Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The action that brought into being the United Church of Canada was the culmination of successive initiatives beginning with the merger of the four sections of Presbyterianism in 1875 to form the "Presbyterian Church in Canada." The Methodists followed suit in 1884 and the Congregationalists in 1906. The actual negotiations leading up to the formation of the United Church of Canada began when the Board of Home Missions of both the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches, concerned over the duplication of services, especially in the West, adopted a plan of amalgamation. The initial step was to develop a "Basis of Union," founded on goodwill, concession, and compromise and which included a strategy for informing and educating members and adherents. The first meeting of the Joint Union Committee was held in Toronto, on April 21, 1904. It reached the unanimous conclusion "that organic union is both desirable and practicable." Invitations were extended to the Church of England and the Baptist churches in Canada. Although cordially received, the judicatories of these bodies respectfully declined to participate in a wider dialogue of church union. By 1908 a basis of union was agreed upon and was subsequently ratified by plebiscites.

In the meantime, there came into existence in western Canada, mainly in Saskatchewan, a large number of local union churches, which formed the "General Council of Local Union Churches." Beginning in 1921, representatives of the council were welcomed to the early meetings of the Joint Union Committee. Draft bills for the Parliament of Canada and provincial legislatures were prepared and carefully considered during the years 1921–24. These were approved by the supreme courts of the churches. The necessary legislation was enacted in 1924 by Parliament, and from 1924 to 1926 by the legislatures of the various provinces. On June 10, 1925, the union of the three churches was solemnly consummated in the Mutual Street Arena, Toronto, in the presence of more than 8,000 members.

The United Church of Canada is the largest Protestant denomination in Canada. In 1990 it was the leading denomination in much of southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, and southwestern Manitoba, and the second largest denomination, after Catholicism, elsewhere in virtually all of rural Alberta and in those parts of southern Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba where it was not first in church membership.

The United Church is dedicated to being a uniting church, reaching out to diverse sectors of Canadian society. It covers a wide spectrum of beliefs and is committed to ecumenism. The church has a strong tradition of voluntary services and a larger share of rural congregations than most other denominations. Women have been able to become ordained ministers since 1936. The liberal thinking of the church is perhaps best exemplified by the statement of the General Council on August 15, 1986, which strongly repudiated the policies of its Methodist and Presbyterian forebears in promoting assimilation programs among Native Canadians, policies that continued into the twentieth century in the context of residential boarding schools. The council asked Native peoples to forgive the church for the irreparable damage it had done and looked toward a future of reconciliation and healing.

See also EDUCATION: Indian Residential Schools, Canada.

Bill Vantelon Edmonton, Alberta

Gaustad, Edwin Scott, and Philip L. Barlow. New Historical Atlas of Religion in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Noll, Mark A. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Grand Rapids MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992.

Previous: Unitarianism | Contents | Next: Vision Quest

XML: egp.rel.050.xml