By Michael Wagner
For much of Canada’s history, Christianity was a dominant cultural force. Roman Catholicism was extremely influential in French-speaking Canada and Protestantism was extremely influential in English-speaking Canada.
This phenomenon can be seen clearly in Canada’s education system. Until the final third of the twentieth century, Christianity had a strong presence in public schools across the country. Christianity’s role in education is solid evidence that historically Canada was a Christian country.
University of Ottawa Religious Studies professor Robert Choquette includes a chapter about the role of Christianity in education in his book Canada’s Religions: An Historical Introduction(University of Ottawa Press, 2004).
Provincial governments have jurisdiction over education in Canada and each provincial system has its own unique history and policies. Therefore it can be difficult to make generalizations about education policy in Canada. However, in most cases a close look at the educational system of any particular province will demonstrate the robust influence of Christianity, at least until the latter part of the twentieth century.
Ontario is a good example. The government of Upper Canada (as it was then known) adopted legislation in 1816 to create common schools (as public schools were then known). By 1838 about 50% of school-age children were enrolled in such schools.
After the union of Canada West (Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec) in 1841, new education legislation was adopted. According to Choquette, this new law “allowed the confessional minority (Catholic or Protestant) of any school district to elect its own school trustees and to establish its own school that would be distinct from the school of the majority in that district” (p. 289). In other words, there could be parallel public schools—one primarily Protestant and the other primarily Catholic. This is the cornerstone of Catholic separate schools in Ontario.
The school systems of Canada West and Canada East subsequently evolved separately. The leading figure in the development of the system in Canada West was Egerton Ryerson, a Methodist minister. He became the superintendent of education in 1846 after serving as deputy-superintendent for two years. Ryerson developed a system of common schools on the premise that they should be available to all school-age children. Importantly, as Choquette points out, “It was understood that these common schools would be Christian” (p. 290).
The Christian emphasis within Ontario’s school system would remain for many years. According to Choquette, Canadian churches were aggressive in promoting Christianity during the latter part of the nineteenth century and this affected the education system to some degree: “By the turn of the twentieth century, Canada’s Catholic and Protestant churches had made significant gains in their distinct but similar campaigns to transform the Dominion of Canada into the Dominion of the Lord, and schools were key instruments in this enterprise” (p. 292).
To make a long story short, Christianity wasn’t eradicated from Ontario’s school system until after the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was adopted in 1982. By 1990, two important court cases had determined that Christian influences within Ontario’s education system violated the Charter of Rights. Thus the Ontario government quickly eliminated those Christian influences. As Choquette notes, “For the first time, nearly 150 years after its founding, the Ontario public school system is required to be religiously neutral in its curriculum and activities” (p. 295). Neutrality in education is impossible, so what this really means is that Christian influences were replaced by secular influences.
Although most public schools across Canada today are thoroughly secular, that is a relatively recent development. Choquette writes, “Between 1850 and 1960, the vast majority of schools in Canada, whether public, separate, private, elementary, secondary, or post-secondary, were confessional schools. Given the small numbers of Canadians of religions other than Christian, this meant that schools were usually Christian” (pp. 291-292). This is clear evidence that Canada was a Christian country for most of its history.
Michael Wagner is an independent researcher and writer with a PhD in political science from the University of Alberta. Among his books are Leaving God Behind: The Charter of Rights and Canada’s Official Rejection of Christianity and Standing on Guard for Thee: The Past, Present and Future of Canada’s Christian Right. He and his wife have eleven children and live in Edmonton.
A few years ago, I went to a convention where I sang the many verses of ‘O Canada’ that reflected a rich fervent prayer to God. I thought, ‘Why isn’t the entire anthem sung publicly? These are words rich in faith and and prayer.’
I actually thought that a conspiracy prevented us from knowing the ‘true’ words. In doing this research, I now understand for the first time, the history of the national anthem or ‘Chant National’. I guess it would indeed take a bit of time to stand at attention and sing four verses of a song (unless it is set to rap for young people).
According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Canada) and The Canadian Encyclopedia (http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/o-canada/), the words for Canada’s National Anthem, ‘O Canada’ were written by a man who was a lawyer, author, judge and professor – Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier – in the Spring of 1880. He was born in Saint-Placide Quebec in 1839.
The music was written by the then popular pianist, composer, and music teacher, Calixa Lavallee who was born near Montreal Quebec in 1842.
O Canada was first performed jointly by three bands on June 24th, 1880 (thirteen years after Confederation) at a convention banquet as the patriotic song, Chant National, for the Saint Jean Baptiste Society in Quebec City.
It gained popularity and gradually spread across Canada with many English-language variations of the original. One version was even written by Sir George-Etienne Cartier for the Saint Jean Baptiste celebrations in 1884.
It is said that the original manuscript no longer exists, but two copies of the first edition exist. The first edition cover is adorned by the picture of then Lieutenant General of Quebec, Theodore Robitaille, surrounded by maple leaves, and the name C. Lavallee printed across the bottom of the cover.
One copy is in the archives of the Quebec Seminary and the other in the Faculty of Music in the University of Montreal. Click here (http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/o-canada/) to view the cover.
Since 1880, O Canada has appeared in many forms. It is believed that it was popular in Quebec for 20 years before an English version was heard, allegedly sung by schoolchildren in Toronto for the visit of the Duke of Cornwall and York, the future King George V.
The original French Lyrics (with translation) by Adolphe-Basile Routhier, 1880 are:
Sous l’œil de Dieu, près du fleuve géant,
Le Canadien grandit en espérant.
Il est né d’une race fière,
Béni fut son berceau.
Le ciel a marqué sa carrière
Dans ce monde nouveau.
Toujours guidé par sa lumière,
Il gardera l’honneur de son drapeau,
Il gardera l’honneur de son drapeau.
De son patron, précurseur du vrai Dieu,
Il porte au front l’auréole de feu.
Ennemi de la tyrannie
Mais plein de loyauté,
Il veut garder dans l’harmonie,
Sa fière liberté;
Et par l’effort de son génie,
Sur notre sol asseoir la vérité,
Sur notre sol asseoir la vérité.
Amour sacré du trône et de l’autel,
Remplis nos cœurs de ton souffle immortel!
Parmi les races étrangères,
Notre guide est la loi :
Sachons être un peuple de frères,
Sous le joug de la foi.
Et répétons, comme nos pères,
Le cri vainqueur : “Pour le Christ et le roi!”
Le cri vainqueur : “Pour le Christ et le roi!”
Under the eye of God, near the giant river,
The Canadian grows hoping.
He was born of a proud race,
Blessed was his birthplace.
Heaven has noted his career
In this new world.
Always guided by its light,
He will keep the honour of his flag,
He will keep the honour of his flag.
From his patron, the precursor of the true God,
He wears the halo of fire on his brow.
Enemy of tyranny
But full of loyalty,
He wants to keep in harmony,
His proud freedom;
And by the effort of his genius,
Set on our ground the truth,
Set on our ground the truth.
Sacred love of the throne and the altar,
Fill our hearts with your immortal breath!
Among the foreign races,
Our guide is the law:
Let us know how to be a people of brothers,
Under the yoke of faith.
And repeat, like our fathers,
The battle cry: “For Christ and King!”
The battle cry: “For Christ and King!”
In 1908, Robert Stanley Weir, a Montreal Quebec judge and poet, wrote yet another English version which was not a literal translation of the original French, but it became the most popular version. In fact, he made revisions in 1913, 1914 and 1916 before he died in 1926.
In 1927, in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation, Weir’s version of O Canada was officially published and became the most generally accepted version of the national anthem.
Map showing Nova Scotia. The first Maritime Province (which included New Brunswick and PEI)
By Michael Wagner
What does it mean to say that a particular country is a “Christian country”? There may be different legitimate answers to that question, but one very reasonable answer would be a country where a Christian church is established by law. If a Christian church is given special rights by law, to the exclusion of all other religions, there can be no dispute that such a community is Christian in some sense. The political establishment of a church makes the country “officially” Christian at least.
Three of Canada’s earliest provinces had established Christian churches. Robert Choquette, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa, writes about this in his book Canada’s Religions: An Historical Introduction(University of Ottawa Press, 2004).
Nova Scotia’s first legislative assembly was formed in 1758. At that time, Nova Scotia included the territories of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Choquette writes, “During its first session in 1758, that legislature declared the Church of England to be the state religion of the colony, but that ‘free liberty of conscience’ would be the rule for Protestant dissenters, a promise that was reiterated the following year by Governor Lawrence. The same legislation of 1758 made perpetual imprisonment the penalty for Catholic priests found exercising their ministry in Nova Scotia” (p. 163).
PEI became a separate jurisdiction in 1769. As Choquette notes, “After becoming a distinct province in 1769, the legislative assembly of Prince Edward Island restricted the rights of Catholics much as Nova Scotia had done, and also made the Church of England into its state religion (1802)” (p. 163).
New Brunswick became its own jurisdiction in 1784. According to M.H. Ogilvie, a Professor of Law at Carleton University, two years later the New Brunswick legislature passed a law making the Church of England the established church of that colony.
Ogilvie wrote an article for the Spring 1990 issue of the Osgoode Hall Law Journal called “What is a Church by Law Established?” After noting the details of church establishment in the three original Maritime Provinces, Ogilvie makes the following surprising comment: “Indeed, it may well still be the case that the Church of England is today the established church in New Brunswick – and in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island – by virtue of legislation which has never been repealed. There are no later statutes disestablishing the Church of England in these provinces” (p. 183).
However, provisions directed against Roman Catholics were repealed by law in the early nineteenth century. Choquette notes, “Official religious discrimination in Atlantic Canada only ended upon the adoption of Catholic emancipation legislation by the Parliament of Great Britain in 1829. The colonies were then told to harmonize their own laws with the new imperial legislation” (pp. 163-164).
Having officially established churches is not something that most Christians would support today. However, the presence of established churches in particular jurisdictions surely provides justification for considering those jurisdictions to be Christian in some important sense. Three of Canada’s earliest provinces had formally established churches, and this provides grounds for considering Canada to have been originally founded as a Christian country.
This is the first installment of a series of blogs which will start with: Could you Believe this???
I have completed the Lesson Outlines for Module 1 of our online program. To view our Lesson Plans, Click Here
In preparation for teaching about Our Fathers of Confederation, I am doing some of my research online using links to the Archives of Canada, Wikipedia and The Dictionary of Canadian Biography. I also have many old history books on my desk to which I refer.
All of the sites listed above give links to original source documents, which I will explore further for veracity. Some sites give an assessment of the biography of the characters from one perspective, while others give a different perspective. (Like the old poem – The Six Blind Men of Hindustan)
With these points of view, it is fairly easy to form a more objective perspective of our characters. It is my sincere hope that other students will take up the challenge to join in this research and do their own original source digging. Feel free to send me corrections. I will definitely add them to our blog pages.
Could you Believe this???
So I am reading about Sir George Etienne Cartier, (one of our Fathers of Confederation), and the part he played in the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837. Here’s what wikipedia says of Robert Nelson, one of the leaders of the insurrection.
“In 1827, Robert Nelson entered politics at the invitation of his brother, Wolfred Nelson, also a doctor and member of the Parti Patriote.
On November 24, 1837, Nelson was arrested with other politicians. He was freed soon after, not being involved with the rebels, unlike his brother, Wolfred, who participated in the Battle of Saint-Denis. His arrest, however, led him to join with the rebels who fled to the United States.
The leaders of the Patriotes voted for the quick establishment of a provisional government and the launch of an attack from the United States. Some important Patriotes voted against this idea, including Louis-Joseph Papineau.
Robert Nelson was made General of the army and elected future President of the Republic of Lower Canada.
On February 28, 1838, Nelson encamped at Alburg, Vermont with some 300 men. He proclaimed the independence of the Republic of Lower Canada and distributed copies of a declaration of independence. Soon after, they were arrested by the U.S. Army for violation of the law of neutrality of the United States. A jury, sympathetic to the Patriotes cause, acquitted him and others.
After this failed attempt, Robert Nelson and other insurrectionists decided to take the time to organize a new strike. A clandestine paramilitary association, known as the Frères chasseurs, was set up to overthrow the British colonial governments of Lower and Upper Canada and establish sovereign and democratic republics in their place. A second invasion started on November 3, 1838. Things didn’t go as planned and the invasion forces were forced to retreat.”
Oh well… we lost our opportunity to become the Republic of Canada!!! I think this is a curiously funny part of our history. I am sure I will find other stories which I will be sharing with you.
This is a self- consciously Christian blog written for a Christian audience. Our hope at ChristianRoots Canada, is for you to be inspired to dig deeper into the material you read here. We hope you will become like the Bereans (See Acts 17:11), by being diligent to check any information against your own research.
In our first post, you were challenged to think about why we celebrate Canada Day and not Dominion Day. July 1st, 1867, was the day that Canada was founded as the Dominion of Canada. Our primary mission is to show you through historical research, how God sovereignly used world events to bring Canada to this point in history in 2017. It is He who sets up nations and rules over all the earth, whether people believe it or not. (Daniel 2: 21 – He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings… )
Next, you saw how the Reformation in Europe (mainly France) brought explorers to our shores. Do you wonder HOW they knew that this land even existed? Well, we will explore the part that seafarers played in God’s plan, which led to the settling of New France by French Reformers (Huguenots) .
You will notice how God orchestrates many players on the world stage at the same time, weaving an intricate series of plots and subplots.
One such plot line was the desire people had for lighting their homes with oil, and fishermen (whalers) discovering that they could use whale oil to light their lamps AND have an abundance of meat for the winter months. We, then, get a whaling industry which peaks at or around the time that the explorers were setting out across the oceans to discover new lands and search for a passage to the Orient.
This is a self- consciously Christian blog written for a Christian audience. Our hope at ChristianRoots Canada, is for you to be inspired to dig deeper and verify any information you read here. We hope you will become like the Bereans (See Acts 17:11), by being diligent to check any information here against accurate historical research.
Have you ever thought about the important part that the oceans and rivers played in the exploration and discovery of Canadian lands? From the fishermen who discovered the fishing banks off Newfoundland, to the discovery of Hudson Bay and James Bay, to the exploration of the St. Lawrence, these waterways played key roles in establishing the Dominion of Canada.
Recently, I wanted to understand how Samuel de Champlain was able to claim so much land for New France. I pulled up Google maps and followed the rivers and lakes. It is a time consuming venture on which to embark, even with modern technology. But Champlain patiently traversed the land and mapped out rivers and lakes with the help of the Native Indian tribes.
Another interesting piece of information I discovered was the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ which European monarchs used to claim land ‘discovered’ by their representatives – land that was inhabited by the Natives. This doctrine was actually first implemented by the kingdoms of Portugal and Spain who were the leaders in navigation, shipbuilding and exploration.
When lands were ‘discovered’ on behalf of the king, small shields were nailed into trees along the rivers and lakes as claims of ownership. The first monarch to claim the estuary of a river also claimed all the tributaries and lakes flowing into the river. You can view an exhibit of this shield in Lewiston, just across from Niagara Falls on the American side.
Because the Natives could portage from one river to the next, Champlain was able to claim all the rivers flowing into the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes, the Ohio River basin and the Mississippi River basin for France. In effect, New France stretched virtually from the mouth of the St. Lawrence to New Orleans. Now you know why there was French influence in New Orleans.
See a plaque below in honour of a French explorer celebrated in Lewiston.
By Pierre5018 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?urid=50567949
Make It Personal:
- Can you map a route from the mouth of the St. Lawrence to New Orleans?
- What do you know about Portugal’s role in ‘discovering’ the New World?
- Did you hear about the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ before?
Let us know what you would like to learn more about.
Most footprints made on the sands of time were made with WORK shoes.
We live in the age of information. Some information is ‘revised’ when it comes to History. However, if you look into books written long ago before the internet became the primary source of information, you can verify facts before repeating them or even ‘sharing’ them on Facebook.
As an explicitly Christian blog written for an explicitly Christian audience, our hope at ChristianRoots Canada, is for you to be inspired to dig deeper and verify any information you read here. We hope you will become like the Bereans (See Acts 17:11), by being diligent to check any information here against accurate historical research.
In God’s Providence, I had the very great privilege to audit a class on Reformation History at the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary, from September 2016 to February 2017. This has reinforced for me, the truth of the old adage, that ‘context is king’. If you have not read about the Reformation in France, please do so. The French Reformers (Huguenots) played an important part in establishing The Dominion of Canada.