Geography has made Algoma a bridging point in the Canadian Church. The diocese is large and diverse, and each of its deaneries is quite different from the others. One of the outstanding successes in its history is the way in which its people have overcome the difficulties created both by this geography and cultural and economic diversity to carry out a very effective Christian ministry in northern Ontario.
The deanery of Thunder Bay is, in outlook, part of the West and its history has been largely determined by the development of the fur trade and transportation industry. The people of Temiskaming, in contrast, are closer in attitude to those of the diocese of Moosonee to its north and have links with Quebec to the east. The deanery of Muskoka, meanwhile, looks south to the Toronto urban area.
Algoma was erected as a diocese in 1872 by severing the northern portion of the diocese of Toronto, which originally consisted of all of the old colony of Upper Canada. Toronto, itself, had been erected as a diocese in 1839 and was divided a number of times to create Huron (l857) and Ontario (1861), with Niagara following in 1875 and Ottawa in 1896. The creation of Huron and Ontario had left the Diocese of Toronto divided into two parts connected by a narrow isthmus of territory. There was, to the south, a portion centred around the city of Toronto, which forms the present diocese of that name, and a northern portion which became Algoma. It has been put a bit crudely, that Algoma consists of all of the parts of the old diocese of Toronto that no one else wanted.
Algoma was intended to be the missionary diocese of the Ecclesiastical Province of Canada, and its financial support was supposed to come from these dioceses. The support given was never adequate, however, and Algoma remained heavily dependent on fund-raising in England. It was not until l956 that the diocese became self-supporting.
The Anglican Church was present in the North before the creation of the diocese of Algoma. Beginning in the 1820’s, missionaries were sent north to work among the Ojibwa Indians. These efforts focused on the areas around Manitoulin Island and Sault St. Marie. William McMurray and his wife, Charlotte Johnston, established a school and Church at the Sault in the early 1830’s. At much the same time the Manitowaning Experiment was undertaken at Manitowaning on Manitoulin Island. This was a joint effort between the government and the Church to turn the native Indians of the colony into good Anglicans, good British subjects, and good farmers. It was undertaken with the intention of moving all of the Indians in the colony of Upper Canada to the Island. This never happened and the Experiment itself met with only middling success and was eventually abandoned in the late 1850’s.
The early work was carried out almost entirely by missionary societies with little support of the British colonial administration . The first to be involved was the Toronto Society (The Society for the Converting and Civilizing of the Indians of Upper Canada), with the SPG, the New England Company and the CCCS becoming active in the 1850’s. By the l860’s, however, the Bishop of Toronto was exerting more authority over the northern part of his diocese and the predominant position of the societies in Algoma began to recede.
It was the spread of white settlement north into Muskoka and Parry Sound and the need to integrate ministry for these new communities with the existing Indian missionary work which led the Provincial Synod to create Algoma and elect Frederick D. Fauquier (1873-1881) as its first Bishop.
The period from 1873 till the end of the century saw a continuing growth in the white population and the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Before the 1890’s the primary means of transportation had been by boat on Lakes Huron and Superior, by the 1890’s this had changed completely. The railway opened up new areas for settlement and the development of mining, particularly, around Sudbury.
By 1900 Algoma had changed profoundly. The population was overwhelmingly white, and the importance of Indian missionary work had receded, being focused almost entirely on the Shingwauk Residential School at Sault Ste. Marie. Algoma’s first two bishops, Fauquier and Sullivan, had been primarily missionary bishops, raising money, recruiting clergy, and making difficult journeys by canoe. The third Bishop, George Thorneloe (1896-1926) was a first class administrator who provided the leadership that the rapidly changing diocese needed, travelling extensively on the new railways, and encouraging the growth of strong parish organizations. In 1906 Algoma ceased to be a missionary diocese run by the Provincial Synod and became an autonomous diocese able to elect its own bishop and manage its affairs through its own Synod.
The key to Algoma’s success in its early years was the strength of its laity. Clergy tended to come and go quickly. The bishops, particularly our second Bishop, Edward Sullivan (1882-1896), made extensive use of layreaders and many of these, such as William Crompton and Thomas Llwyd, were subsequently ordained and played leading roles in the history of the diocese.
During Archbishop George Thorneloe’s thirty year episcopate (1897-1927) Algoma made the transition from the string of missionary outposts on the frontier that Bishops Fauquier and Sullivan knew to the diocese we recognize today. Most of the present day diocese’s communities were founded and grew, and the region’s economic base of mining, forestry, and transportation was established.
The period between the First and Second World Wars saw continued growth in population and Church numbers but, also some problems. Many of the settlers who had come north to farm found that the land they had settled was not suited to agriculture, and this was further complicated by the boom and bust economy of communities dependent on forestry and mining. A number of small churches were closed, and the finances of both the diocese and its parishes became very difficult to manage during the years of the Depression.
Tensions between outlooks and styles of worship in the Church also created some difficulties. George Thorneloe was one of Canada’s leading broad-churchmen. He welcomed and encouraged a diversity of thought and practice, but insisted on unity of effort, and conformity to the central tenets of Christianity and Anglicanism. His successor, Rocksborough Remington Smith (1927-1939), attempted to make Algoma into Canada’s “highest” diocese but met strong resistance from many of the laity. The combination of the social and economic difficulties of the Depression, and the conflicts within the Church, made the 1930’s one of Algoma’s most difficult periods. Bishop Smith’s lasting heritage has been a standard of excellence in liturgical practice on the part of the clergy, and an expectation on the part of the laity of liturgical competence.
One of the bright spots during this period was the involvement of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. The Society began its work in Algoma in the 1920’s during the last years of George Thorneloe’s episcopate. They built a facility at Bracebridge and began a ministry to the small settlements in Muskoka which has left a lasting impression on the diocese.
Bishop R. R. Smith resigned in 1939. His successor was George Kingston, Dean of Toronto’s Trinity College. Bishop Kingston was an impressive figure. Under his vigorous leadership divisions were healed and the clergy were given firm, but understanding, direction in carrying out their ministries. Annual Clergy Schools were held and Youth work was made a priority. In 1944 Bishop Kingston accepted election as Bishop of Nova Scotia. In 1947 he was elected as Primate of Canada and served until his death in l95O.
Bishop Kingston’s successor was William Lockridge Wright who was to be Algoma’s longest serving Bishop (1944-1974), surpassing even George Thorneloe’s thirty year record by some six months, and like him, serving as Archbishop and Metropolitan of Ontario.
The period after World War II was one of renewed growth and expansion. The numbers of active parishioners increased, and new churches were built as part of the Church Expansion program, especially in the urban areas around North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay. This pattern of expansion during good economic times, and retrenchment during downturns, has been one of the constants of Algoma’s history. The year l956 marked another turning point. In that year Algoma declared itself a self-supporting diocese and ceased to be dependent on fund-raising in England.
Archbishop Wright was a friend and student of Bishop Kingston’s and continued his work and style of episcopal ministry. During his episcopate a pattern of Anglican life and practice was established within the diocese which has remained, more or less, constant over the last fifty years and has been maintained and encouraged by his successors, Frank F. Nock (1974-1982), Leslie E. Peterson (1982-1994), Ronald C. Ferris (1995-2008), and Stephen G.W. Andrews (2009 – present).
(Contributed by the Venerable Dr Harry Huskins)