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Bruce Peel Special Collections Smithurst, John 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 (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 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