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Bruce Peel Special Collections Life, Events, and Players in the North-West Elora, ON
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Rev. John Smithurst Correspondence

The bulk of this collection of correspondence was written between 1838 and 1862, and addressed to Reverend John Smithurst, “Indian Settlement, Red River, North America.” The “Indian Settlement” was the home of Chief Peguis and his people, the Saulteaux, located at Netley Creek, a branch of the Red River south of Lake Winnipeg. Following his resignation in 1851, Rev. Smithurst immigrated to Canada West and settled in Elora and then Minto in what is now Ontario.

Rev. Smithurst was an Anglican missionary sent by the Church Missionary Society from England to Rupert’s Land to convert the First Nations and Metis peoples of the area known broadly as the Red River Settlement; modern-day Winnipeg, Manitoba encompasses many sites that made up the settlement. Ministering to the “Indians” and “Half-Breeds,” Rev. Smithurst was one of the handful of missionaries west of Canada during a period of social and political unrest, economic upheaval, starvation, disease, racism and classism. Rev. Smithurst was in contact with many influential people of the time, including Henry Budd and James Settee, the first Indigenous men to be ordained by the Anglican church in North America; Reverend William Cockran; Reverend Ezekiel Gilbert Gear, chaplain at Fort Snelling in modern-day Minnesota; Reverend William Mason, Rossville Mission Press printer; David Anderson, first bishop of Rupert’s Land; and Duncan Finlayson, governor of Assiniboia.

In the correspondence within this collection, missionaries privately share personal frustrations with their efforts to “civilize” and convert Indigenous peoples, while struggling to survive the landscape and navigate social conflicts.

Acquired with Rev. Smithurst's letters, and included here, are several miscellaneous letters, as well as correspondence for the Reverend C.E. Thomson, who succeeded Rev. Smithurst at the Elora parish, and correspondence for the Reverend Adam Townley, step-father to Rev. Thomson. Correspondents include: John Strachan, first bishop of Toronto; Alexander Neil Bethune, second bishop of Toronto; F.D. Fauquier, first bishop of Algoma; and George Whitaker, first provost of Trinity College in Toronto.

1857 (Apr and May) from W.H. Taylor to Smithurst

Place: Saint James, Assiniboia [Red River Settlement]

From: W. H. Taylor

To: Rev. J. Smithurst, Harriston [Ontario]

Delivery: Postal system in Canada

Details: 16pp + addressed envelope with postal marks

Notes: A long and detailed letter from Reverend William Henry Taylor of Saint James parish along the Assiniboine River. Rev. Taylor writes to Rev. John Smithurst, updating him on the Red River Settlement. Much of the news has to do with repairing the extensive damage caused by the great flood in 1852. No one seems to be able to find enough workers for these repairs.

Mentioned are:
Father E.G. Gear, who broke his leg.
Mr. Robert Logan and Mrs. Logan, who are living near where the flax mill stood.
Old Mr. Pritchard and his wife died.
Their son, Sam Pritchard, teaches at St. Paul's school. His brother, Arelui (?), married.
Mr. Smith the Collector and Mr. Pruden are briefly mentioned.
Rev. Abraham Cowley and Mrs. Cowley are mentioned multiple times. Rev. Cowley now has a Seraphine instrument which Mrs. Cowley plays during services. Rev. Cowley also has detailed plans for the repair and renovation of his church.
Archdeacon James Hunter now has a barrel organ at the Rapids church (also known as St. Andrew's).
Thomas Cook is catechist at Nepowewin mission. Rev. Henry Budd says the work there is difficult.
Rev. Robert Hunt is at English River, also known as the Stanley mission near Lac la Ronge, and he is building an expensive and impressive church.
Rev. Henry Budd is at The Pas with a young Rev. Henry George, but plans to leave for Nepowewin permanently in the Spring.
Rev. William Stagg is struggling at Manitoba.
Rev. Kirkby is still assistant at St. Andrew's.
McDonald is at Islington (White Dog) but has health problems.
Watkins is leaving Fort George possibly for Cumberland.
Rev. William Mason has success in his work, but following the Bishop's visit, disease broke out and killed multiple Natives. Small pox is rampant among the Plains people in the area of Beaver Creek and Touchwood Hills.
The steam mill is producing excellent flour.
Political unrest as renewal of the Hudson's Bay Company's charter is being debated in England. A Mr. Kennedy and Donald Gunn have written and circulated a petition to the Canadian Legislature urging them to become involved.

Taylor, William Henry

1857 (Oct) from the congregation of St. John’s Church, Elora

Place: Elora [Ontario]

From: the Congregation of St. John's Church, Elora

To: Rev’d John Smithurst

Delivery: unknown

Details: 2pp

Notes: Upon Rev. John Smithurst’s resignation from St. John's Church in Elora, on the grounds of his inability to continue to perform the duties of his office, his congregation presented this petition to him in appreciation of his contributions to them and their community.

The petition is signed by 29 parishioners. Two surnames could not be deciphered.

William Reynolds, Church Warden
John S. Crossman, Church Warden

John Burke
William Carter
George Crane
F Dalby
Thomas Farrow
Andrew Geddes
Thomas Greathead
D. Henderroll(?)
Edwin Henry Kertland
George W. Kirkendall
John J. Marten
Valentine McKenzie
John M. McLean
Edw H. Newman
Richard Newman
Robert M. Newman
Walter P. Newman
Philip Pepler
James Reynolds
William Reynolds
Hugh Roberts
James L. Ross
David Smith
David Smith Jr.
Henry Smith

1857 (Oct) from Bethune, Palmer & Osler to the Bishop of Toronto

Place: Guelph [Ontario]

From: A.N. Bethune, Archdeacon of York; Arthur Palmer, Rector of Guelph & Rural Dean; F.L. Osler, Rector of Ancaster cum Dundas & Rural Dean

To: Bishop of Toronto

Delivery: unknown

Details: 4pp (secretarial copy)

Notes: A copy of the report submitted by Bethune, Palmer, and Osler on their inquiry into John Smithurst’s absence from his missionary post at Elora in the county of Wellington in the diocese of Toronto. John Strachan, Bishop of Toronto, requested these men investigate the allegation that Reverend Smithurst abandoned his post without permission. Churchwardens William Reynolds and J.S. Crossman in Elora confirmed that Rev. Smithurst had been largely absent since the end of April, sometimes remaining only a week at a time. The Churchwardens said Rev. Smithurst was unable “to read or preach in a tone of voice audible to all the members of his congregation; but admitted that his bodily health was on the whole vigorous.” Andrew Geddes confirmed the frequent absence of Rev. Smithurst, who is said to have taken up residence in the township of Minto. The report recommends the Bishop demand Rev. Smithurst's resignation.

Bethune, Alexander Neil

1857 (Nov) from Rev. Smithurst to Members of St. John’s in Elora

Place: Lea Hurst, Minto [Ontario]

From: John Smithurst

To: The C.W, Pewholders and other members of the St. Johns Ch Elora

Details: 4pp

Notes: This document is the rough draft of Reverend Smithurst’s letter of thanks to his congregation for their expression of kindness as he leaves Elora. Addressed to the Church Wardens, Pewholders, and congregation at large of St. John's in Elora, he cites the loss of his voice as one of the reasons for leaving. In a postscript, he says that the bishop [John Strachan] has offered him a compromise on the issue of wages still owing. By accepting this compromise, Smithurst wishes to protect the Church from scandal.

Smithurst, John

1857 (Nov) from John Strachan to Arthur Palmer

Place: Toronto

From: John Toronto

To: Rev. A. Palmer

Details: 4pp

Notes: A copy of a private letter written by John Strachan, Bishop of Toronto to Rev. Arthur Palmer of Guelph, Canada West.

In this letter, Bishop Strachan responds to a letter written by Rev. Palmer which enclosed a letter sent to him by Mr. Geddes, a prominent member of the congregation at Elora. The bishop expresses anger and frustration with Reverend John Smithurst for abandoning his parish at Elora and refusing to tender his resignation. Mr. Geddes proposed a solution to the impasse, but the bishop gives detailed reasons why the proposal in unacceptable. Bishop Strachan plans to appoint a commission to investigate Rev. Smithurst's conduct.

The context of this letter is confusing, given that Bethune, Palmer, and Osler had already visited Elora and completed a report on Rev. Smithurst's absence dated October 22, 1857. Also, Rev. Smithurst indicated in his letter of November 3 to the Elora congregation that he had resigned. Perhaps a delayed postal delivery is to blame for this confusion.

Strachan, John

1858 (Feb) from David Anderson to Smithurst

Place: Bishop’s Court [the name of the bishop's home in Red River]

From: David Rupertsland

To: Rev. J. Smithurst, Elora nr Guelph, Canada West

Delivery: Postal system in the U.S.A. and Canada

Details: 8pp on blue paper + addressed envelope with postal marks (stamp removed)

Notes: A friendly letter dated February 18th from David Anderson, Lord Bishop of Rupert’s Land, to Reverend John Smithurst. Postscript written February 27th.

Anderson, David

1862 (Nov) from Andrew Geddes to Smithurst

Place: C.L.O., Elora

From: Andrew Geddes

To: The Revd John Smithurst, Lea Hurst, Minto

Delivery: unknown

Details: 2pp + 1 pp (response in hand of Smithurst, and signed by him)

Notes: Correspondence from Andrew Geddes of the Crown Lands Office (C.L.O.) to Rev. Smithurst regarding the sale of two lots of land in the county of Minto. The lots stand in the name of David M. Bridgeford or Bridgford, and so Mr. Geddes asks Rev. Smithurst for further information. Mr. Geddes also updates Rev. Smithurst on the recovery of Mr. R. Caldwell, who nearly died of illness.

Rev. Smithurst responds on the same sheet of paper. He does not date his response, which presumably means that it is a rough draft of the actual letter he sent to Mr. Geddes.

Rev. Smithurst’s response explains that there is no such person as David W. Bridgford. John Bridgford had already purchased three lots in the Minto land sale but used the name of his dead son to buy additional land. John Bridgford could not transfer ownership of these additional lots without revealing his fraud. Bridgford tried to sell the land to a Mr. Thomas Dalley Senior, but Mr. Dalley refused to pay until Bridgford’s ownership could be tested. Later, Mr. Dalley split the two lots between his sons, William and Thomas Junior. William has never resided on his parcel and has tried to sell it without success. Thomas Jun. has cleared land and put up buildings. Rev. Smithurst believes Thomas Jun. would be entitled to squatter's rights.

Geddes, Andrew

1859 (May) Letter from J. B. Robinson

Place: Toronto

From: J.B. Robinson

To: [Reverend C.E. Thomson]

Delivery: unknown

Details: 2pp

Notes: A short letter regarding the approaching Diocesan Synod and representatives from St. John’s Church in Elora.
Note on the back says “J.B. Robinson Esq. Read May 13/59.” While the recipient is not named, it is likely to be Reverend C. E. Thomson who led the Elora parish in 1859. J. B. Robinson is possibly Sir John Beverley Robinson, the noted lawyer and judge.

1873 (Jul) Letter to Bishop

Place: Elora

From: [Rev. C.E. Thomson]

To: Possibly addressed to Bishop of Toronto, Alexander Bethune

Delivery: unknown

Details: One sheet of paper, embossed.

Notes: A letter, marked "Copy," written July 23, 1873 in Elora. The recipient of the letter is likely the Bishop of Toronto, Alexander Neil Bethune. Although the signature is illegible, the probable author is Reverend C. E. Thomson. Various notes and numbers written on the back. Rev. Thomson writes that he would prefer Thorold, but will take Newmarket for the following Sunday. He also relates his opinion on the behaviour of Mr. Butler, who "has forgotten himself since he came to Fergus, but not at Elora so far as I know." Thomson asks that Bishop Bethune consider his remarks confidential.

Thomson, C.E. (Charles Edward)

1873 (Apr) Letter from Alexander Neil Bethune, Bishop of Toronto

Place: Cobourg

From: A.N. Toronto

To: Mr .Thomson

Details: 4pp

Notes: A letter written April 12, 1873 in Cobourg, Ontario by "A. N. Toronto," who is Alexander Neil Bethune, Bishop of Toronto. The bishop writes to Reverend C.E. Thomson to advise him on a special service for baptisms, and some other church matters. Mr. Rowsell is mentioned with regards to exposing tracts. The bishop goes on to say that he plans on traveling from Guelph by train on Monday, June 2nd for the purposes of performing confirmations and laying the cornerstone for the new church.

Bethune, Alexander Neil

1861 September Notes - St. John's Elora

Notes for a sermon given at St. John's church in Elora (Canada West, later Ontario). Identified on the back as "September Notes."

The Reverend C.E. Thomson served at St. John's from 1857-1877, and is the likely author of this sermon.

The sermon begins with Luke XII.21 "So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."

Thomson, C.E. (Charles Edward)

1873 (Jul) Letter from Alexander Neil Bethune, Bishop of Toronto

Place: Collingwood

From: A.N. Toronto

To: Mr. Thomson

Details: 2pp

Notes: A letter written July 29, 1873 in Collingwood, Ontario by "A. N. Toronto," which is the signature used by Alexander Neil Bethune, Bishop of Toronto. While the recipient is not named, this letter appears to be in response to "1873 - Letter to Bishop," a letter dated July 23 and which is attributable to Rev. C. E. Thomson.

Bethune, Alexander Neil

1849 (Oct) from William Reynolds to James Geddes

Place: Guelph

From: William Reynolds

To: James Geddes Esqu, Elora

Details: One sheet of paper with integral address, and one small slip of paper

Notes: William Reynolds writes to James Geddes regarding a workman named Jones who has failed to satisfy his contract. Reynolds agrees they should enter into an agreement with Hall instead. John Marsh is living with Geddes and is anxious to move out.

The small slip of paper is a written promise from John W. Marsh to pay next time.

Rev. C.E. Thomson Letters

Reverend C.E. Thomson replaced Reverend John Smithurst at St. John’s Church in Elora, Canada West [later Ontario] after Smithurst’s dismissal by John Strachan, Bishop of Toronto. Thomson ministered in Elora from 1857-1877.