Info

Methodist and Presbyterian splinters consolidated into powerful denominations, and in many Ontario towns the churches and a wide range of voluntary societies were creating a strong Protestant culture. By 1900, up to half of Toronto's population was in church every Sunday, and Ontario's smaller towns and rural areas often witnessed even more faithful religious practice. This degree of Christianisation fell well below the levels in Quebec, where mass attendance was often as high as 90 per cent, but it was considerably more than in the United States.

By the last third of the century, Canada West was also opening to settlement. Early incursions by traders and trappers into the Red River Valley had left a hardy population of métis, mixed French and Indian, who resented the fact that they had not been consulted when in 1869 the Hudson Bay Company ceded the Red River region to the Canadian Dominion. Under the leadership of Louis 'David' Riel (1844-85), a messianic and earnestly Catholic leader, the métis resisted. After years of negotiation, increasing settlement from the east, the execution of a Protestant by Riel's military court and deployment of an armed Dominion force, Riel in 1885 was himself tried, convicted and executed. For Catholics throughout Canada, Riel became a symbol of overweening Protestantism and for many in Quebec a symbol of English cultural imperialism.

The practical political issue spotlighted by debate over Riel was the funding of provincial schools. Wilfrid Laurier, a Quebec leader of the Liberal Party, became Canada's first Catholic prime minister in 1896, in part because of his ability to defuse that issue. The compromise was to grant public money for minority Protestant (and English) schools in Quebec, to fund Catholic schools alongside the provincial schools of Ontario (still self-consciously Protestant), and to allow some support for Catholic (and French) schools in Manitoba, and then also Alberta and Saskatchewan when these provinces joined the Dominion in 1905. The strength of Catholic culture in Quebec and the successful activity of political leaders like Laurier meant that Canada never developed the strict separation between tax-supported public education and privately funded religious schools that came to characterise primary education in the United States.

Another significant difference was the broader influence in Canada of social Christianity as a response to the crises of industrialisation and urbanisation. Catholic Ultramontane corporatism resisted anything labelled as socialism, but did encourage an intensely communal attitude towards public life. In English Canada, traditions of Anglican conservatism, practical efforts by churchmen (and more often churchwomen) to meet the needs of immigrants, occasional

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment