NEW COUNTRIES ARE generally settled by adventurers, with whom religion is not a primary consideration. Pious persons are seldom found willing to break off their former connections, and forsake the land where both they and their fathers have worshipped God. Persons coming from a country where religious institutions are observed into one where they are neglected, unless they have known something of the power of godliness, will feel themselves set free from restraints which were far from being pleasant. They will find the profanation of the Sabbath, and the neglect of religion, quite congenial to their unrenewed minds; and, if this is the case when they first settle in the woods, what can we expect when they have lived a number of years without religious instruction? May we not expect that depraved passions will be indulged; that vices will be practised with avidity, and that the future world will be neglected amidst the clamorous demands of the present? This we find to be actually the case in the back woods of America. It is true, there are few new colonies in which some persons are not to be found who feel the power of religion, but even they discover how soon evil communications corrupt good manners. Professing Christians themselves, where they are placed where no Sabbaths are observed, and no religious ordinances administered, soon become lamentably deficient in the discharge of Christian duties.
Though religion in Canada is at a low ebb, it is evidently upon the advance; and when the want of faithful labourers in different parts of the country is supplied, by the blessing of God, we may expect a great reformation to take place. The people are not so destitute of speculative knowledge, as of moral habits and religious principle. I have met with many of the old settlers, who have lived from twenty to forty years in the country, and who could talk fluently, and even correctly, in praise of religion, and yet they would drink, swear, profane the Sabbath, and neglect the duties of religion as much as the most ignorant of their neighbours. Occasional instruction will not suffice: there must be line upon line, and precept upon precept before we can expect to see vice wither and religion flourish. Professing Christians must be collected into congregations, and superintended by pious, active, and faithful ministers. But how is this to be effected? The people are neither able nor willing to support ministers at their own expense, and there is no provision of a general nature made for them, either by public authority or private exertions. The few ministers that are here are making every effort to disseminate the good seed of the word, but what are they in such an extensive country? A hundred, or even two hundred ministers, might find ample employment in Upper Canada, had they the means of support. Previous to the late war, the number of ministers of all denominations was very small. Since 1815 they have greatly increased.
The church of England claims an establishment here, and meets with a decided preference from the members of government. The bishop of Quebec has the oversight of all the interior clergy in both provinces. All the ministers belonging to that communion in the two provinces are missionaries from the Society for the propagation of the Gospel, and receive their salaries from the funds of that institution. You will be able to form a tolerably correct idea of the extent of their congregations from the following extract from the Society’s Report for the year 1821, which is the latest I have at hand.
“LOWER CANADA – At fifteen stations there are fifteen missionaries: One has £215; thirteen have £200 each, and one £100. The visiting missionary (Hon. and Rev. Dr. Stewart) has £300 per annum. Marriages 87 – baptisms 26 – communicants 210 – burials 57.
UPPER CANADA – At seventeen stations there are seventeen missionaries: Of whom, one at York has £275 Sterling per annum, fifteen have £200 each, and one £50. The missionary at Ancaster has £20 in addition, as visitor to the Indians; and there is a schoolmaster to the Mohawks at £30, and a catechist at £10 per annum. Marriages 118 – baptisms 348 – communicants 118 – Burials 57.”
The Presbyterian church in Canada adheres to the doctrines, discipline, and mode of worship, of the church of Scotland. In the lower province there is one Presbytery, but it has not, of late, held any regular meetings. In the upper province there are three Presbyteries, which meet in general synod once a-year. The number of the congregations in the lower province, with which I am acquainted, is eight; namely, one in Quebec, which has been established many years, and is both numerous and respectable. The Rev. Dr. Sparks, their first minister, died in 1818. The Rev. Dr. Harkness, their present pastor, has been settled among them about four years. Two in Montreal, the one under the pastoral care of the Rev. Mr. Sommerville, the other under that of the Rev. Mr. Easton. They have both been, established a good number of years, but how many I have not learned. These three have all large and commodious churches, and support their ministers both respectably and comfortably. – St. Andrews, on the Ottawa, forty-five miles above Montreal, of which the Rev. Mr. Henderson is minister. The Rev. Mr. Taylor, formerly of Stenhouse, came out with me in 1817 as the minister of this congregation, but did not fix his residence among them. Mr. Henderson, their present pastor, (formerly of Carlisle,) came out in the following year, and has laboured successfully among them ever since. The congregation meets in the school-house in the village, till a more commodious place of worship can be erected. – At La Chine, nine miles above Montreal, a congregation was collected in 1817, by the labours of Mr. Kirkland, a young man who arrived in that year from Ireland. A regular call being presented to the Presbytery, they, in July 1818, ordained him to the pastoral charge. Mr. Kirkland, however, in the following year, not finding his prospects so encouraging as he expected they would be, left La Chine and went over to the United States. In 1821, the Rev. Mr. Brunton, formerly of Aberdeen, preached some time at La Chine; but I hear he has left it, so that the congregation is again vacant. No church had been built: The congregation met in the school. house. In 1817, a small congregation was collected at River du Chine, about thirty miles above Montreal. Mr. Andrew Glen was ordained their pastor, and laboured among them about two years; but, meeting with discouragements, he left them and went to Terre-bonne, twenty miles from Montreal, where he taught the government school two or three years. By his preaching on Sabbath days he collected a small congregation; but as he left the place in 1822, they have had no pastor since that date. – At Chambly, sixteen miles east from Montreal, since 1817, a preacher has sometimes officiated for a short time, but the congregation has never been regularly organised, or joined in church-fellowship. At present it has no supply of preaching.
In Lower Canada (except in Quebec and Montreal) Protestant congregations are small; a vast majority of the people being Roman Catholics. Hence ministers cannot be supported by the people, and are soon forced to relinquish their charge. O that some of your missionary societies, that have done so much for the heathen would do something for this country. Here are thousands of nominal Christians, who will do little or nothing to provide religious instruction for themselves or their children, who might yet be reclaimed by the friendly assistance of others. A few faithful ministers are making every exertion in their power, but they are unsupported by any missionary or other society, and have to devote the great part of their time to the teaching of schools, to obtain the means of support.
IN THE UPPER PROVINCE there are eighteen ministers, and thirty congregations. Some of the latter, it is true, are in an infant state, but so were the greatest in the world at their first commencement. This province is capable of supporting a numerous population; and I trust the day is not far distant, when the handful of corn which is now scattering over its barren surface, shall shake with prosperous fruit like the cedars of Lebanon. In giving an outline of their history, I shall observe no other method, than merely to begin at the lower part of the province, and go over them in succession. The four first are all in Glengary, and are at the distance of from sixty to seventy miles above Montreal. The most northerly of these is Lochel.
1 The congregation of Williamstown lies in the middle of Glengary, and is both numerous and respectable. As you may expect, they are mostly Highlanders, and give a decided preference to the Gaelic language. This probably is the oldest Presbyterian congregation in the province. For many years it enjoyed the services of the Rev. Mr. Bertram, who died one year before I came to the country. Their present pastor, the Rev. Mr. McKenzie, is from Scotland, and was settled among them in 1819.
2 Lochiel is about thirty miles north from the St. Lawrence, on the road from Cornwall to the Grand River. It is mostly inhabited by Scotch Highlanders, who have shown a laudable zeal in providing themselves and their children with religious instruction. In the year 1815, a neat and commodious church was erected, and, in the following one, the Rev. Mr. McLaren was sent out from Scotland as their pastor. His success in his labours has been considerable, and be preaches both in Gaelic and English.
3 Connected with the above, there is another congregation on the River Raisin, where Mr. McKenzie occasionally preaches, but they are not yet in a condition to support a minister themselves.
4 McMartin’s Mills is also in Glengary, about six miles from Williamstown, and eight from Cornwall. The Congregation at this place is one of the most numerous in Canada. They have a church capable of containing from 400 to 500 people, and it is generally well filled. They formed one branch of Mr. Bethune‘s congregation. That gentleman had four places of worship, which he supplied in rotation, of which this was one, Cornwall another, Williamstown a third, and Lancaster a fourth. The Rev. Mr. Fletcher is the pastor of the congregation at McMartin’s Mills. He came to Glengary as a teacher at the termination of the war with the United States, and, on receiving a unanimous call to McMartin’s Mills, was ordained in 1819. He preaches both in Gaelic and English.
5 Lancaster is a village on the bank of the St. Lawrence, sixty-four miles above Montreal, and contains a church in which Mr. Bethune formerly preached. The congregation here have never been able to support a minister, but they are sometimes supplied with preachers from other places.
6 Cornwall is a neat well-built town, standing on the bank of the St. Lawrence, eighty-four miles above Montreal, and twenty miles above Lancaster. The Presbyterians have a church in which Mr. Bethune formerly preached. The Rev. Mr. Johnstone is their present pastor, and came to them from Ireland in 1817. He is active and indefatigable in the discharge of his duty but a dispute with some neighbouring magistrates has involved him in considerable difficulties. The old church being small, and in a decayed state, he formed the design of erecting one more elegant and of larger dimensions. With this view he raised considerable subscriptions in Quebec and Montreal, as well as in his own congregation. The fabric was not only begun, but far advanced, when it was found that some of his opponents had taken out the deed from government in their own name, as trustees. The further progress of the work was stopped, and there being no prospect of the dispute being settled, the church remains in an unfinished state.
7 Many of the congregation of Osnabruck are Dutch people, who were settled here when discharged from the army at the end of the American revolutionary war. The church stands on the banks of the St. Lawrence, thirteen miles above Cornwall, and ninety-seven from Montreal. The edifice is not large, but is neatly fitted up, though it has been a good many years built. I am not acquainted with the early history of the congregation, nor do I know that they ever had a settled minister before the Rev. Mr. Taylor, who came among them in 1817, and engaged to preach to them and to the people in Williamsburg alternately. There being few persons among them possessed of vital religion, the connection was attended with little comfort to either party. After labouring for two years with little success, Mr. Taylor crossed the St. Lawrence, and settled in a congregation of his own countrymen, in the State of New York. Mr. Johnstone of Cornwall is now their pastor, whose enterprising disposition is better suited to the genius of the people.
8 Williamsburg is the next township above Osnabruck. The congregation is nearly of the same description with that of the last mentioned place. They had a church built many years ago, but never had a pastor except for a short time. Mr. Taylor supplied them while he remained on this side of the river. Since he left them, Mr. Johnstone has been their minister and preacher at Cornwall, Williamsburg, and Osnabruck, alternately.
9 Matilda is the next township above Williamsburg. It is thirty-three miles above Cornwall, and fifteen below Prescott. A congregation was formed here some years ago, and a place of worship erected, but the want of a minister has greatly hindered its prosperity, and it is at present in a divided and scattered state.
10 Prescott, sometimes called Fort Wellington, because it is in the neighbourhood of that fort, is forty-eight miles above Cornwall and twelve below Brockville. It is rising into a place of some importance, being a port of entry, and the place at which a ferry-boat constantly plies between Canada and Ogdensburg in the State of New York. It was only during the last war that it began to be a village, and then Mr. Smart of Brockville preached sometimes, both to the country people and to the soldiers of the garrison. At the time I landed there, and for some years both before and after, it was distinguished for scenes of profligacy and wickedness. The Sabbath was profaned in the most open manner, and swearing, drunkenness, and other vices were quite common. From having resided there a few days, I had a strong wish that the people should be provided with religious instruction. I preached to them once myself, and earnestly requested Mr. Smart to visit them as often as possible and endeavour to promote reformation. He did so and, in the mean time, was looking out for a more permanent supply. In 1820, Mr. Boyd, a young preacher from Ireland, arrived. He was engaged to teach the school in the village, and preach to the congregation on the Sabbath day. He lodged for some time with Mrs. Jessup a widow lady of considerable property and influence in the place. His labours were acceptable, both as a teacher and preacher. His congregation, as well as his school, greatly increased and considerable exertions were made for his support. A call was prepared and laid before the Presbytery, which Mr. Boyd having accepted, he was ordained by the Presbytery of Brockville on the 2nd of February, 1821. The prospect being encouraging, he determined, if possible, to get a church erected. Mrs. Jessup gave the ground gratis, and the congregation contributed to the utmost of their power. Still, however, funds were wanting, to supply which, Mr. Boyd made a journey to Montreal and other places and collected a very considerable sum. In the course of the summer the church was built, and in December following I received a letter from Mr. Boyd informing me that on the 12th of January it was to be dedicated to the service of God, and requesting me to preach on the occasion, and assist at the administration of the Lord’s Supper on the following day. To this call I attended with pleasure, and have seldom been more gratified than I was with the appearance of things, when I reached Prescott. A handsome and commodious place of worship, capable of containing from 300 to 400 people, was not only erected, but finished in a manner creditable to all concerned. I preached in the afternoon to a crowded congregation, and in the evening again addressed them on the nature and design of the Lord’s Supper, and on the manner in which that ordinance should be observed. On the Sabbath day, Mr. Johnstone, who was expected, not having arrived in time, I preached again to a crowded audience. After sermon the sacrament was administered to about forty communicants; and seldom have I witnessed a more solemn and interesting scene. Mr. Smart preached an excellent sermon in the evening. The day was one of the coldest I ever experienced; but the congregation had taken care to have the church furnished with a good stove. In the course of the summer I again assisted Mr. Boyd at the administration of the sacrament, when some additions were made to the church, and every thing seemed to indicate that Mr. Boyd‘s labours were attended with success. His plans and endeavours to promote improvement were, it is true, in certain quarters meeting with opposition. But this was to be expected. No reformation can be made without giving offence to some. Mr. Boyd has suffered some inconvenience from the present embarrassed state of the country in a pecuniary point of view; but he still continues his exertions with unremitting zeal, and in the last letter I received from him, he speaks of resigning his school at midsummer, and devoting himself wholly to the ministry.