not been a pressing concern among historians of religion in nineteenth-century Canada. We know something about the links, at both the clerical and lay level, between British Wesleyanism and American Methodism and between the Methodists in Britain and the Canadas during the 1800s.3 On the whole, however, scholars have been more interested in examining what they describe as the growing cultural exceptionalism of Canadian Methodism. The narrative they have constructed goes something like this: between 1791 and 1814 both the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Britain began to send missionaries to Lower and Upper Canada. In 1820, in an effort to avoid denominational conflict, the two churches split the gospel work in the colonies, with the British Wesleyans taking Lower Canada and the American Methodists Upper Canada. Attempting to demonstrate their loyalty to Britain, the Upper Canadian Methodist Episcopals distanced themselves from the American church during the 1820s. In 1828 they formed the independent Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada, or, more simply, the Canadian Methodist Church. Five years later, in 1833, the Canadian Methodists agreed to unite with the British Wesleyans, forming the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada. That partnership did not go well. The liberal Canadian Methodists clashed with the conservative British Wesleyans, and the union collapsed in 1840. There followed seven years of conflict between the British Wesleyans and the Canadian Methodists. In 1847, thanks to the impact of a number of internal and external forces, the British Wesleyans and the Canadian Methodists reunited. In 1854 the British Wesleyan community in Lower Canada was folded into the larger Canadian Methodist Church. That arrangement persisted well beyond 1874, when the British Wesleyans and Canadian Methodists finally agreed to go their separate ways. By the time the Canadian Methodists became independent in 1874, they were, we are told, a culturally unique group within North Atlantic Methodism...


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