John Strachan (/ˈstrɔːn/; 1778–1867) was a figure in Upper Canada
and the first
Anglican Bishop of Toronto. He is best known as a
political bishop who held many government positions and promoted
education from common schools to helping to found the University of
Gauvreau says in the 1820s he was "the most eloquent and powerful
Upper Canadian exponent of an anti-republican social order based upon
the tory principles of hierarchy and subordination in both church and
state." Craig characterizes him as "the Canadian arch tory of his
era" for his intense conservatism. Craig argues that Strachan
"believed in an ordered society, an established church, the
prerogative of the crown, and prescriptive rights; he did not believe
that the voice of the people was the voice of God."
Strachan built his home in a large yard bound by Simcoe Street, York
Street, and Front Street. It was a two-storey building that was the
first building in
Toronto to use locally manufactured bricks. The
gardens and grounds of the property occupied the entire square and
became a local
Toronto landmark, being given the name "The Bishop's
Palace". After Strachan's death the home was converted into a private
hotel called The Palace Boarding House.
1 Life and work
1.1 Early life
1.2 Family Compact
1.3 Educational interests
1.4 First Nations
1.5 High-church views
2 Death and legacy
4 Further reading
5 External links
Life and work
Born 12 April 1778, Strachan was the youngest of six children born to
the overseer of a granite quarry in Aberdeen, Scotland. He graduated
from King's College, Aberdeen, in 1797. After his father died in an
accident in 1794, Strachan tutored students and taught school to
finance his own education.
In 1799 he emigrated to Kingston, Upper Canada, to tutor the children
of other British and
United Empire Loyalist
United Empire Loyalist immigrants. In Kingston
one of his students was John Beverley Robinson, future attorney
general of Upper Canada. At the same time, he studied to become
In 1803 Strachan was ordained as a priest in the Church of England. He
moved to Cornwall, Ontario, where he taught at a grammar school and
married Ann McGill née Wood, widow of Andrew McGill, in 1807.
Together they had nine children, some of whom died young.
He moved to York, Upper Canada, just before the War of 1812, where he
became rector of St. James' Church (which would later become his
cathedral) and headmaster of the Home District Grammar School. This
school, also known as "The Blue School" taught students from five to
seventeen and emphasized a practical means of learning. Students
recited abridged speeches from the House of Commons, learned Latin,
and were encouraged to ask questions of their fellow pupils. A
conservative, Strachan supported his nation during the War of 1812,
using his sermons to support the suspension of civil liberties.
Upon hearing that of the fall of Fort Detroit to British forces,
Strachan declared in a sermon: "The brilliant victory...has been of
infinite service in confirming the wavering & adding spirit to the
loyal". Strachan had the young women of York knit flags for the
militia regiments in which their menfolk were serving in and organized
fundraising drives to give the militiamen serving on the Niagara
frontier shoes and clothing. In December 1812, Strachan founded the
Loyal and Patriotic Society of
Upper Canada which raised £21,500 to
support the families of militiaman and care for the wounded. During
Battle of York
Battle of York in 1813, along with senior militia officers
Strachan negotiated the surrender of the city with American general
Henry Dearborn. The Americans violated the terms by looting homes and
churches while locking the wounded British soldiers and Upper Canada
militiamen into a hospital without food or water for two days.
Strachan went to meet to complain in person to Dearborn about the
violation of the terms of surrender and shamed Dearborn into imposing
order on his troops. He is credited with saving the city from
American troops eager to loot and burn it. After the sack of York,
Strachan sent his wife Anne and their children to Cornwall because he
believed they would safe there. A few months later, Cornwall was
taken by the Americans, who looted the Strachan home and likely raped
a then-pregnant Anne Strachan.
After the war he became a pillar of the Family Compact, the
conservative elite that controlled the colony. He was a member of the
Executive Council of
Upper Canada from 1815 to 1836 as well as the
Legislative Council from 1820 to 1841. He was an influential advisor
to the Lieutenant-Governors of
Upper Canada and the other members of
the Councils and Assemblies, many of whom were his former students.
The "Family Compact" were the elite who shared his fierce loyalty to
the British monarchy, his strict and exclusive Toryism and the
established church (Anglicanism), and his contempt for slavery,
Presbyterians, Methodists, American republicanism, and reformism.
Strachan was a leader of anti-American elements, which he saw as a
republican and democratic threat that promised chaos and an end to a
Strachan invented the "militia myth" to the effect that the local
militia had done more to defend Canada than the British Army. Canadian
historians reject the militia myth.
Strachan supported a strict interpretation of the Constitutional Act
of 1791, claiming that clergy reserves were to be given to the Church
of England alone rather than to Protestants in general. In 1826 this
interpretation was opposed by Egerton Ryerson, who advocated the
separation of church and state and argued that the reserves should be
sold for the benefit of education in the province. Although Strachan
controlled the reserves through the
Clergy Corporation for much of
this time, he was ultimately forced to oversee the selling off of most
of the land in 1854.
The bust of Strachan in the Trinity quad, Trinity College, Toronto
Much of Strachan's life and work was focused on education. He wanted
Upper Canada to be under
Church of England
Church of England control, in order to avoid
American influence. He tried to set up annual reviews for grammar
schools to make sure they were following
Church of England
Church of England doctrines,
and tried to introduce Andrew Bell's education system from Britain,
although these acts were vetoed by the Legislative Assembly. In 1827
Strachan chartered King's College, an
Anglican university, although it
was not actually created until 1843.
In 1839 he was consecrated the first
Anglican bishop of Toronto
alongside Aubrey Spencer, the first Bishop of Newfoundland, at Lambeth
Palace August 4. He founded Trinity College in 1851 after King's
College was secularized as the University of Toronto.
In 1835 he was forced to resign from the Executive Council, and he
resigned from politics in 1841 after the Act of Union. He continued to
influence his former students, although the
Family Compact declined in
the new Province of Canada. Strachan helped organize the Lambeth
Anglican bishops in 1867 but died that year before it
was held. Strachan was buried in a vault in the chancel of St. James'
Cathedral. He was succeeded by Alexander Neil Bethune.
Strachan was elected a member of the
American Antiquarian Society
American Antiquarian Society in
Strachan was concerned with the Native peoples and called on people to
embrace these "sons of nature" as brothers. He claimed that the United
Upper Canada primarily to exterminate the indigenous
tribes and free up the West for American expansion. Strachan defended
the autonomy of the Natives, the superiority of British governance,
and the centrality of
Upper Canada in the theatre of war against the
US. He rejected the prevalent assumption at the time that Natives were
simply pawns in the contest and gave an original and influential
explanation of why
Upper Canada was vital to both Native and Imperial
Strachan was intensely devoted to the promotion of the Anglican
position in Canada. He was born a Presbyterian in Scotland, but he
never fully accepted it and first received communion at an Anglican
church in Kingston. He was strongly influenced by the high-church
bishop of New York, John H. Hobart. Strachan preached that the
Anglican Church was a branch of the universal church, and that it was
independent of both Pope and king. Like most Protestants of the era he
denounced the Roman Catholic Church for corruption. He rejected the
revivalism of the Methodists as an American heresy, and stressed the
ancient practices and historic liturgy of his church. While a high
churchman, Strachan's view alienated many of his clergy and laity who
were drawn from the ranks of Irish Protestant immigrants of more
He actively promoted missionary work, using the Diocesan Theological
Cobourg to train clergy to handle frontier conditions.
Much of his effort after 1840 was undermined by theological disputes
in the church, as between high-church tractarians and low-church
evangelicals. He also faced external attacks from political reformers
and rival denominations.
Death and legacy
Strachan died on 1 November 1867 in Toronto.
A plaque at the University of
Toronto erected by the Ontario
Archaeological and Historic Sites Board commemorates the residence of
Strachan. The Bishop's Palace is the site where assembled the Loyalist
forces that defeated William Lyon Mackenzie during the Rebellion of
On this site stood the "Bishop's palace", residence of Bishop John
Strachan (1778–1867), built in 1817–18 while he was the incumbent
of St. James Church. Born in Scotland, he came to
Upper Canada in 1799
where he achieved prominence as an educator and churchman and was
Anglican Bishop of
Toronto in 1839. He served as a
member of the province's Legislative Council 1820–41 and of the
Executive Council 1815–36. During the Rebellion of 1837, the
Loyalist forces that defeated William Lyon Mackenzie near Montgomery's
Tavern assembled on the grounds of the Palace."
In the summer of 2004, a bust of
John Strachan was erected in the
quadrangle of Trinity College at the University of Toronto. Strachan
Avenue, running from the original site of Trinity College to Lake
Shore Blvd., is also named in his honour.
^ Gauvreau 2004.
^ a b c d Craig 1976.
^ a b J. R. Robertson 1894a.
^ Cooper 1983.
^ J. R. Robertson 1894b.
^ a b c Benn 2002, p. 77.
^ Benn 2002, p. 78.
^ Benn 2002, p. 79.
^ Benn 2002, pp. 79–80.
^ a b Benn 2002, p. 80.
^ Vaughan 2003, pp. 99–100.
^ Berton 1981, pp. 29–30; Granatstein 2011, pp. 4–5.
^ Fahey 1991.
^ "Members". American Antiquarian Society. Retrieved 27 March
^ J. T. Robertson 2012.
^ Osmond 1974.
^ Purdy 1973.
^ Bishop's Palace
Benn, Carl (2002). The War of 1812. London: Osprey.
Berton, Pierre (1981). Flames Across the Border, 1813–1814. Toronto:
Anchor Canada (published 2001). ISBN 978-0-385-65838-6.
Cooper, J. I. (1983). "McGill, James". Dictionary of Canadian
Biography. 5. Toronto: University of
Toronto and Université Laval.
Retrieved 27 March 2018.
Craig, G. M. (1976). "Strachan, John". Dictionary of Canadian
Biography. 9. Toronto: University of
Toronto and Université Laval.
Retrieved 27 March 2018.
Fahey, Curtis (1991). In His Name: The
Anglican Experience in Upper
Gauvreau, Michael (2004). "Strachan, John (1778–1867)". Oxford
Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford: Oxford
University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/26619.
Granatstein, J. L. (2011). Canada's Army: Waging War and Keeping
the Peace. Toronto: University of
Osmond, Oliver R. (1974). "The Churchmanship of John Strachan".
Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society. 16 (3):
Purdy, J. D. (1973). "
John Strachan and the Diocesan Theological
Institute at Cobourg, 1842–1852".
Ontario History. 65 (2):
113–123. ISSN 0030-2953.
Robertson, James Tyler (2012). "The 'Children of Nature' and 'Our
Province': The Rev. John Strachan's Views on the Indigenous People and
the Motives Behind the American Invasion of Upper Canada,
Ontario History. 104 (1): 53–70.
Robertson, John Ross (1894a). "Bishop Strachan's Mansion". Robertson's
Landmarks of Toronto. 1. Liam Peppiatt (published 2015). Archived from
the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
——— (1894b). "The Old Blue School at York".
Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto. 1. Liam Peppiatt (published 2015).
Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 27 March
Vaughan, Frederick (2003). The Canadian Federalist Experiment: From
Defiant Monarchy to Reluctant Republic. Montreal: McGill-Queen's
University Press. ISBN 978-0-7735-2537-5.
Bethune, A. N. (1870). Memoir of the Right Reverend John
Strachan, D.D., D.C.L., First Bishop of Toronto. Toronto: Henry
Rowsell. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
Boorman, Sylvia (1969). John Toronto: A Biography of Bishop Strachan.
Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Company.
Christie, Nancy (1990). "'In These Times of Democratic Rage and
Delusion': Popular Religion and the Challenge to the Established
Order, 1760–1815". In Rawlyk, George A. The Canadian Protestant
Experience, 1760–1990. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press
(published 1999). ISBN 978-0-7735-1132-3.
Flint, David (1971). John Strachan: Pastor and Politician. Toronto:
Oxford University Press.
Henderson, J. L. (1970). John Strachan, 1778–1867. Quebec City:
Presses de l'Université Laval.
MacDonald, William Peter (1834). Remarks on Doctor Strachan's Pamphlet
against the Catholic Doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ's Body
and Blood in the Eucharist. Kingston, Upper Canada: James MacFarlane
and Company. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
Melville, Henry (1852). The Rise and Progress of Trinity College,
Toronto: With a Sketch of the Life of the Lord Bishop of
Connected with Church Education in Canada (2nd ed.). Toronto: Henry
Roswell. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
Patton, Henry (1868). A Sermon, on the Life, Labours, and Character,
of the Late Honourable and Right-Reverend
John Strachan D.D., LLD.,
Lord Bishop of Toronto, and in Connection with the Bishop Strachan
Memorial Church, Cornwall. Montreal: John Lovell. Retrieved 27 March
Robertson, Thomas B. (1926). The Fighting Bishop: John Strachan, the
First Bishop of Toronto, and Other Essays in His Times. Ottawa:
Strachan, John (1827). Remarks on Emigration from the United Kingdom.
London: John Murray. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to John Strachan.
Documents by Strachan from Project Canterbury
Poetry by Strachan
Anglican Bishops of Toronto
Suffragans (known as Area Bishops)
Peter Fenty (York-Simcoe)
Jenny Andison (York-Credit Valley)
Kevin Robertson (York-Scarborough)
Riscylla Shaw (Trent-Durham)
Members of the Family Compact
G. D'Arcy Boulton
D'Arcy Boulton II
Henry John Boulton
William Henry Boulton
W. Allan Crookshanks
William B. Jarvis
William M. Jarvis
Samuel Peters Jarvis
William Dummer Powell
Sir John Robinson
Sir David W. Smith
Sources include: Mackenzie, William Lyon (September 19, 1833). "A
Political Union". Colonial Advocate. p. 4.
Presidents of the University of Toronto
John Strachan (1827)
John McCaul (1848)
Daniel Wilson (1889)
James Loudon (1892)
Robert Falconer (1907)
Henry John Cody (1932)
Sidney Earle Smith
Sidney Earle Smith (1945)
Claude Bissell (1958)
John Robert Evans (1972)
James Milton Ham (1978)
David Strangway (1983)
George Connell (1984)
Robert Prichard (1990)
Robert Birgeneau (2000)
David Naylor (2005)
Meric Gertler (2013)
ISNI: 0000 0000 7372 7439