John Travers Lewis, first Bishop of Ontario

Pioneer Clergymen

John T Lewis

First Bishop

Early Years



Thomas Brock Fuller, first Bishop of Niagara Thomas Fuller
Bishop of Niagara
Anglican Diocese of Ontario in the 19th Century
1871 to 1884
St Georges Cathedral, Kingston, 2006The Bishop early developed much tact and ability in the management of his Synod.   His plan usually was to give full scope for debate, and then, if he deemed it necessary, express his own views immediately before putting the question.   This as a rule determined the fate of a measure, however strongly men may have differed regarding it.   The weak points of the argument, as viewed by the chair, were mercilessly dragged to light, and the strong points skillfully marshaled so as to influence the vote about to be taken.   The Synod, as a rule, stood by him by overwhelming majorities.

The patronage question may be cited as an instance of this. It is a misfortune that the Church in Canada has no settled method of filling up vacancies in parishes, In some dioceses, as Nova Scotia and Fredericton, the patronage lies in the hands of the congregations; in others, as in Montreal, a compromise is effected between bishop, and people; in others, as in Toronto and Niagara, a "consultation'' has to take place between the bishop and representatives of the people. This want of uniformity is much to be deplored. In the United States there is one undeviating law for the whole country, and with great advantage to the prosperity of the Church.

In Ontario the right of appointment to vacant parishes was put into the hands of the Bishop, without any restrictions whatever. This led to occasional discontent; and attempts were made, from time to time, to alter the law, so as to give the people a voice in the appointment of their rector or incumbent; but they were always defeated by overpowering majorities.

A break, however, occurred in this influence of the Bishop over the Synod in the year 1871, and, to understand it, it must be borne in mind that there were within the Diocese of Ontario two prominent cities, Kingston and Ottawa, the latter having the immense advantage of being the capital of the Dominion. As early as 1868 a motion was made in Synod in favour of establishing a bishopric at Ottawa, and a committee, in the following year, reported a scheme for providing an Episcopal income without an endowment; but, this not being adopted, it was moved in the Synod of June, 1870, that the Bishop be requested to remove the seat of the see to Ottawa. This was carried by the clergy, but rejected by the laity, and was therefore lost.

Somewhat to the surprise of many, however, the Bishop removed to Ottawa. The Synod was called together in the middle of winter, January 12th, 1871, to consider the question of electing a coadjutor bishop "to reside in Kingston,'' which meant that the Bishop had resolved to leave Kingston and remove to Ottawa. This Synod was largely attended, and splendid speeches were made. - It was evident that men's minds were deeply stirred on the question. The Synod had already declared against such a step - was it now to approve of it? The Bishop used all his powers in favour of it, but in the end it failed. The clergy by a majority of nine, supported the measure. The laity, by a majority of ten, were against it, and it was lost.

The Bishop, for the time being, had lost the firm hold that he once had upon the Synod. In the regular meeting which followed this somewhat disturbing Synod, viz., in June, 1871, the Bishop, though he had taken up his residence in Ottawa, made no allusion to the matter. His address was very brief and simply referred to the business of the diocese. In it he stated that the average number confirmed in the diocese each year since its formation was 1,033. The funds of the diocese were in a satisfactory condition, with the exception of the Widows and Orphans' Fund, for which the Bishop made an urgent appeal.

Kingston was now without the bodily presence of a bishop, but the question of a coadjutor was still kept before the diocese, especially as about this time the health of Bishop Lewis began evidently to fail.

St. George's Church, Kingston, remained the cathedral of the diocese, but in Ottawa a chapel of ease to Christ Church, the old parish church of the city, was handed over to the Bishop as his church. Here, Sunday after Sunday, assisted by Rev. H. Pollard as his curate, the Bishop officiated, the building being called the ''Bishop's Chapel.''

In 1874, the number of the clergy having increased to eighty-six, the diocese was divided into two archdeaconries, that of Kingston and Ottawa, the former embracing the counties of Prince Edward, Hastings, Lennox, Addington, Frontenac, Leeds, and Grenville, and the latter comprising the counties of Renfrew, Lanark, Carleton, Russell, Prescott, Glengarry, Stormont, and Dundas; and at the same time a cathedral chapter was set up, and five canons were appointed. Thus there was a bishop, a dean, two archdeacons, and five canons, and the foundation laid for a new diocese, to consist of the archdeaconry of Ottawa.

In 1877 the Bishop urged upon his Synod the importance of dividing the diocese. It had become unwieldy, and he could no longer visit every congregation as he had hitherto striven to do, but must confine himself to visiting every parish only. Within the fifteen years previous to 1877 one hundred new churches had been built. The Bishop of Montreal was quite willing to give up a portion of his diocese towards helping to form a new see at Ottawa, and Bishop Lewis expressed the hope that an endowment for the purpose might soon be raised. The Synod appointed a committee to consider the matter.

In that year (1877) the Bishop attended the second Lambeth Conference in England. at which one hundred bishops of the Anglican communion assembled from all parts of the world to confer together on matters affecting the welfare of the church - the size and importance of which was becoming a matter of great congratulation. No Synod of Ontario was held in 1878, the Bishop being in the Old Country.   In 1879 the diocese was divided into eight rural deaneries, five in the Kingston and three in the Ottawa archdeaconry. These were afterwards increased to eleven, six in Kingston and five in Ottawa. In that year the Bishop confirmed 1,645 people, 1,564 of whom received their first communion at the time of their confirmation. In the following year over 1,200 were confirmed. In 1881, owing to the Bishop's absence from home to recruit his health in Switzerland and elsewhere, the Synod did not meet till the month of December. In 1883 the Bishop again urged upon his Synod the division of the diocese. which he declared had outgrown his ability to perform the duties of as they should be done. He had a diocese of 20,000 square miles - a territory as large as Scotland - and the interests of the Church loudly called for its subdivision. Of this the Synod approved, and appointed a committee this time to arrange all preliminaries to the election of a bishop for the new diocese. Time, however. afterwards showed that the bull was not so easily taken by the horns as that. In that year also the Bishop called the attention of the Synod to the fact that the diocese did not own an episcopal residence. As the Bishop was still residing in Ottawa, the question of a see house was naturally a difficult one; but the people of Kingston began to show a willingness to secure a house provided the Bishop would come back to the original home of the diocese.
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