Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Whereas Methodism in Upper and Lower Canada had been subjected to the strong imprint of American Methodism and subsequently drew many of its leading lights from Loyalist stock, the missions to the western Canadian Plains were initially dominated by strong English connections. Missionaries, headed by James Evans (1801-1846), came to the Plains under the initiative of the Wesleyan Missionary Society and the jurisdiction of the Hudson's Bay Company in London. Evans established his base at Norway House, on the northern tip of Lake Winnipeg, and from there he and his coworkers branched out westward across the vast territories toward the Rocky Mountains. Robert Terrill Rundle (1811-1896) made his headquarters at Fort Edmonton in 1840 and traveled widely among the Crees and the Blackfoot. Both Rundle and Evans were particularly skilled in the Cree language, the latter fashioning a syllabics system that became the basis of the first published hymnary in western Canada. While Rundle was an effective itinerant preacher, his only permanent legacy was a community at Pigeon Lake, Alberta. Greater success was accorded Henry Bird Stein hauer (c.1820–1884), an Ojibwa from Ontario, who joined another Methodist missionary, William Mason (c. 1813–1893), in Manitoba. After ordination, Steinhauer went to Alberta and founded the mission at Whitefish Lake, where he stayed for the remainder of his life.

The last decades of the century, however, were marked by the pressures of mass immigration of Europeans to the Prairies, a process accelerated by the Hudson's Bay Company's ceding of the West to the British government in 1869. Thereafter, Methodist influence expanded in the new towns and cities. For example, George Young (1821–1890) of the Canadian Conference established Grace Church in Winnipeg in 1871. Mission programs from churches in eastern Canada swung into play to care for the influx. With this movement, the Methodist tradition shifted away from proselytizing to transforming the vast immigrant crowd into "good" Canadians, and away from condemnation of sin to criticism of the social order. Educational institutions sprouted up, such as Wesley College (1877) in Winnipeg and Alberta College (1903) in Edmonton. By the time Methodists joined with Presbyterians in 1925 to form the United Church of Canada, Methodist agitation for social order, public morality, community focus, and sensitivity to lay concerns had already forged a solid position in Prairie consciousness, an influence that continues to this day.

Earle H. Waugh University of Alberta

Emery, George. The Methodist Church on the Prairies, 1896–1914. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001.

French, G. S., and J. W. Grant. "Canada." In Encyclopedia of World Methodism, edited by N. B. Harmon. Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1974: 385–401.

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